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Revel with a Cause: Liberal Satire in…

Revel with a Cause: Liberal Satire in Postwar America

by Stephen E. Kercher

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A sweeping history of one aspect of the liberal critique against the McCarthyism and the Eisenhower Consensus of the 1950s. Kercher takes you from the editorial cartoons of Mauldin and Herblock, through MAD magazine, the emergence of improvisational comedy theater and the rise & fall of the satire "boom" of the early Sixties. The climax of this being the film "Dr. Strangelove," which can be seen as building on the work of the proceeding ten years.

Besides considering a whole range of cultural projects that are often not well-remembered, Kercher is at his most interesting when examining the failures of liberal satire. Essentially being a product for young men by young men, it sometimes undercut itself with unexamined misogyny. Dismissive of suburban consumer culture, there was some failure to appreciate that for most people this beat the hell out of the alternatives. Also, when looking at the rise and fall of the show "This is the Week that Was," there is the matter that whatever the problems of speaking truth to power and making a living at it, these problems are magnified when trying to do so as a party loyalist; as Mort Sahl learned (for example) when he crossed the Kennedy Administration and found himself to suddenly be commercial poison.

Finally there is the small matter that, at best, satire is a palliative for social problems, and that if hard-hitting social critique via comedy seemed to fade as the Sixties rolled on, it was because what could be done with satire had been done, and that the way forward was through political action, with all its risks and sacrifices; see the careers of Lenny Bruce and Dick Gregory. ( )
  Shrike58 | Jan 9, 2013 |
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We live in a time much like the postwar era. A time of arch political conservatism and vast social conformity. A time in which our nation¿?¿s leaders question and challenge the patriotism of those who oppose their policies. But before there was Jon Stewart, Al Franken, or Bill Maher, there were Mort Sahl, Stan Freberg, and Lenny Bruce¿?¿liberal satirists who, through their wry and scabrous comedic routines, waged war against the political ironies, contradictions, and hypocrisies of their times. Revel with a Cause is their story. Stephen Kercher here provides the first comprehensive look at the satiric humor that flourished in the United States during the 1950s and early 1960s. Focusing on an impressive range of comedy¿?¿not just standup comedians of the day but also satirical publications like MAD magazine, improvisational theater groups such as Second City, the motion picture Dr. Strangelove, and TV shows like That Was the Week That Was¿?¿Kercher reminds us that the postwar era saw varieties of comic expression that were more challenging and nonconformist than we commonly remember. His history of these comedic luminaries shows that for a sizeable audience of educated, middle-class Americans who shared such liberal views, the period¿?¿s satire was a crucial mode of cultural dissent. For such individuals, satire was a vehicle through which concerns over the suppression of civil liberties, Cold War foreign policies, blind social conformity, and our heated racial crisis could be productively addressed. A vibrant and probing look at some of the most influential comedy of mid-twentieth-century America, Revel with a Cause belongs on the short list of essential books for anyone interested in the relationship between American politics and popular culture.… (more)

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