Comedy Gurus Turn American Morals into a Big, Fat Joke

A Gallup poll released this week indicates that Americans are making the great exodus towards secularism on a number of key social issues including gay “relations,” sex and children outside of marriage, and divorce. Shortly after the stats were released, Megan Garber proffered insightful commentary at The Atlantic as to why comedians are the reigning arbiters of American cultural values. Combine the data with the theory and the conclusion is rather straightforward: Contemporary American morals are a complete joke.

Garber’s argument paints contemporary comedy (think: Schumer, Stewart, Colbert, Oliver, et. al.) as a humorous version of a religious community replete with ideological boundaries (“who’s in and who’s out”), a definitive lingo (“cultural criticism” as “productive subversion”) and temples to call their own (“largely of, by and for the Internet”).   She doesn’t go so far as to dub these comedians religious leaders. That wouldn’t be on trend. Instead, they are “public intellectuals” who gear the values of an increasingly secularized society.

Constituting their own branch of pop culture polytheism, they are the brainier versions of the “spirit junkies” pervading millennial religious consciousness. “Comedians are fashioning themselves not just as joke-tellers, but as truth-tellers—as intellectual and moral guides through the cultural debates of the moment.” In other words, they are sycophants playing the role of gurus to an audience hungry for spiritual direction. The only difference between comedians and spiritual guides, besides the lack of incense on set? As Jon Stewart once said to me, “I tell the jokes.” This from the guy who holds the seat of “moral influence over the national soul.”

Garber concludes, “…the old ‘hey, I’m just making a joke’ line of logic—can be partially resolved in the idea that nothing, ultimately, is ‘just a joke.’ Humor has moral purpose. Humor has intellectual heft. Humor can change the world.” It’s changing the world, all right. The question is, will that change be for the better?

The Gallup stats prove otherwise. Sure, gay marriage is the cause du jour, especially among the comic crowd. What they don’t take into account is the simple fact that gay unions are counterproductive to the continuation of society. Camille Paglia, herself a lesbian, readily admits that if homosexuality were genetic gays would have disappeared long ago. Not only is divorce depressing for couples, it has long-term detrimental effects on children. Single-parent homes aren’t much different. Statistics show that children raised in a single-parent environment are more prone to psychological disorders as well as suicide. And whether the parents are gay or straight, scientific studies illustrate the importance of dual-gender parenting in terms of a child’s psychological, social and emotional development.

All of this boils down to the fact that contemporary morality is counterproductive at best, nihilistic at worst. Yet the arbiters of this pop religion remain steadfast advocates of blatantly destructive values, if only for their own immediate personal benefit. After all, as Garber points out, the only reason these humorists are behind the pulpit is because we’ve put them there. Nihilism sells. So much for the millennials being the “hope”ful generation.