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October 25, 2018 - Image 9

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily

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For comedy writers and late-

night personalities, the Trump
presidency seemed to come with a
silver lining: It was an unexcavated
gold mine of material. Unless the
nuclear holocaust arrived faster
than expected, his four-year term


moments and general buffoonery.

The blissful avoidance of the

ramifications of Trump’s election

immediately following Nov. 9, 2016
was a clear indication that nothing
had been learned from the election
itself. The campaign was treated
as a farce — thus the results were
what we received. Now, there also
seemed to be an underestimation
of his ability to implement concrete
change that could regress our
country. The eagerness with which
late-night personalities raced to
joke again, in spite of the gravity of
our situation, now reminds me in
a lot of ways of the joyous, careless
send-off marches that preceded
World War I. Despite there being
an understanding that the soldiers
were entering into a war, no one
truly knew the hell they were in for.
People had survived wars before; as
a country, we had endured terrible

We were gonna be fine. Right?
Just like the fate of the soldiers,

two years later, common Americans
still find ourselves fighting the war
from the trenches with no clear end

to the madness in sight. However,
for those in television, life inside the
trenches looks a bit different. A new
renaissance of late-night television
has dawned. A mere four years ago,
“Saturday Night Live” was clinging
onto the last strands of relevancy,
and people were solely tuning into
“Jimmy Kimmel Live” to see Mean
Tweets. But in 2018, the world
of late night has been completely
overturned by the results of the
2016 election. Network ratings

personalities are more relevant and
influential than ever before.


therapeutic to laugh along and
marvel at the seemingly golden
age of comedy into which we had
entered, but two years down the
line, my laugh lines have begun to
show. As I watch the continuous
attacks on marginalized groups and
the appointment of more officials
armed with the ability to strip away
human rights, simply laughing
along feels almost hollow.

I had to ponder why.
Despite the variances for each

late-night program — from Jimmy

shots at Trump to Seth Meyers’s
more analytical dissection of his

outright, overt assault on the
Trump administration — when
you distill it down, everyone seems
to be saying the same thing. These
identical takes become even more
troubling when you realize that
despite feeling like we’re “sticking it
to the man” by laughing, in reality,
nothing is being done. Two years
later, I have come to wonder what

even is the point anymore?

In regards to news satires like

“The Daily Show” or “Full Frontal
with Samantha Bee,” the argument
could be made that these programs’
“point” is to educate. Through
laughter, we learn. I will not refute
this point, as I can attest to the fact
that I have learned plenty of useful
information from these programs.
However, this positive effect hinges
on the simple question of who is
watching — or rather, who wants to
watch. While our country is more
polarized than ever in terms of
liberal versus conservative, there
still remains a large sector of the
population that considers itself to
be moderate.

As a leftist Black feminist, I

sought out programs like “The
Daily Show” or “Full Frontal with
Samantha Bee.” Frankly, moderates
who are too apathetic to even
definitively pick a side are not going
to seek out these shows because
of the very fact that they are, well,
apathetic. Thus, the information

educational for those who do not
know it already, or do not know that
they should care about it is being
presented to the liberals who have
already bought the product the
writers and personalities are selling.
These programs’ “niche-ness” is a
double-edged sword: While being
able to take a more hardlined stance
against the Trump administration,
they are too niche to reach the
audience that would make them
effective. They’re screaming into
the void.

On the other hand, network

late-night shows face the opposite

variety shows often fly under
the radar of critique because,
traditionally, their purpose has
been to entertain. Although now
the opening monologues more
often swing politically, there are
still wacky sidekicks, funny bits
and celebrity guests. Because of this
“entertainment” appeal, the major
networks of ABC, NBC and CBS
still reach the broadest audience
and report the highest ratings.

Unlike the more niche cable

programming, a vast array of
people are watching. However,
because of this very fact, they
must take a “safer” stance on
divisive issues. With this in mind,
it should come as no surprise that

Seth Meyers, a more open critic

lower ratings than Jimmy Fallon,
who keeps his show as neutral as
possible but will sometimes bend
to pressure and half-heartedly
mock 45. This presents a chicken-
and-egg conundrum: Are these
shows highest rated because they
are apolitical? Or rather, are they
apolitical because they have the
highest ratings? Either way you
slice it, it’s the same issue; people are
missing out on the opportunity to
hear the better, analytical critique
of the administration.

As much as it hurts me as a TV

buff to admit it, our salvation from
this administration will not be
delivered solely through television
personalities and witty monologue

obsession with what is occurring
in the media, in reality, comedians
are doing no more than just getting
under his skin. Although this is a
noble feat (who wouldn’t want to
piss the guy off?), it is no substitute
for real, substantiated change.

While I am not suggesting a

temporary hold on all comedy
until the regime is ousted, I am
suggesting that we do not rely on
sharing funny clips of Colbert on
Facebook to like-minded friends
as our only form of objection to
the policies and acts of our current
executive branch. It will not be
and has never been enough to
merely laugh along while the world
crumbles, because before you know
it, the laughter will subside and
you’ll discover a world you no longer

The Michigan Daily — michigandaily.com
Thursday, October 25, 2018 — 3B

A sense of rebellion is woven

deeply into the American identity.
While the last 250 years have
proven that the people of the United
States and their government have
become experts at maintaining the
status quo, there is still a part of our
national identity that celebrates
the notion that to be “American”
is to react against something,
sometimes against the institution of
America itself. This was especially
prevalent during the 20 years of
the Vietnam War, a period during
which political turmoil directly
danced with massive cultural
upheaval and rebirth. The center
of this change rested squarely
in the hands of varied social and
political movements of the time,
which leaned heavily on artistic
expression and colored the Vietnam
era with poignant commentary on
its realities. In the face of death,
confusion and the stagnant trudge
of war, American counterculture
paved a path through the muck by
creating music that would last the
test of time.

The political background of the

Vietnam War was complicated
and messy, the combination of
a society entrenched in anti-
Communist rhetoric and the need
to display American strength on an
international scale. Lasting from
1955 to 1975, the period during

which Vietnam affected U.S. society
spanned two decades and resulted
in tens of thousands of American
and Vietnamese casualties, leaving
the nation at a loss for what the war
truly meant in a historical context.
To some, it was to establish stable
democracy and eliminate Chinese
influence in a new and warring
nation. To others, the reason for
conflict in Vietnam was obscure,
a long-lasting fight that had no
clear goal or end in sight. Though
the older and more conservative
generations maintained their belief
in the war’s necessity, their voices
were largely unrepresented in the
artistic movements of the time.
Country music artists like Merle
Haggard remained supportive of
the government throughout much
of the war, but in comparison to
the popularity of countercultural
anthems, its pro-America messages
were overshadowed.

Initially, the war gained support

from a majority of Americans, but as
time went on and deaths mounted,
the national perspective began to
shift toward ambivalence, while
the massive population of nearly 80
million young Baby Boomers kicked
an anti-war effort into gear. The
impetus of anguish for this youth
movement was only exacerbated by
the military draft, sending college
campuses and urban centers across
the country into action. With this
action, the American tradition
of rebellion was represented in
their music, a medium by which


through the visceral power of song.
These tunes would become the face
of a generation and a period of time
alike, framing the unrest of an era
with songs heavy with soul and a
timeless message of change against
all odds. The spirit of freedom to
fight for one’s beliefs continued in
the hearts of musicians and fans
alike during the Vietnam era, a
protest for peace that continues to
affect the country’s music today.


influence truly reached American
society, protest music was already
in full force in response to the Civil
Rights movement of the late ’50s
and early ’60s. Artists like Joan
Baez, Bob Dylan and Simon &
Garfunkel stood at the forefront of
the early folk music revival scene,
which grew out of New York City’s
Greenwich Village and into the
ears of listeners across the country.
Baez’s song “Birmingham Sunday,”

struggles of the battle for civil rights
in America, while outstretching a
hand for others to join the cause
through the simplicity and bare-
bones style of folk music itself.
The genre at its root was forged
in the working man’s toils, so it
was only natural for its sound to
carry a message of empowerment
and social awareness in a time of
political uneasiness. When the
war’s effects became more and
more apparent in folk’s strongholds,
the music began to reflect anti-

war sentiment and a painfully true
commentary on the war’s effects on
both soldiers and those still at home.
From this, music like Dylan’s iconic
song “Blowin’ in the Wind” was
born, stamping a permanent mark
in U.S. music history while fueling
the debate around the war’s obtuse
purpose and seemingly senseless
violence. The message of folk
music from that time was a clear
analysis of what the international
destruction of Vietnam meant in
the context of already existing

listener to look deeper into the
superficial peace of daily life to see
a system in need of change.

While folk music colored much

of the early ’60s protest songs,
the anti-war message began to
shift into rock and psychedelia as
counterculture merged with many
of the time’s youth movements.

country in areas with high youth
populations, only heightened by the
massive scale of the Baby Boomer

then Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
and Creedence Clearwater Revival
merged rock with the organic
sound of folk, creating music with
a direct and piercingly honest core.
They highlighted the realities of
government oppression in songs
like “Ohio,” which commented on
the Kent State Massacre of four
student protesters in 1970, and
“Fortunate Son,” a meditation on
the inherent inequalities of the

Daily Arts Writer


Stop! What’s that sound?: How the
Vitnam War changed music forever


war’s draft lottery system that
became the unofficial anthem of
the anti-war effort. The pop rock ‘n’
roll of the ’60s shifted into a darker,
grittier version of itself in response
to the political and social conflict
of popular culture, with bands like
The Beatles and the Rolling Stones
moving into more experimental
territory with albums such as
Revolver and Let it Bleed. This edgier
side to rock has stayed put since,
becoming the standard for the genre
as time has gone on.

But the image most have of

the Vietnam era is of the hippie

’69 and Jimi Hendrix smashing
guitars. This too was a response
to the period’s social discord, as
thousands of young, largely white
and middle-class Americans joined
the movement to embrace free
love. They gathered at festivals
like Monterey Pop to communally
celebrate their music while joining
hands against the negativity and
confusion of wartime. The hippies
were the face of that counterculture,
especially in light of the drug
culture that wove its way into their
art and practices. They were not
protesters, but rather purveyors of
a peaceful mentality supported by
pacifism and a kernel of ignorance.

influenced both the spiritual aspects
and creative approach of the hippie
movement, producing bands like
Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful
Dead’s whimsical sound. As the
war reached its peak in the early
’70s and devolved, so did the hippie
counterculture and its popularity,
leaving its style and music behind
as many devotees descended into
drug abuse or left the movement
altogether. The “Summer of Love”
in 1967 was arguably the climax of
“free love” culture, a community
assemblage that celebrated their
customs and ideology. From there,
hippie neighborhoods like San
Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district
lost their glory quickly, leaving
their music and aesthetic appeal as
a lasting token of the movement’s
ideals and highest achievements.

While folk, rock and psychedelia

created the sound of an era for
white America, black soul and blues
artists also continued their own
path against the social tumult of the
’60s and ’70s. Artists such as Marvin
Gaye brought Motown and other
R&B labels into the political sphere
with records like 1971 release What’s
Going On, the title track of which
became a timeless representation of
that era and others like it. “Father,
father,” Gaye sings, “We don’t need
to escalate / You see, war is not the
answer / For only love can conquer
hate.” These lyrics, among others
from the period across every genre,
show the universal application of
protest and politically conscious
art throughout time. “What’s Going

On” could easily have been written
today, or post-9/11, or during the
HIV / AIDS epidemic in the ’90s.
The political tenor of the Vietnam
War’s music remains a large part
of American pop music today,
specifically in the darker, more
direct themes seen in rock and
folk music of the modern age. The
generation that popularized this
time’s most lasting music was huge,
millions and millions of people born
after WWII that brought the spirit
of protest from their youth into the
future and passed it along to their
children. Overall, the themes of
Vietnam era music are relevant in
any time period, and a combination
of poignant messages, truly great
arrangement and the commitment
of those who loved it to keep the
melody in the public eye for decades.

It could be argued that the

political turmoil of today’s Trump
administration could offer the
same fodder for musical and artistic
development that the Vietnam
War did, but the issue is slightly
more complex. In the Vietnam
era, the anti-war effort was easy
to understand even if the purpose
of the war wasn’t, and it gave the

to unite against a clear force. The
Civil Rights Movement and Second-
Wave Feminism intermingled with
this counterculture, but the goal of
counterculture’s music was more
crystalline than it is today. In 2018’s
political climate, the issues with
American government and society

abstract. Activism has burst into the
mainstream in response to this, and
with it the message of “sticking it
to the man” that much of Vietnam-
age music carried is almost not
enough. The messages of that time
have become commonplace in
rock and folk, an expected edge to
each genre that originated in the
protests and festivals of the ’60s
and ’70s. In its place, the protest
music of today looks different,
and elicits a different feeling than
those songs: artists like Beyoncé,
Childish Gambino and Kendrick
Lamar have taken political action
into rap and pop music, creating a
new generation of activists that will
hopefully continue the message just
as those in the Vietnam era did. But
the real question lies in whether
the widespread political agendas
of today’s musicians will become
diluted in their commonality, or
present a real chance to make
change in America. If the effect of
Vietnam’s music is any indication,
connecting via art may hold the
key to forming a community to flip
the script of modern politics. But it
is up to the listeners to take it into
their own hands: Vietnam changed
American music forever. Could the
modern struggles of today’s political
landscape change it for the better

What’s the point?: The laziness of late-night satire

Daily Arts Writer


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