It is always fun to find a writer you enjoy agreeing with you. Making a point I made yesterday in From Junior High Down to VH1, Andrew Ferguson writes about the once notorious humor magazine National Lampoon in Read This Review Or . . . from the Wall Street Journal:
In the 1970s, however, old-fashioned moralists (soon to be extinct) complained about a deep vein of nihilism running through the magazine. Out in the suburbs we irony-soaked, pseudo-sophisticated teenage boys could only roll our eyes at the tut-tutting. We knew, or thought we did, that every sex joke in Bernie X’s monologues was redeemed by the tonally perfect rendering of the cabbie’s patois (I don’t think we used the word patois).
But from this distance the justice of the moralists’ charge looks glaringly obvious. In their more pompous moments, the Lampoon editors could have defended an appallingly tasteless joke about, say, the My Lai massacre or the Kennedy assassination as an effort to shake the bourgeois out of their complacency. Now it just looks tasteless or worse: an assault on the very notion of tastelessness, on our innate belief that sometimes some subjects should be off-limits.
. . . The mix [of "the magazine's "unique high-low style of comedy, incredible disgustingness paired with intellectual and linguistic fireworks"] is hard to sustain, though, and it makes for a terrible legacy. The high, being so hard to pull off, inevitably fades away, leaving only the low. Gresham’s Law—the bad driving out the good—holds true for comedy too.
You get, for example, the perfectly unfunny comedienne I described.