Political Satire, Like Prostitution, is Being Ruined By Amateurs
I have a message for the four new Supervisors:
Hello. My name is Benjamin. And my job is to say much, much, funnier things about you than anybody did last night.
Last night, of course, was the "Roasted Supes" party, which is a vaguely clever name, or "the People's Inauguration," which is not.
It was supposed to be a roast, in which women close to the new Supervisors - former teachers, roommates, co-workers and wives - said funny things about them. In fact, however, it was a social experiment: can a progressive majority laugh at itself?
The answer is no. No. They cannot.
The only things worth laughing at last night were the nasty ways I was describing people in my notes.
This wasn't the fault of the organizers, progressive activists Sunny Angulo, Sonya Mehta, and Julian Davis: They really tried. The event was organized well, among the gratuitous Buddhas of the delightful (and zero-waste) Temple Nightclub (try the lamb). They got a great turnout -- which they may be regretting now. They had a superb concept - bringing progressive factions together through humor while honoring the women whose support was essential in this election - and they did as much as any human beings could do to keep the crowd interested.
But what could they possibly have done?
Most of the presenters didn't seem to understand what a "roast" is, and spent most of their time talking about all the good their Supervisor would do for the most vulnerable members of our community. Ha ha ha.
One presenter, Debra Walker, didn't seem to understand the very concept of "humor." The pod from which she sprang apparently didn't prepare her to deal with this strange human emotion. Once her plant-people take over the world, we will all wave gently in the sunlight and no one will need to laugh.
Think I'm exaggerating? Here's some of Walker's material, transcribed (nearly) verbatim, on David Campos. Watch how she displays all of the good humor that photosynthesis can muster:
"I work a lot with David on issues, and I worked on his campaign, so I am honored to be here to help you better understand our new district supervisor. David, as you know, immigrated here from Guatemala as a child with his family, and was undocumented up through high school. But even then, he made his family very nervous because he couldn't help speaking out about what's fair and what's right. If you go visit his mother, I understand his mother is so proud of David Campos, that if you were to visit his mother you would see she has a very naked picture of David ... as a two year old, as a two year old, sorry, didn't mean to get you excited there. Anyway, David went to law school ..."
I could go on. She did.
She also gave Campos some gag gifts, like this one:
"I want to give you blue and yellow markers. Most of you know when you start a campaign, you can't really build the big signs, you don't really have the money, so a volunteer built David big signs, six-foot signs, but they were black and white. They looked really good, but they weren't in color, so David had to spend all morning adding color."
I saw Aaron Peskin walking around during Debra's presentation. He wasn't laughing either. But then he's a mammal.
By far the best effort was made by Hene Kelly, for Eric Mar. At least she knows what a joke looks like.
"It was very hard to get Eric to come up here. I thought he was out there working the crowd, but it turns out he was out there looking for somebody else to vote for for president of the Board."
"Those of us who worked with him on the Board of Education were sure that he'd be good at something. Maybe a Supervisor?"
"It took three years for him to learn that a palm pilot didn't mean taking notes on the palm of his hand."
"I just need to share something with you that I got from my friend Chris Daly," she says, holding up what could vaguely be considered a finger puppet of Eric Mar. "It doesn't look much like Eric, but Chris Daly let me use it, and this is how he came out after the downtown campaigns got through with him. I don't know how they got that, but Chris, I'm sorry that Eric can't be your puppet anymore."
Actually an absurdly large number of the "jokes" (I don't know what else to call them) centered around Chris Daly... as though, when progressive activists know they need to say something not meant to be earnest and moralizing, all they can think of is that-thing-that-Daly-did. Like the way John Avalos described Chris Daly playing Guitar Hero (yes, this really happened. I'm omitting the name of the person involved because I'm not going to pick on a 10-year old girl):
"What's funny though, about Guitar Hero and Chris Daly - everybody knows how super competitive Chris Daly is - so we had (name)'s daughter competing on Guitar Hero with Chris Daly, and Daly was foaming at the mouth to beat this 10 year old girl."
For a group of politicos who just spent an entire election season trying to convince the voters that "progressives aren't all about Chris Daly," it was a dismal showing. Even Avalos' wife recognized this when she blurted out:
"It's really hard to write this roast of John. It ends up being a roast of Chris Daly."
Yeah - about that ...
The event ended neither with a bang nor a whimper, but with a "unity clap," and if you don't know what that is, you don't need to. It's not nearly as exciting as it sounds. Or unifying. But then, honestly, have you ever tried to get a bunch of progressives to pay attention to something? It's not easy.
So here we are. The progressives have celebrated, which is fine. They've also clearly shown that they can't make fun of their own. Which is not.
Well, I guess you've got to leave this stuff to the professionals.
John Avalos was born in LA, and came to San Francisco after failing to make it in the movies. John is one of seven children - which explains why he's so comfortable being used by big brother figures - and is the first member of his family to graduate from college. Unfortunately he went into English literature, so now his family has to do it again. He spent the last 15 years fighting for social justice and equality, and now has decided to try something he's good at. A former union organizer for janitors, John knows that a new broom sweeps clean - but he demands that it be given a 30-minute break every 3 hours. His time as Chris Daly's aide has given him valuable experience saying terrible, terrible, things about Gavin Newsom - and he's vowed to put them all to use. Some of them can also be applied to Ross Mirkarimi, just in case. John got a Master's in Social Work because he believes in helping people, which will make it extra, extra sweet when he finally sells out.
David Campos immigrated to the United States when he was 14, and took your job. Once an illegal immigrant, he is living proof that America will let pretty much anybody in. He graduated high school despite speaking only Spanish, and then graduated law school despite speaking only bullshit. He is the former counsel of the San Francisco School District, which means he knows where the bodies are buried, and he was personally instrumental in making sure that the bodies are counted using "the buddy system." He is a former police commissioner, and look how that turned out. He represented the city against the gun industry, and look how that turned out. He also defended the city's right to provide public power against PG&E, and look how that turned out. David is looking forward to bringing this same level of service to his constituents.
Eric has the amazing power to slip in and out of a room undetected, whether he wants to or not. He entered into public service because he honestly doesn't have anything better to do at night. As the former president of the San Francisco School Board, he is the reason your child can't read. He's also the former Assistant Dean for the New College Law School, which is why your lawyer can't read. He taught Asian American and Ethnic Studies at San Francisco State University until someone noticed and asked to see his ID. A former SEIU Local shop steward, he only agreed to run for Supervisor after he was promised there would be no heavy lifting. As a member of the school board, he was heavily involved in the district's integration and busing plan, and he's excited by the opportunity that being a supervisor presents to bus your children even further away. He also has a plan to integrate neighborhood parks by requiring people to enter a lottery before they can picnic.
David grew up in a working-class Boston neighborhood and attended a Catholic high school, which is where he got that accent. He and all of his siblings attended Harvard University, so you hate him already. He received a Bachelor's in Government from Harvard, a law degree from Harvard, and a Master's Degree in Public Policy from Harvard's Kennedy School of Government ... and yet somehow he's still insecure. He's thinking of getting a sweatshirt that says "Harvard" on it, and would really appreciate it if you'd ask where it came from. He plans to rename the Supervisor's chamber "The Faculty Lounge." A former U.S. Senate aide to Paul Simon, he worked on balancing budgets and selecting bow ties, and he will never forget the advice Sen. Simon gave him on politics: "Never say anything interesting." Since that day, David never has. He is both a former civil rights attorney and a former Assistant District Attorney, and has effectively represented several clients seeking redress over the civil rights violations he authorized. He also founded an election software company that works for both Democrats and Republicans, and is glad that his technology has been able to mitigate the damage it caused. David not only works both sides of the fence, he works fences you don't even know about. Hey, you don't get to be Board President by accident.
There. See? That's what a real roast feels like. Don't say it couldn't be done.
And, guys? Congratulations on your victories. I'll be seeing you every week. Welcome to the big leagues.