I once spent four days at a conference in Branson, Missouri. It is far from the worst place on Earth – being safe and having indoor plumbing puts it ahead of a lot of the globe – but it most definitely earns its status as a punchline. It looks like a giant dragon that craps chain restaurants rampaged through the town, narrowly missing the countless ex-celebrity entertainers whose careers have gone to Missouri to die. Among the latter, famously, is 1980s comic sensation Yakov Smirnoff. He doesn't simply have regular gigs there. He has his own theater.
Yakov, for those who don't remember him, made a career out of a single running gag: he was That Soviet Comedian. Nearly every joke followed the now-infamous pattern of "In America you have _____, but in Soviet Russia we had ______!" The only deviation was for the purpose of reinforcing American stereotypes about the USSR, i.e. "First time I went to Disneyland I saw Space Mountain. Big building with no windows, everyone inside screaming. I said 'Hey, we have one of those in Moscow!'" Moderately amusing, until you hear the next 50 jokes and realize that they're identical. But I digress.
Obviously he camps out in Branson because kids who are 20 and under today were born after 1990 and thus the Soviet Union means about as much to them as the Holy Roman Empire. They can't tell you what "communism" is aside from its status as the Bad Guys in action or war movies. Stalin, Brezhnev, perestroika, SALT, the Domino Theory…these terms mean nothing to them. Since Smirnoff's comedy depends entirely on stuff like this, his career can only survive if he finds audiences that remember it. Enter Branson, where the average age of vacationers is in the high sixties. All of them are old enough to remember the Cold War, and some of them are senile enough to think it's still going on.
Fox News has been taking notes of Yakov's success and has adopted its own Branson Strategy with its latest balls-out effort to fabricate a scandal: the "New Black Panthers" voter intimidation "story." I mean, how the hell old do one's viewers have to be before the Black Panthers are a relevant cultural reference? Even the USSR was relevant until 1991. The Black Panthers haven't fueled the paranoid fears of white people since the early 70s at best. When even the commenters at well-known conservative websites don't buy this pathetic effort to make something where there is nothing – OMG, two black guys were standing outside a polling place! Why, no, we can't produce a voter who claims to have been "intimidated" out of voting by said Colored Men! – you know the goal isn't to convince viewers on the merits of the case. It's an unsophisticated attempt to remind viewers for whom that group is relevant, i.e. your grandparents and anyone else over 70, that intimidating, heavily armed, and hostile black people are coming to take away Our Way of Life.
Even by Fox's standards, this "story" is ridiculous. Apparently they feel that enough old white people are watching to make an appeal to 1968 nostalgia worthwhile. I can't wait to see what throwback they dredge up next to connect with their demographic. Baader-Meinhoff? The Symbionese Liberation Army?** Sacco and Vanzetti? The Sans-Culottes? Among its many other assets as a media outlet, it appears that News Corp is making a much appreciated effort take viewers on a trip down memory lane in its comical attempt to engineer public opinion.
**(Keep an eye out for my SLA musical, "From Tania to Cinque", which should be in theaters near you soon)Tags: Media