Mad Bitch and Dowd Syndrome
Milbank and Cillizza's chief crime was against the funny.
Since I've been spending a lot of time in the last two days blogging about sexism in Hollywood and CAA in particular, you might find it surprising to hear that I largely agree with Slate's Jack Shafer that the Mad Bitch controversy is meh. As Shafer puts it:
Has it really come to the point that you can't call the secretary of state of the most powerful nation on earth a mad bitch in a comedy segment without people becoming unhinged and managing editors running for the exits?
If you're late to the dispute, [Dan] Milbank and [Chris] Cillizza are political journalists at the Post who, since early June, have been donning silly costumes and hoisting stupid props on a cheesy set that's supposed to echo the old Masterpiece Theater set. They make fun of themselves. They make fun of powerful politicians. The segments are short and topical.
Shafer then goes into a long bit about how he doesn't approve of humor "lest he hurts anyone's feelings." You'd have to know Jack to know just how funny that is.* While Shafer doesn't come right out and say it, the main crime that Milbank and Cillizza committed is against the funny. The segment was just lame, which is why, as Nick points out, it was so ripe for this awesome parody (You've been Post'd!). Had Stephen Colbert or Jon Stewart unleashed a Mad Bitch/Hillary joke it would come and gone without backlash. And why has there been little attention to all the lame jokes leveled at Republicans?
Partly because of an old comedy truism, the funnier something is, the more offense you can give (see also: The Aristocrats!) In other words, had the sexist bit been funnier, it would have been taken as a joke. But it wasn't so it wasn't. Better delivery might have helped, but frankly the material throughout the skit wasn't good. One lame concept tortured to death. Call it Dowd Syndrome.
So why in gods name has so much bloggosphere consternation been mounted over this weak attempt to make the WaPo seem edgy? What portion of true outrage vs. cynical exploitation for clicks? (Now, if only you could work in Sarah Palin, traffic gold!) And what portion is some really misguided lefty bile leveled at Milbank for (valid, IMO) concerns that the White House was attempting to use HuffPo reporter Nico Pitney to control the pace of a press conference? Or is it just herd mentality. If X is outraged, then I must be outraged too. The retweet writ large.
Dunno. But please make it stop.
UPDATE: Mouthpiece Theater has been killed. In his blog, The Fix, Chris Cillizza issues apology to those who took offense and those who thought a straight political reporter shouldn't do parody:
What did I learn from doing Mouthpiece? That I am not funny on camera (this will not be a revelation to many of you), that name-calling is never the stuff of good comedy, and that the sort of straight, inside dope reporting I pride myself on made for a somewhat discordant marriage with the sort of satire Mouthpiece aimed to create.
And, as Mrs. Fix -- my guidepost in all things -- rightly pointed out: I am better writing about the news than being in the news.
As he points out. Everybody in journalism is having to experiment to survive. This experiment ended badly, but may a hundred flowers bloom!
Clara Jeffery (that's me) is the Co-editor of Mother Jones. *Full disclosure: Fifteen years ago I worked for Jack Shafer for a year and have yet to fully recover from his devastating assessments of my (mostly editorial) shortcomings. I long ago gave up trying to kiss his ass. Call me names below. Tweet to me here.