You can’t windsurf, because that would be elitist. But, if you’re the American president, you can drive around your ranch in a golf cart shooting guns, because people can relate to that. As comedian and writer Lizz Winstead explains it, sometimes there is no debate possible if we don’t agree on fundamental and proven facts. Over the past few months Lizz has been promoting her book “Lizz Free or Die” and travelling around the United States to see what people are doing and what they think about politics or life in general. Having written for several memorable television programs which includes having co-created The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, Lizz can tell you thing or two about what is good and what is bad about politics and media in the United States.
By chance, I ran into her at a conference in Sweden earlier this month and spent a few afternoons having excellent discussions, such as this one featured in today’s podcast.
The Daily Show and South Park, along with The Colbert Report, are the 1-2 (3) punch of socio-political satire in America and have been for well over a decade. Some dismiss them as childish clowns with limited significance while in fact, they are among the most trusted sources of news and entertainment wielding tremendous power from the reputation they have built as uncompromising provacateurs.
Brian Dunphy is a lecturer at Brooklyn College, a citizen of the world, and a keen observer of satire in all its forms in the United States. He starts each day with a bowl of cereal and Jon Stewart, and his in-depth research and analysis reveals that there is a lot more happening here than just a bunch of funny impressions and the occasional fart joke. There is real speaking of truth to power and challenging people to think and look carefully at the actions of the powerful decision makers of this world. Today on the podcast, Brian gives us a taste of this topic that he has been bringing to audiences in North America and Northern Europe over the past year.
Before the city of Maastricht chose to pursue marijuana prohibition policies they first asked a team of researchers to examine what impact it would have. The researchers found that the proposed “membership” system for coffeeshops, which included banning all non-residents from going into establishments, would have disastrous effects on the cities public safety, health, and economic situation. In response, the government demanded new research with results that would support their new mission to shut down marijuana cafe’s that have existed since the 1990’s. Today there are a several municipalities that have adopted this prohibition policy that is scheduled to go national by January 2013, and the results are already being felt. Nicole Maalsté is a researcher from Tilburg University who has been examining the issue of drug policy and coffeeshops in the Netherlands over the course of several decades. She joins me on today’s podcast to explain what her work has revealed and just how the relationship between politics and research has led to a startling reality on the street level.
Over the past 3 weeks I have been in Portugal helping my grandparents with daily life during a trying series of complications that often come with old age. During that time Ive strangely found myself watching television, specifically programming from the more intellectual Portuguese state television RTP2. While washing dishes one night I heard a familiar Brazilian accent and looked over at what was a clearly older and slightly weaker Lula da Silva. The former 2 term Brazilian president was being interviewed about his life, his presidency, his country, and the world in general. He spoke about how his thinking has been impacted by his successful battle against throat cancer. He spoke about injustice and inequality in different parts of the world, including in Brazil. And most impressive for me, he spoke with a clarity and wisdom you’re rarely allowed to see in the world of international politics.
This got me to thinking about the wisdom and freedom to speak that comes with no longer being the leader of a nation. Every now and then, a president or a prime minister steps down, and suddenly it is like a weight has been lifted and a light shines upon them. In the United States, Jimmy Carter has long been the voice of unwavering criticism and honesty about the state of the world and the shortcomings of is own presidency. Nor he or Lula are the first of their kind, but listening to someone who led such a large and dynamic nation during a period of such immense change, in addition to having survived the near loss of his voice (and life), is quite enlightening.
Critics will say – he (and all former leaders) are still and always will be politicians. Lula himself says this. But the office of the executive seems so often to paralyze and silence the true voice of the person elected to that position. Perhaps you can’t speak truth to power when you are the power. But if anyone in this world were looking for useful information based on unique and qualified experience, look for the former presidents who still care about the world and have finally found the nerve to tell it like it is. They can help advise both leaders and citizens of this world, to learn from their mistakes, and look critically at how our world is being run.
Note: I will subtitle the interview and post it in the coming week as a video entry.