I have bad news for Janeane Garofalo: Making Ralph Nader cry is easier than you think, and it’s nothing to brag about. Back in the schoolyard, we used to taunt him with cries of “Nader, Nader, panty raider,” and “Ralphy Nader, seatbelt hater,” just to watch him scamper off, tears welling up in his beady little eyes. Sure it was childish and a little bit cruel, but what business does a seventy-year-old man have hanging around a schoolyard anyway?
Garofalo’s turn at taunting Nader came during the premier of her new radio show, “The Majority Report” last week. She lambasted poor Ralph over the phone for his supposed role in Al Gore’s presidential loss in 2000 and John Kerry’s upcoming presidential loss this November. Nader defended himself the best he could, but ended up slamming down the receiver with a sob. A pretty ugly performance for all involved, but a telling opener for the new liberal radio network, Air America, home of Garofalo’s show.
Talk radio, with its outspoken hosts and paranoid, aggressive agenda, has been an influential key to the successful rise of conservatism in America. The need for an entertaining leftist voice among the traditional AM pundits has been long discussed and with the launch of Air America, finally realized. Its Web site brags, “We are a new voice in talk radio; a smart voice with a sense of humor.” And with hosts like Garofalo, Chuck D and Al Franken, Air America seems like a brilliant idea. Why then, does it suck so badly?
Franken’s show, the sardonically named “O’Franken Factor” is the perfect example why. The only difference between his show and nemesis Bill O’Reilly’s “O’Reilly Factor” is the politics. The hateful, aggressive, tone, the pointless and seemingly endless rants and the flat-on-its-face attempts at humor are all the same. Hell, give it a week and I bet Franken’ll steal that Gold Bond Medicated Powder endorsement right out from under O’Reilly.
Rather than follow in the successful comedy/politics footsteps of “The Daily Show” or “Politically Incorrect,” Air America is molding itself after its mongering AM competition. It’s not just Franken, either. Garofalo’s show is painfully unfunny and, as revealed by her attacks on Nader, far from professional. “Morning Sedition,” Air America’s take on NPR’s long-established morning news program, feels more like the Howard Stern show than a reliable news source. And the Chuck D/Lizz Winstead vehicle “Unfiltered” claims to put culture and politics “through the ringer,” but instead consists of the hosts talking endlessly over the opinions of their guests.
The attractive thing about the left has been its ability to poke fun without having an agenda, but Air America comes across as aggressively pushing a liberal schema, an attitude that’s going to alienate any moderate listener who’s opinion it might hope to sway.
In the long run, it’s just going to end up preaching to the converted, the same fate that befell conservative radio, resulting in obnoxious “in your face” attempts to garner attention outside of its existing audience.
I can understand the desire to present liberal humor as edgier and less forgiving, getting away from the harmless traditions of the post-hippy era embodied by humorists Garrison Keillor and Gary Trudeau, but Air America is doing everything wrong.
Rather than aiming at the lowest common denominator, it should be transcending its competition. Air America needs to rise above the name-calling tactics of Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly, exposing the ridiculousness of AM radio anger for what it really is, an insipid mess of stupid, fat, ugly, and paranoid white people out to ruin the lives of every last one of us.