Thursday, December 15, 2005

Hackery, not satire

I’d pretty much forgotten about Bill Lankhof's column in the Toronto Sun yesterday (Google News is a wonderful thing). I read it, rolled my eyes and moved on. I’ve gotten to the point that if I get upset every time I read something stunned from a Mainland writer I’d likely drop dead from a stroke. I’m convinced it’s in the manual of Mainland columnists. “When in doubt, hitting a rut or facing diminishing readership, just take a shot at the Newfies. Their outrage and hatred is like rocket fuel. (See Margaret Wente)”

However, this morning I read the story on CBC where they interviewed him. In his defence, this is what Lankhof said: “What I write is pretty much no different to what people might see on your television station when they watch This Hour Has 22 Minutes or Air Farce," he said. "And when you watch that, you can laugh about it or get upset about it.”

And this is when my blood pressure started to go up a bit. And when that happens, there are really only a few options open for me. And since Cathy can get tired of the rants, here we go on the blog again.

What Lankhof wrote isn’t satire. He might think it is, but that’s kind of sad. If you want satire, follow the link I posted yesterday to Rick Mercer’s blog. Most of us have seen him either on The Mercer Report or on 22 Minutes. He is, simply, the country’s best satirist.

And the frustrating, galling and brilliant thing about Mercer is he makes it look easy. The best always do because it looks so effortless for them.

It is, in fact, staggeringly difficult to do what Mercer does. Sit down and try to write something political and funny. Clever and cutting. Irreverent and yet filled with information. Now do it in a way that can be digested in two minutes or less.

Lesser writers (i.e. nearly all of us) can’t do it or can with great difficultly. Mercer does it all the time.

So when I read something is satirical, that’s the standard I look at. “Is it as funny as Mercer?” When I write something that’s satirical, it’s the challenge I set for myself. Is it in the ballpark of Mercer? I can’t get there yet, not even close. But there are times when I write something that I think is within view, and that makes me happy.

To understand what Lankhof is, I’m going to paraphrase something a movie critic once said. And that’s this: Never come out of a bad movie, wonder how that got made and think, ‘My God, I could make something better than that.’ Of course you could. It’s bad. Why not try and make something better than the best movie you’ve ever seen? You’ll likely fail, but in your efforts, you’ll make something that is vastly superior to what you would have made in trying to top a terrible movie.

If you try to make something as good as the Godfather and fail, it will still be much better than succeeding in making something merely better than Deuce Biggalo.

Lankhof is the kind of writer who saw Deuce Biggalo and his idea of trying to bettering it would be to make Deuce Biggalo 2: European Gigolo instead of the Godfather. For Lankhof to even compare what he’s writing to Air Farce or 22 Minutes is ludicrous. Those two shows might not be what they were in their prime, but they’re still miles better than what Lankhof wrote. And judging by his previous columns, writes on a regular basis. He's an insult satirists.

What he produced was hackery, plain and simple. Good satire is funny, clever, cutting and poking fun of convention. It might sting, but you can still recognize a truth in it. What Lankhof wrote was unoriginal 30 years ago. There was no cut or bite to it. It wasn’t funny. It was, in fact, cruel and close to racist.

That Lankhoff thought it was satirical is sad. That he and his editors thought it was of good enough quality to deserve print is even moreso. He was, at best, being a smarmy asshole more than a satirist.

I’m probably just getting worked up for no reason. After all, this is the Toronto Sun. Nobody takes that paper seriously in the journalism community. It has Sunshine Girls, for God’s sake. The only people who read it are rednecks with beer guts and low IQs. The fact he writes for it should tell us all we need to know about him.

So, just in case Lankhof actually reads this, here’s the question: is the previous paragraph satire or me being an unoriginal, stereotyping hack asshole? Because that’s basically what you wrote about Newfoundland.

If you think it is satire, then you might want to reconsider that whole columnist thing and move to Hollywood. I understand Deuce Biggalo 3 needs a writer.

Last 5 on iPod
1. Ahead by a century - Tragically Hip (Hipemonymous)
2. The old main drag - The Pogues (Rum, Sodomy and the Lash)
3. Shine a light - The Wolf Parade (Apologies to the Queen Mary)
4. She - Elvis Costello (The Very Best of...)
5. American dream - Lucinda Williams (Live at the Filmore)

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