From Lewis H. Lapham , writing at Tomgram:
We have today a second Gilded Age more magnificent than the first, but our contemporary brigade of satirists doesn’t play with fire. The marketing directors who produce the commodity of humor for prime-time television aim to amuse the sheep, not shoot the elephants in the room. They prepare the sarcasm-lite in the form of freeze-dried sound bites meant to be dropped into boiling water at Gridiron dinners, Academy Award ceremonies, and Saturday Night Live. “There is a hell of a distance,” said Dorothy Parker, “between wisecracking and wit. Wit has truth in it.” George Bernard Shaw seconded the motion: “My way of joking is to tell the truth. It’s the funniest joke in the world.”
Twain didn’t expect or intend his satire to correct the conduct of Boss Tweed, improve the morals of Commodore Vanderbilt, or stop the same-day deliveries of Congress from Washington to the banks in New York. Nor did he exclude himself from the distinguished company of angry apes rolling around in the mud of their mortality. He knew himself made, like all other men, as “a poor, cheap, wormy thing… a sarcasm, the Creator’s prime miscarriage in inventions,” easily seduced by the “paltry materialisms and mean vanities” that made both himself and America great.
A man at play with the life of his mind overriding the decay of his matter, his laughter the digging himself out of the dung heap of moralizing cowardice that is the consequence of ingesting too much boardwalk taffy. His purpose is that of a physician attending to the liberties of the people shriveled by the ambitions of the state, his belief that it is the courage of a democracy’s dissenting citizens that defends their commonwealth against the despotism of a plutocracy backed up with platitudes, billy clubs, surveillance cameras, and subprime loans.