Recommended Reading: Da Bears, Russian Trolls, and Christine Blasey Ford
The sharpest, funniest, and most thoughtful writing of the week.
Modern online media is all about the signal boost, so every Friday here at Flavorwire, we take a moment to spotlight some of the best stuff we’ve read online this week. Today, the history of an SNL classic, a great comedian’s favorite comedy albums, a look at the wrenching testimony of Christine Blasey Ford, and the compelling case for propaganda swaying an election.
Alan Siegel on Da History of Da Bears.
The “Bill Swerski’s Super Fans” sketches on Saturday Night Live — in which a crew of thickly-accented, thick-around-the-middle Chicago sports fans sit around a table, eat, and make ground pronouncements about the skills of Chicago sports figures in general and Bears coach Mike Ditka in particular — were among the show’s longest-running success. They were also one of the most inexplicable, a seemingly one-joke sketch with a regional flavor that nonetheless remained funny and worked all around the country, because they so keenly captured a specific kind of cocky fandom. At the Ringer, Alan Siegel interviewed its creators and performers to craft the definitive history of “Da Bears.”
“Over and over, it was these labored connections they would make, in the most verbose way possible,” Smigel said, “in order to get back to reassuring each other that the Bears were gonna win the Super Bowl.” At one point [Conan] O’Brien even popped up as one of their sons. “He sort of ended up as a sight gag because he was really skinny,” Smigel said.
The sketch killed. But when Happy Happy Good Show made a brief stop in Los Angeles, Smigel cut it. He was sure that no one outside of Illinois would understand what was so funny about a bunch of irrational Chicago fans soothing each other by claiming the Bears were going to win their next game 82-3.
John Mulaney‘s favorite comedy albums.
We’ve occasionally dipped our toes into the treacherous waters of ranking comedy albums, but to his credit, John Mulaney — who we can all agree is one of the best stand-up comics in the game, yes? — doesn’t go for the obvious choices. Selecting his five faves for Pitchfork’s Evan Minsker, he bypasses the Button-Down Mind of Bob Newharts and Bring the Pains for a selection of more personal titles: “A lot of people have heard the great ones, but these are the ones that meant a lot to me.”
I lived in Ireland my junior year of college, and I got [Eddie Izzard’s] Glorious on CD. I just listened to it on a Discman on the bus in Dublin. It was a big deal to me. I had always kind of wanted to be a comedian, but that was the first time I was like, “Oh, that’s how I would do it too.” Not that I thought I could be as good as him, but Glorious is divided up into the Old Testament and the New Testament. That’s how he says the hour’s going to be. He starts on the Old Testament, and it’s like a long run with tons of tangents. Then, about a half hour in, far from the beginning of the premise, he finishes a bit and then pauses and goes, “So, the New Testament,” and it gets this huge laugh. It was so funny to me, to go back to the thesis statement that the show was going to cover the Old Testament and the New Testament when it hasn’t at all. He trusted that the audience was paying attention to the show, which speaks to his natural ease. I loved it.
Jennifer Senior on Christine Blasey Ford.
Yesterday was A Day. We could go on for hours about the testimony of Christine Blasey Ford, of the pain of watching a woman reopen an old wound for a group of men who walked in already resolved not to believe her, of how her poise and bravery was an inspiration, of the stark contrast between her testimony and the unhinged bellowing of the man she said assaulted her. But New York Times opinion columnist Senior gets at something else that was particularly striking about her testimony:
And that’s just the point. This reflex — to get along, to be the A student, to accommodate and ingratiate — is one with which many, if not most women, can relate. There was an unbearable poignancy to Blasey’s nervousness, an implicit apology in her performance, one that combined a deep wish to be taken seriously with a sincere desire to get things right. What seemed anathema to her was failing — getting the facts wrong, wasting everyone’s time.
It’s tiresome at this point to note that women in public life are held to more exacting standards than men are. Had Blasey seemed angry, there’s a chance she’d have seemed too angry; had she cried for too long, there’s a chance she’d have seemed too emotional, hysterical, her womb zooming freely through her body. What she did instead — instinctively — is what women have done forever in situations like these: make herself as helpful and conscientious as possible.
Jane Mayer on Russian propaganda.
As the Senate prepares to confirm a man credibly accused of sexual assault to a seat on the highest court in the land, as you read about the millions of dollars in funds diverted from FEMA, HeadStart, and AIDS and cancer research to put more kids in cages, as leaders from around the world literally laugh at our president, never forget that nearly 3 million more Americans voted for his opponent, yet thanks to the charming quirks of the electoral college, the future of the country came down to 80,000 votes in three states. At the New Yorker, Jane Mayer talks to Kathleen Hall Jamieson, author of Cyberwar: How Russian Hackers and Trolls Helped Elect a President—What We Don’t, Can’t, and Do Know, in which she makes a persuasive argument that a sophisticated propaganda campaign by Russian “discourse saboteurs” swayed the election in Trump’s favor.
As Jamieson reviewed the record further, she concluded that the Russian hackers had also been alarmingly successful in reframing the American political narrative in the crucial period leading up to the second debate. On Friday, October 7th, two days before it took place, three major stories landed in rapid succession. At 12:40 p.m., the Obama Administration released a stunning statement, by the Department of Homeland Security and the director of National Intelligence, accusing the Russian government of interfering in the election through hacking. This seemed certain to dominate the weekend news, but at 4:03 p.m., the Washington Post published a report, by David Fahrenthold, on an “Access Hollywood” tape that captured Trump, on a hot mike, boasting about grabbing women “by the pussy.” Then, less than half an hour later, WikiLeaks released its first tranche of e-mails that Russian hackers had stolen from Podesta’s account. The tranche contained some two thousand messages, along with excerpts from the paid speeches that Clinton had tried to conceal, including those that would be mentioned in the subsequent debates. (Julian Assange, the head of WikiLeaks, has denied working with the Russian government, but he manifestly despises Clinton, and, in a leaked Twitter direct message, he said that in the 2016 election “it would be much better for GOP to win.”)
If the WikiLeaks release was a Russian-backed effort to rescue Trump’s candidacy by generating a scandal to counterbalance the “Access Hollywood” tape and the intelligence report on Russian interference, Jamieson writes, it worked splendidly. The intelligence community’s report faded from the headlines; that Sunday morning, none of its authors were invited on any major talk show. Instead, the programs breathlessly discussed the “pussy” tape and the Clinton campaign’s e-mails, which were portrayed as more or less exposing both candidates as liars. Jamieson notes, “Instead of asking how we could know that the Russians were behind the hacking, the October 9 Sunday show moderators asked what effect the disclosures would have on the candidates’ respective campaigns and what the tape and speech segments revealed about the private versus public selves of the contenders.” If not for WikiLeaks, she writes, the media discourse in those crucial days likely would have remained locked on two topics advantageous to Clinton: Russian election subversion and Trump’s treatment of women.