Matt Neistein is a good friend of mine. He is the Op-Ed Editor for The Post-Crescent. And I disagree with him on almost everything.
Usually our fights take place over e-mail, even though we sit roughly 100 feet away from each other. (In our defense, there is a wall between us.) Despite the fact that Matt rarely is right about anything, and I usually bury him with sage-like wisdom, he continues to step up like the Washington Senators lacing up against the Harlem Globetrotters.
I think our debates are kind of interesting, so I am kickstarting a new semi-regular feature on my blog called "I Disagree with Matt Neistein."
The first episode involves the Joel Stein piece I posted below. Since Matt is a veteran of the United States Marine Corps, I was curious to hear his take on Stein's "I don't support the troops" stance. Matt hated the column, but not for the reason I anticipated. What Matt hated was that Stein wrote about the subject humorously. Our e-mail exchange turned into another chapter in our long-running argument about funny vs. serious commentary. A natural born-wiseacre, I'm obviously pro-sense of humor, while Matt is pro-humorlessness. (I might be distorting his POV slightly here, but hey, it's my blog!)
Here is our exchange. Let me know who won, or more importantly, if you made it through this post without falling asleep.
Matt: What a dumbass. Waste of a column.
Steve: I think it's an interesting piece and probably more honest than a lot of anti-war columns. He's not saying the military is bad. He's saying that someone who is against the war is inherently against what the troops are doing over there, and to say otherwise is "wussy."
Matt: Oh, I get that. But the approach he used undermined the whole thing. He has a style similar to yours, in that it relies heavily on humor, which is fine. But it's fairly difficult to discuss "heavy" topics, such as people dying in combat, and crack jokes about it without coming off as snide, uninformed and supercilious. I'm not knocking the premise/point so much as the execution.
Steve: This is a central point of disagreement between you and me, I think, because I feel serious issues are often BEST handled with humor and satire. Just because he makes you laugh doesn't mean that, at its core, the piece isn't serious. He still constructs an argument with supporting evidence. Yes, the news is serious. But it's also silly in many cases. For instance, the idea that this war was fought over WMD, and there were no WMD, is both tragic and funny. And he doesn't joke about soldiers dying. He jokes about the doublespeak on the left concerning the war and the (inevitable) negative reaction his piece will recieve.
Matt: Yeah, but there are ways to do it with humor that don't make light of things that don't need to be made light of. Saying that someone who's willing to give their lives in service of their country sounds like a great guy to party with in Vegas only mocks that devotion. The Jack Abramoff crack is just that: a crack. Comparing the WMD deception to that created by a popup ad is self-centered and demonstrates an inability to sympathize, despite the preceding sentence.
Like I said, relying on humor is fine. You can comment on anything with a joke. But the tone of his piece and the specific jokes he makes come off as superiority and a grab for attention with his "mind-blowing" premise. He tries to admit he's out of his depth with his "rich kid" explanation, but then laughs that off with the phone book comment, essentially dismissing his own admission of weakness. It's cocky.
Steve: How does the Vegas comment "mock" their devotion? Isn't that just a funny way of saying, "These are stand-up guys I'd want to have a beer with"? And how does the phone book comment "dismiss" his admission of weakness? Admitting that you could be beat up by any member of the military doesn't sound very cocky to me. I just think you and I look at this from different perspectives. I think satire can be a vessel for a serious argument if people take the time to think about it. You think any piece that makes you laugh is inherently silly and not worth the same discussion as a "serious" piece. That's a valid point of view, though it pretty much dismisses everyone from Mark Twain to Jon Stewart.
P.S. Did you like "To Live and Die in L.A."? (I recently lent Matt the awesome 1985 cop thriller starring William L. Petersen and Willem Dafoe. He still hasn't said whether he liked it. What are you hiding, Neistein?)