I recently watched several episodes of one of my current favorite TV comedies, Veep. I interned for a period of time at the White House, and in my limited experience (and through conversations with others), I am convinced that Veep gets working in federal politics better than any TV show or movie ever made (besides In The Loop, whose creator also created Veep). Ex-White House staffer Tommy Vietor said on his podcast that:
“The funny thing about ‘Veep’ is, we as people who worked in the White House always get asked, okay, what’s the most real? Is it ‘House of Cards? Is it ‘West Wing’? And the answer is, it’s ‘Veep.’ Because you guys nail the fragility of the egos, and the, like, day-to-day idiocy of the decision-making,” Vietor said. [Emphasis added]
It has, in fact, become common for people to draw real life parallels to characters on the show and people they work with in real life on the Hill or in the West Wing -- “The Jonah is the most spot-on depiction of Washington ever constructed. I know 100 guys like that” (Note: Jonah is an egocentric ass kisser who is painfully not self-aware and who will do whatever it takes to get more influence in DC).
One of my good friends who is a doctor told me that Scrubs similarly explains life as a doctor better than House, ER, etc. For example, "[i]n the pilot, J.D. performs a procedure called a paracentesis to drain fluid from a patient's distended belly; he turns away for a moment, then looks back to discover a geyser of fluid gushing into the air. It happened—just like that—to a fellow resident at Brown." It is well known at this point that working in tech is more Silicon Valley than The Social Network (watch this, for example). There is also solid evidence to suggest that comedy shows like Last Week Tonight and The Daily Show deliver the news better than CNN, Fox, MSNBC, etc.: "12% of online Americans cited The Daily Show as a place they got their news. This audience share was on par with that of USA Today (12%) and The Huffington Post (13%) among 36 different news outlets Pew Research Center asked about in a 2014 survey" (Pew). As a huge fan of John Oliver, I consistently am amazed with the clarity and insight with which he presents stories that should be getting far more coverage on cable news shows. Even more impressively, he spurs people to action that affects change. That's pretty incredible for a stand-up comedian.
Of course, many argue that shows like Veep are overly cynical. I would definitely agree that there are far more idealistic, well-intentioned people in DC than this show lets on (most people really are there to make a positive difference, I believe), but the fact remains that your day is spent more on a dumb scandal and political in-fighting than people might like to think.
We want to believe that politics is The West Wing (or fear that it is like House of Cards), but in reality, it's mostly made up of people trying their best with a choice few in it for themselves and everybody is figuring it out as they go along. Those choice few ruin everything and give those in it for the right reasons a bad name and get themselves and others into all manners of scandal, conflict, etc. And these scandals are stranger than fiction. Watergate. Bill Clinton's impeachment. Every day in the Trump Administration. But comedy reveals that truth. Comedy reveals the rough edges that biopic and drama try to smooth over.
Comedy has always served a "truth to power" function, since the earliest days of satire to now. From Ancient Egypt to Mark Twain to Sinclair Lewis to Jon Stewart, satire has a long lineage and has played an important role in human civilization. However, I think it has gained new strength in an age where video is the dominant medium. In a wonderful book Amusing Ourselves to Death (a must-read if you haven't already), Neil Postman makes that argument that in an age where we get our information more and more from the television, we are going to have a tougher time telling truth from fact and getting nuance in the information we need (sound familiar?). Therefore, he argues that the solution is to (1) teach in school "critical viewing" much as we teach "critical reading" and (2) encourage the popularity of satire as a means of pointing out the flaws of the modern media landscape.
Comedy now is how we try to sift through the tricks of television and the Internet (think The Onion). Comedy is in its ascendancy precisely because we are attributing so much gravitas to mediums that are ultimately for entertainment. We probably shouldn't be getting the majority of our news from Twitter and Facebook, yet that doesn't stop most of us. We probably should be better at fact-checking, but we don't. Comedy unveils truth by forcing us to confront uncomfortable truths in more pleasurable ways than facing them as-is. As Woody Allen once said, "comedy is tragedy plus time."
I wonder what that means when comedy serves as a better bell-weather for the realities of a profession than any other genre. Perhaps most of what we have to deal with at work is farcical, and the "substance" really makes up less than we'd like. I personally believe that a "dream job" is an unrealistic expectation -- your job (read: any job) is probably going to be 80% annoying BS and 20% the substance that keeps you going day-in and day-out. That 80% seems to make for fertile comedic material.
I don't mean to sound pessimistic with this post, but perhaps that we should (1) appreciate how clueless some of the folks who we put in positions of power are and (2) not to take ourselves too seriously. At that point we can shed our egos and work towards collectively focusing more on that 20% that gives us all satisfaction professionally and try to improve that ratio.