Wednesday, May 27, 2009

My brother recently passed along this clip of Stephen Colbert and Steve Carell discussing the weather on the Daily Show. The formula is simple: parody myopic Fox News-style outrage by "debating" the weather. Conventional right-wing formulas on taxes ("Today [the government is] controlling the weather and tomorrow, who knows, federal income tax."), guns ("If tornadoes are outlawed, only outlaws will have tornadoes."), immigration ("Clearly we must close our borders to undesirable foreign weather."), drugs ("If people can't get tornadoes here, they're just going to go down to Mexico where there's no regulation at all."), and guns, again ("Tornadoes don't kill people. Flying debris kills people.") seem absurd when the topic is "weather" rather than, say, "the liberal agenda." The audience's reaction is telling: the first big laugh comes when Colbert and Carell start bleating "baad" and "goood" at one another. Arguing over whether the weather is "good" or "bad" seems about as useful as arguing over the virtues of breathing: it just is, so what's to argue about? That weather just is calls attention to the empty pretensions of media punditry (two words that Jon Stewart points out "mean almost nothing"), but haunting this parody is the suggestion that weather might in truth be just as "political" as taxes, guns, immigration, drugs and so on. It's not simply that weather mirrors politics, or that weather performs political work (destroying seats of power, defeating armies, "punishing" Florida counties implicated in the 2000 election debacle). As Hurricane Katrina made so appallingly apparent, the weather is "about" economics, class, culture, law, property, race, infrastructure, and any number of other things that we tend to consider far less inevitable than tornadoes. Understanding how exactly weather is "about" such things requires some work.

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