'Fletch' and the politics of movie comedy

Fletch_lEver read a piece of pop culture criticism and just go, "Whaaaa?!?!" That was my reaction to this review in Slate of the new special edition DVD of Fletch. Not because the reviewer thinks the 1985 Chevy Chase caper (pictured) isn’t funny (I disagree and think it’s one of the funniest things he ever did), but because of the review’s explanation for why it’s not funny: because it’s too liberal. Slate’s critic contends that Chase’s Irwin Fletcher is unfunny because he represents smug liberalism at its most elitist (this at a time when liberals were supposed to be wearing sackcloth and ashes because of Ronald Reagan’s recent re-election landslide) and goes on to contrast Fletch with Animal House, a movie that’s funny because the rebellious Deltas actually represent the conservatives, while the snobbish Omegas are really limousine liberals. Again: Whaaaa?!?!

Let’s work backwards, shall we? It takes a willfully obtuse misreading of Animal House to say that the preppy Omegas (including Neidermeyer, soon to be fragged by his own men in Vietnam, and Marmalard, soon to be a Nixon aide convicted of Watergate-related crimes) are not conservatives. They are; end of story. That doesn’t mean the Deltas are liberals; just ask the earnest folkie whose guitar Bluto smashes. Rather, the Deltas are anarchists, followers of Marx — Groucho, that is, who, in another legendary campus comedy (Horse Feathers), sang, "Whatever It Is, I’m Against It."

addCredit(“Fletch: Everett Collection”)

Similarly, the Fletch character doesn’t belong to the left or theright; he’s an anarchist of sorts, too, following in the footsteps ofGroucho and Bugs Bunnyas a character who gets out of scrapes via his quick wit and whoinsults those more powerful than he is so deftly that they don’t evenrealize they’ve been dissed. That’s what makes for good comedy: pokingfun at people with power. (Lampooning people without power isn’t funny;it’s just mean, as Don Imus recently learned.) Because it skewers powerand authority, the best comedy often has a subversive element to it.Conversely, to the extent that conservatism is about maintaining thestatus quo and thwarting subversion (standing athwart history andyelling, "Stop!", as William F. Buckley once defined it), it is notfunny.

What is funny, I suppose, is the desperate drive among today’sconservatives to appear hip and subversive — to identify with theDeltas instead of the Omegas, and to lay retroactive claim toparticular movies and rock songs.Today’s conservatives often complains about being left out of thepop-cultural conversation; to them, I say, there are two solutions.Either make your own movies and CDs and TV shows, and let the freemarket you champion so steadfastly make them popular, or else stoptrying to chase hipness altogether. After all, hipness is mercurial,relative, and ephemeral, while you guys deal in bedrock, unchangingvalues, right?

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  • LMF

    Thats so funny; I read this article some time last week and remember having the same reaction. It’s starts out making sense and then just gets out there. Though, I did agree with the fact that “Fletch” is an awful movie.

  • Ep Sato

    Yeah, I wasn’t Fletch’s biggest fan, though it had moments.
    As for the Slate article, well, it’s in SLATE. Their take on pop culture’s so lost, it’s about as fun as Karl Rove’s “rap”.

  • LMF

    LOL- that’s funny Ep.

  • Ron Mexico

    Anyone else but me know that Mrs. Stanwick (the girl playing tennis with Fletch) is also Wyatt Earp’s opium-guzzling wife Mattie from “Tombstone”?
    Needless to say, I had a thing for her. LOL!

  • EM

    I’m a moderate conservative (but I still think Rove’s borderline evil) and I don’t agree that we are being “left out”. The bottom line is that we all vote with our dollars. Either side of the aisle watch what you want and don’t watch what you don’t want. If you don’t like the options out there, come up with your own.
    And for the record, just like any other group, these jacklegs (like this guy at Slate) don’t speak for the rest of us. I mean watching just 1 scene from A.H. would prove the Omegas aren’t libs – the rush scene. Everyone who’s not tall, white and handsome is in the corner. Sounds pretty out of touch.

  • Ron Mexico

    As a moderate democrat, I’m thinking that I agree with EM.
    Granted, Animal House does somewhat reflect the political vibe of that era, but to say that the Omegas were libs is pretty freaking inaccurate.
    On the other hand, I wouldn’t go as far as to say that Bluto smashed that guitar because the guy playing it was a hippie. I always assumed that he smashed it because the guy was annoying.
    And I certainly didn’t feel like Fletch was political either way. But I really liked those two movies. Not quite Mel Brooks, but still funny.

  • mikey

    I think I figured out where the Slate writer may be coming from. Since Delta’s Eric Stratton went on to become the rich and powerful (and therefore conservative) Alan Stanwyk — they’re the same guy, after all — “Otter” must have been a budding young conservative back in the day. I mean the guy was quite the proficient golfer, another tell-tale mark of a true conservative. It takes quite the critical eye to spot these little clues and root out the true politcal meaning behind something disguised as glib, anti-establishment humor.

  • Mozz

    Chevy Chase, not really all that funny. Slate, not really all that good.

  • Aaron

    I really do appreciate the cultural criticism that takes place in the EW forums, but, Gary, I have a big problem with your final paragraph. This kind of thinking is what contributes to the idea that American conservatism and American liberalism are separate, distinct cultures with irreconcilable differences (and apparently, art that needs to be made specifically for them.) It’s a shame that the vocal extremists run the dialogue–and, in effect, create the commonly accepted perceptions–because there is balance and extreme overlap in red and blue tastes. (Although I hate the “red” and “blue” labels, as well.)
    Anyway, what I’m saying is: hipness is not a liberal or conservative concept and to say that it is mutually exclusive to one of those is to (once again) pigeonhole a section of the culture and add another layer of bricks to the dividing wall we all seem to believe is there.

  • ME

    Kudos to Aaron in pointing out the error of pigeonholing ‘hipness’. I hip and I’m both liberal and conservative.
    Anyway, I find a lot of these critics to be smug and a tad arrogant. Heck, I need my dictionary close by to look up their fancy words like ‘didactical’ or ‘pastiche’ and the ever popular ‘frissons’. Don’t get me wrong, I love the English language but you can tell some of these writers are trying to impress me. But it always comes off as self adulation….”hey dig me, I’m smart”.
    Just tell it like it is folks.

  • furry_tom

    What’s adulation mean?

  • furry_tom

    Just messing around, but as I was attempting to point out through satire the “biggest album flop” post, dumbing down yourself for the approval of others doesn’t do anyone any favors.

  • furry_tom

    And my favorite conservative movie is the Big Lebowski.

  • Mike D

    Maybe when the “Fletch Lives: Elmer Fudd Gantry edition” comes out, the Slate reviewer can rail on how the secular elitist Irwin P. Fletcher wages his malicious (and less funny) assault on the Christian Coalition and the Moral Majority.

  • shannon

    that movie is a classic…how dare they bring politics into it??
    anyways you have got to check out this new website i found!! it some really funny videos.
    my friend told me about it–im not sure the concept behind it but needless to say its really funny!
    go to hungrymantv.com

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