Despite my recent disagreements with Conor, one area where he is indubitably correct is in criticizing conservatism’s inability to engage the culture in which it must exist. This, to me, is not a political issue – it has little to do with winning elections or with governance – but it leaves conservative cultural critiques utterly tone-deaf, ghettoized, irrelevant, and incapable of understanding context. Sonny Bunch and Peter Suderman notwithstanding, there are few things more dreadful to read than a conservative television, music, or movie critic or even just a conservative attempting to discuss television, music, or movies. Today presents us with Exhibit 1,234,324 (estimated) of this problem: conservative outrage over this week’s Curb Your Enthusiasm.
The cause of the outrage? In the episode, Larry David accidentally urinates on a picture of Jesus Christ hanging in a bathroom. The typical Curb Your Enthusiasm set of misunderstandings, inappropriate conduct, etc. follows.
The result is a series of headlines decrying the blasphemous contempt for Christians this displays – how, after all, could anyone think urinating on a picture of Jesus Christ is amusing or socially acceptable or anything other than a blatant attempt to marginalize Christians?
The problem is that this line of thinking completely, utterly, and preposterously misses the point of the show, not to mention the punchline: Larry David is an asshole. Not just a little bit of an asshole, either, but quite possibly the world’s biggest asshole. That Larry David’s politics happen to be liberal has not a lick to do with why his show is funny. Indeed, to the extent his politics are involved at all, it is to make fun of his own politics, which in some cases result in him being an even bigger asshole (witness the episode where he abandoned a woman mid-coitus because he learned that she was a Republican). David’s character in many ways is in fact supposed to be a liberal Archie Bunker, just without the lovable core. As such, Larry David’s character is the type of character that could only be played by a liberal; were he played by a conservative, liberals everywhere would be complaining about how the show paints an unfair picture of liberals.
The point of Curb Your Enthusiasm is absolutely, positively never that you’re supposed to laugh with Larry David, it’s that you’re supposed to laugh at Larry David. If you ever – ever – think that Larry David is supposed to be a hero or a decent person or that his character intends his actions to be humorous, then you’re not only missing the point of the show, you’re probably a complete asshole yourself. What makes the scene in this particular case funny isn’t that someone urinated on a picture of Jesus Christ, it’s that Larry David is the type of asshole who would urinate on a picture of Jesus Christ and show absolutely no remorse for it. In short, he’s not mocking Christians, he’s mocking himself.
And if you honestly don’t think that David would have been willing to, say, draw a picture of Muhammed for similar purposes, then you’re just not getting the point. Indeed, the main reason why you’re unlikely to see David do that on his show is that in this country it wouldn’t be remotely asshole-y enough; too many people would be cheering him on for it to have any kind of comic effect in the context of the show.
UPDATE: In case the above is still unclear, the difference between laughing at and laughing with a character is summed up by the fact that Larry David’s character on Curb is the type of person who would think that “Jerk Store” is a witty and funny comeback: