Roger’s Rules

Why Satire Suffers: a Example from the "Adult Entertainment" Industry

I have often had occasion to bemoan the sad lot of the satirist in contemporary society. Satire depends for its bite on a discrepancy between the satire and reality. The satirist presents an exaggerated, over-the-top caricature of some state of affairs in order to highlight a recognizable element of failure, hypocrisy, turpitude, or pomposity. It’s one thing for a critic to satirize some elements of modern art as pre-packaged excrement. But what’s the critic to do when faced with Piero Manzoni’s “Artist’s Shit,” a series of 90 numbered cans each containing 30 grams of the artist’s own feces? In May 2007, a single can fetched 124,000 euros at Sotheby’s. Can you beat that?

The financial bailout mania might just do it. Yesterday, Instapundit linked to a story about about a possible bailout for the porn industry. (Do not scoff at the word “industry”: at least those folks bestir themselves to do some real work.) Fox News had the lowdown:

With the financial industry, auto makers and more getting assistance from the federal government to stay afloat during the recession, the adult industry decided it would try to get something as well.

Girls Gone Wild CEO Joe Francis and “Hustler” magazine publisher Larry Flynt have said they will petition Congress for financial aid along the lines of what the Big Three auto makers are getting.

Francis said that he and Flynt are asking for $5 billion, and that they have sent letters to Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, Congress and their local Congressman, Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) with the proposal.

With the $5 billion, they would “invest in building new means of distribution, and shoring up our distribution right now to prevent further erosion from factors like Youporn and other Internet content that has seriously affected our business over the past few years,” Francis said in an interview with FOX Business. “We will use the money wisely, and we will create more jobs.”

Francis said that if invited, he and Flynt would drive across the country in a hybrid vehicle to present their plans to Congress.

The press release noted that DVD sales and rentals for the adult industry have decreased by 22% in the past year, partially because people are turning more and more to the Internet for adult content.

“People are too depressed to be sexually active,” Flynt said in the press release. “This is very unhealthy as a nation. Americans can do without cars and such but they cannot do without sex.”

Francis said he and Flynt would also be willing to discuss the possibility of the government buying equity stakes in their companies, as was done with financial firms.

“If the government would like to be a partner with Mr. Flynt and I, we’re certainly amenable to it,” he said.

Pretty funny, right? But how much more outrageous would a government bailout for Mr. Flynt be (and who knows: maybe he’ll get it!) than a government bailout for newspapers? Or a football game? Here in Connecticut, politicians are proposing the former while earlier this week, as George Will reports, football got its chance. Will noted

Tuesday’s Bailout Bowl (Ball State vs. Tulsa, by the way), in which you could have seen your tax dollars at work. Or at play.

The game’s real name was the GMAC Bowl. GMAC is known as the “financing affiliate” of General Motors. But Cerberus, the huge private equity firm that owns 80.1 percent of Chrysler, also owned 51 percent of GMAC until GMAC got the government to baptize it as a bank holding company. That transformation supposedly was necessary to make GMAC eligible for a place at the TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Program) trough — although GM itself already has a place there, as does Chrysler. Anyway, the infusion of TARP dollars — 6 billion of them — diluted Cerberus’ GMAC ownership to at most 33 percent, but that diminution seems a small price for Cerberus to pay for a second bite from the bailout apple.

An example of what Juvenal called panis et circenses–the bread and circuses with which a besieged Roman govenrment would entertain, and pacify, a disgruntled public? Maybe so. Or maybe Piero Manzoni had a more accurate name for the enterprise. In any event, it stinks.