Christopher Buckley (YGtCTO Words #49)

Thank You For Smoking

Book written by Christopher Buckley

If you were a smart aleck and had access to a television when I was young, then you probably tried to do an impression of William F. Buckley. It went hand in hand with raising two peace signs and announcing, “I am not a crook.”

This is not to suggest the slightest political savvy. Most of us were young enough that we struggled to keep track the colors and directions that signified conservative or liberal. We just wanted to be funny.

Imagine my surprise to find the name Buckley crop up later attached to brilliant satire. Granted the surprise was primarily generated by the shadow cast by the elder Buckley. The book was either Little Green Men or Thank You For Smoking, sitting among the new books at the library. The former leaves some indelible images, including a portrait of a talk show host rather reminiscent of William F. Yep, won’t ever forget that alien abduction.

Christopher Buckley

Reading Woody Allen and James Thurber as a young man, it felt like current writers had lost their sense of humor. Perhaps the 1980s just weren’t that funny. Maybe we traded all our humor to Latin America for a few years in exchange for their peace of mind. Even our comic books took dark turns. National Lampoon and Mad did their best (though not really at their best in those years), but it was not often humor that was going to make you look less like a buffoon. Basically, if you wanted good laughs, then you had to look further afield- fantasy authors tried to fill the void, for instance.

That doesn’t mean

I stopped looking. Like the definitions for pornography and science fiction, you know humor when you see it. The cover usually tries to scream “This is funny! You are so going to giggle!” Memoirs feature the author looking ridiculous, but fiction books struggle a bit to show the funny.

So, I knew that this Christopher Buckley guy promised jokes. But- was it all just going to be irony, the common mode of book humor… political irony, at that?

Let me cut to the chase. I don’t know what William F. did right, but he gave us our Voltaire, our Jonathan Swift. Before Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Samantha Bee, and all the rest, Christopher Buckley deflated the idiocy of world politics.

Satire has an expiration date, though that doesn’t make it better or worse. It just means that the jokes grow stale and difficult to parse. The palliative is to address timeless issues, ideally matters that we all wish were not timeless, but people are people, life’s a bear, etc., etc. Gulliver’s Travels remains relevant today because Swift was able to make the personal universal. Christopher Buckley does the same, placing him far ahead of my William F. Buckley impression, which nowadays requires a YouTube clip explanation beforehand.

What’s it all about?

You’ve Got to Check This Out is a blog series about music, words, and all sorts of artistic matters. It started with an explanation. 154 more to go.

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