THE MASKED MAN’S A FAG: FROM LENNY BRUCE TO SOUTH PARK Efraim Carlebrach Artwork by Mark Mindel
“Say something about the method of composition itself: how everything one is thinking at a specific moment in time must at all costs, be incorporated into the project then at hand… to preserve the intervals of reflection, the distances lying between the most essential parts of this work, which are turned most intensively to the outside.” (Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project, N1, 3)
South Park ‘eschews traditional left/right or democratic/republican dichotomies, it instead engages the political on terms of social discourse and what is “acceptable” in the media… South Park might be better understood as paradigmatic of a new form of cultural politics in the media, in which the future of cultural politics lies in strategies of conflict, providing active (re)negotiations of ideology that represent and teach critical models through which individuals, groups, and institutions interact.” (Theodore Peter Gournelos, The Tao of South Park: Dissonant Visual Culture and the Future of Politics) All of Gournelos’ observations of the ‘dissonant visual culture and… politics’ of South Park can be seen in Lenny Bruce. Gourlenos speaks of cultural ‘poaching’, ‘dissonance’ and intrusion into ‘acceptable discourse’, as ‘a new form of cultural politics’, but as the work of Lenny Bruce shows us, this is nothing new at all.
Michael de Certaeu coined the term ‘poaching’ in The Practice of Everyday Life. ‘Poaching occurs as individuals and groups take bits of dominant culture without subscribing to the whole.’ Poaching is a tactic. ‘Tactics… are the guerrilla like nomadic movements of groups acting against established power-structures (e.g. culture jamming), in which “calculated action” is “determined by the absence of a proper locus…”’ (Theodore Peter Gournelos, The Tao of South Park: Dissonant Visual Culture and the Future of Politics)
‘South Park’s portrayal of race and ethnicity demonstrates the shows often offensively dissonant approach to racial politics in the contemporary United States… South Park actively engages topics that are too liminal to appear in open or productive discourse through a radically disruptive approach to racial rhetoric; it juxtaposes and combines disparate stereotypes, historical events, and contemporary political trends to highlight not only instability and insufficiency of dominant racial discourse, but also the too often hidden and insidious tropes of “whiteness”.’ ( Theodore Peter Gournelos, The Tao of South Park: Dissonant Visual Culture and the Future of Politics) Who does this better than Lenny Bruce in bits like ‘Are there any niggers here tonight?’ and ‘How to relax your coloured friends at parties’?
“I would never satirise the obvious” – Lenny Bruce on Playboy’s Penthouse TV Show, October 1959
“Horrific deplorable violence is OK, as long as people don’t say any naughty words” Sheila Broflovski, South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut
“Where is your god when you need him? Where is your beautiful merciful faggot now?” The Mole’s dying words in South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut
Mr. Garrison speaks with a Southern accent, and claims to have a master’s degree. Mr. Garrison’s sexuality is complex. During the entirety of the show he has had heterosexual and same-sex relationships, both while living as a man and living as a woman. Across the series he displays a myriad of conflicting and ambiguous sexual identities. This may have some relation to the multiple personality disorder, which Mr. Garrison manifested in earlier seasons through Mr. Hat and Mr. Twig. He is the masked ‘anonymous’ executioner in South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut. This is another element of his tactical duplicity, not just as a gay man espousing homophobic views, but exacting state violence ‘anonymously’.
‘“We were on our way to celebrate the short life of a guy we didn’t know much about except for the indisputable fact that he’d been very, very HIP,” writes Pamela des Barres in her groupie memoir I’m With the Band. She saw Frank Zappa, mourning in his flowered bell-bottoms and sneakers. “Lenny was a saint,” he said. Soon Zappa moved back to California to work on his next project, which he described then as “a musical science fiction horror story based on the Lenny Bruce trials” but which turned into albums like We’re Only in It for the Money’ ‘Lenny Bruce Everywhere’ by Jonathan Poletti, published in Tablet Magazine online, 3rd Aug. 2012
The Lone Ranger is the only survivor of an ambush by the Cavendish gang on a detachment of Texas Rangers. Tonto, a childhood companion stumbles across the injured Ranger and nurses him back to health. The Lone Ranger realizes with everyone thinking he is dead; it frees him to go after any criminals he wants. To hide his identity he makes a mask from the vest of his brother, killed in the same raid. The Lone Ranger, S.1 Ep.1 - â€˜Enter the Lone Rangerâ€™ (15th Sep. 1949)
“There come a time when good man must wear mask” Jonny Depp as Tanto the Indian inThe Lone Ranger (2013).
The Lone Ranger: “If these men represent the law, I’d rather be an outlaw” Tanto: “That is why you wear the mask”.’ The Lone Ranger (2013)
“I bet you got mascara under that mask, you dang queer” Lenny Bruce as the County Officer in Thank You Masked Man (released 1971)
“This is a story of one of the most mysterious characters to appear in the early days of the West. He was a fabulous individual, a man whose presence brought fear to the lawless and hope to those who wanted to make this frontier land their home. He was known as the Lone Ranger.” The Lone Ranger, ‘The Masked Rider’ S01, Ep. 14, (5th Dec., 1949
‘Dirk Nelson “How do we know he’s not on the side of the law? Any man can cover his face and claim to be the Masked Rider”.’ The Lone Ranger, ‘The Masked Rider’ S01, Ep. 14, originally telecast on December 15, 1949
The early episodes of The Lone Ranger on TV focus on changing identities, hidden identities, and tactical shape-shifting that ultimately settles upon disguise as the bad side in in order to subvert from within. Depictions of the early days of ‘The West’ juxtaposed a small town mentality with the nomadic lifestyle of the open expanse where new arrivals are strangers with little to identify them. The short-lived ‘60s TV series The Loner shows us the problems of identifying political allegiances in the aftermath of the American Civil War. During the Civil War, men had been so clearly identified and grouped.
In The Lone Ranger, ‘The Masked Rider’ S01, Ep. 14, the Lone Ranger rescues Nancy Barton from the Nelson Gang by using a disguise, an alias – The Masked Rider – to enter their fold. Jim and Nancy’s romance is consummated at the end, thanks to the Lone Ranger’s efforts. The close up shot of their embrace is mirrored with a shot of the other couple, the Lone Ranger and Tanto.
When an outlaw family badly wounds a man in a robbery, the estranged son is accused while the outlaws’ father is also wounded in the robbery, which inspires The Lone Ranger to disguise himself as a doctor to get access to the gang.
The Lone Ranger, ‘Trial by Fire’, S.3 Ep.11, originally telecast November 20, 1952
‘Dialectic of flanerie: on one side, the man who feels himself viewed by all and sundry as a true aspect and, on the other side, the man who is utterly undiscoverable, the hidden man.’ Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project, M2, 8 The Lone Ranger was ‘viewed by all’, a stalwart of 20th century American popular culture, and yet always ‘undiscoverable, the hidden man’.
Cartman: “Stan’s dog’s a homo, Stan’s dog’s a homo!” (South Park Se01 Ep04 – ‘Big Al’s Big Gay Boat Ride’)
Stan: “Mr. Garrison, what’s a homosexual?” Mr Garrison: “Oh, well Stanley well I guess you came to the right person. Sit down. Stanley, gay people… Well, gay people are evil. Evil right down to their cold black hearts which pump not blood like yours and mine but rather a thick vomitous oil that oozes through their rotten veins and clots in their pea size brains which becomes the cause of their Naziesque patterns of violent behavior. Do you understand?” Stan: “I guess” ( South Park Se01 Ep04 – ‘Big Al’s Big Gay Boat Ride’) See the etymological link between faggot and fascist in the Latin fasces
Stan’s uncle (Jimbo) is the hillbilly local (we learn that they only got as far as elementary school) who places a bet on South Park elementary (the cows) wining the football match against Middle Park ‘the cowboys’, suddenly a mob of white trash locals appear waving fists full of dollars and they all want to place that bet. As a result, everyone else bets all their money on the team, and they threaten Jimbo if the Cows lose. Intimidated, Jimbo and Ned seek a backup plan and learn that John Stamos’ brother Richard will be singing “Lovin’ You” at halftime. Consequently, they plan to detonate the mascot for Middle Park, by placing a bomb to explode when Richard Stamos sings the high F note in the song. South Park se01 ep04 – ‘Big Al’s Big Gay Boat Ride’
Cartman: “My mum says God hates gay people. That’s why he smote the sodomies in France” South Park se01 ep04 – ‘Big Al’s Big Gay Boat Ride’
There is a ‘Jesus and Pals’ call-in show on South Park public access. It offers an alternative to Mr. Garrison’s opinion on the gay dog: Caller: This is Robert from Torret Pines, I called last week asking for advice on my ex-wife. Jesus: Of course, Robert. How are things now? Caller: Everything’s much better, Jesus. She hasn’t mouthed off since, and I just wanted to thank you for the advice. Oh and for dying for my sins too - that was really nice of you. Jesus: Blessed art thou, Robert. Stan asks about his gay dog but Jesus’ show gets cut off before he can finish expounding his views on homosexuality. South Park Ee01 Ep04 – ‘Big Al’s Big Gay Boat Ride’
‘There hasn’t been one god like that. Every god always stuck around for a ‘Look what I did for you’.’ ‘Thank You Masked Man’, Lenny Bruce, released 1968
Mr Garrison: What!? What the hell are you talking about? I am not gay! Chef: Well you sure do act like it. Mr Garrison: I just act that way to get chicks, dumbass! South Park Se01 Ep04 – ‘Big Al’s Big Gay Boat Ride’
The network that aired South Park particularly objected to a joke in which, after watching Kyle run, the commentator said, “I haven’t seen a Jew run like that since Poland 1938”, intended as a reference to the country’s invasion by Nazi Germany. The jokes were based on a number of real-life offensive remarks sports commentators made for which they were disciplined. Stone said the scenes were meant to parody the commentators, not the subjects of the jokes.
Cartman discovers the â€˜Triangle of Zintharâ€™, which Barbra Streisand is looking for in order to take over the world. Streisand dons a disguise as Groucho Marx, and visits the boys offering them a monetary reward for the triangle. Stan, Kenny and Kyle are suspicious, but Cartman insists they go along for the money.
The Superman Rule - Put on a disguise, no matter how slight, and no one will recognize you.
“Shows what trouble you can get into if you’ve got a loose tongue” “Boy do they love anything obscene out here. They look so gentle and…” Groucho Marx, outtakes from You Bet Your Life 1959-60.
These outtake reels were compiled for the delectation of the corporate sponsors; the show would have been axed had this material ever been aired.
“Killing yes, but shtupping no!” Lenny Bruce, On Censorship
Lenny Bruce speaks as the ghost of a young girl who can’t discuss sex with her parents due to social stigma. In this bit, Lenny creates a loop between the girl dying at the end from blood poisoning and the murder scene in Hitchcock’s Psycho. “I met this boy this summer, I fell in love, I got in trouble (laughter), and er, I died this morning of blood poisoning outside of general emergency (laughter).” Lenny Bruce, On Censorship 26
Jared Fogle gives a speech at South Park, promoting how easy it is to lose weight by simply eating a diet of Subway sandwiches. Jared reveals to Cartman, Stan, Kyle and Butters that his weight loss is not only the result of eating sandwiches, but also with the help from his aides. ‘Aides’ is confused for its double, its homonym, ‘AIDS’, by the townspeople. The misunderstanding leads to a mob nearly lynching Jared. In a side plot, the boys seek to make money by similarly scamming a Chinese restaurant into an advertising campaign deceiving the public to believe that they can lose weight on Chinese food. Stan proposes that Butters gain lots of weight and then become fit by other means, while pretending that he lost weight by eating at City Wok. When Butters fails to loose weight the boys perform liposuction on him at home. It goes horribly wrong and Butters’ intestines and blood are strewn around the room. His parents are not worried about his near-death experience but berate him for performing surgery at home. We laugh at children suffering from botched medical procedures they are forced to undertake due to social stigma and taboo. (South Park, ‘Jared has Aides’)
AIDS finally becomes funny when the residents of South Park realize the semantic confusion with ‘aides’; AIDS becomes funny due to historical events. They realize it’s been 22.3 years since AIDS crisis and so it’s acceptable to laugh; AIDS becomes funny due to Time. The intersection between history and time is fate. South Park, ‘Jared has Aides’
“Comedy is tragedy plus time.” (Lenny Bruce on Playboy Penthouse.)
Cartman masks his voice to pretend to be Butters on the phone to Butter’s parents: “Bring it on, queer bait… you old horse-banging skank”. South Park, ‘Jared has Aides’
The crowd that worships Jared as a celebrity becomes the angry mob that arrives to attack him later on. Similarly the crowd that wishes to ‘thank’ The Masked Man, return to attack him upon discovering his homosexual desires. The angry mob finds Jared beating a horse with a stick. “Give me that horse there… for the act.” Thank You Masked Man, Lenny Bruce, - South Park, ‘Jared has Aides’
“Ah, your body/the mysterious fountain that came to the surface” (from the Intro to 光戦隊マスクマン Hikari Sentai Masukuman a.k.a Maskman, Japanese TV show 1987-1988)
“Okay, here’s how it ends. One day I’m going to get an order to appear in court. Shit, what is it this time? But when I get there the courtroom will be all decorated, dig, with balloon and streamers, and confetti, and when I walk in, they’ll all jump up and yell, ‘Surprise!’ And there’ll be all the cops that busted me, and the judges and D.A.s who tried me, and they’ll say: ‘Lenny, this is a surprise party for you. We’re giving you a party because even after everything that happened you never lost respect for the law.’” Lenny Bruce quoted by Stan Cohen
‘Buddy: There’s an old colonial cemetery with flat tombstones and a man and woman go in there (pause) to perform an act of love. Can you say that? Perform an act of love… say it. Peggy: To perform an act of love Buddy: Right, that’s what they go in there to do. And they perform an act of love on a flat tombstone, and the next day she complained of a backache and he took her to the doctor, who said (posh voice) “would you disrobe”. So she (posh voice) disrobed. They look at her back, say ‘nothing wrong with your back, how old are you?’ she said 28, why? He says, ‘says on your ass you died in 1784.’ Laughter. Can you tell that one? Peggy nods vigorously, still laughing. Ye. Ok then how about this one: two fags was fucking a dead alligator on a bus… laughter, no? Can’t do it? Could you make a note that Peggy don’t tell alligator jokes.’ Buddy Hacket standup, interacting with an audience member (Peggy) ISIS
Clayton Moore often was quoted as saying he had “fallen in love with the Lone Ranger character” and strove in his personal life to take The Lone Ranger Creed to heart. This, coupled with his public fight to retain the right to wear the mask, linked him inextricably with the character. In this regard, he was much like another cowboy star, William Boyd, who portrayed the Hopalong Cassidy character. Moore was so identified with the masked man that he is the only person on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, as of 2006, to have his character’s name along with his on the star, which reads, “Clayton Moore — The Lone Ranger”
Earl Grasser, who was the voice of the original Masked Man radio show in 1937 actually wore the mask whilst recording the voice parts.
“The reason we did not want Moore to wear the mask has disappeared,” Wrather Corp. spokesman Monty Livingston said, referring to the film. The Legend of the Lone Ranger, released in 1981, was not a big box office success. “Playing the Lone Ranger has made me a better man,” Moore said. “I was hurt when I could no longer wear the mask but playing the Lone Ranger made me more considerate of my fellow man.” LA Times - Who’s That Masked Man? Hi-Yo-It’s Clayton Moore! January 15, 1985
‘Going about in the world wearing a mask is a way to escape the social bounds imposed by contemporary society. You will feel a kind of freedom when you know that you can see them but that they can’t really see you… Why do we have to face grim reality and expose ourselves to judgment?’ We cover our faces to protect ourselves not just from airborne particles but also from prying eyes, human and electric.’ (www.vogmask.com/history)
“There is one, only one, cause of the AIDS crisis — the willful refusal of homosexuals to cease indulging in the immoral, unnatural, unsanitary, unhealthy, and suicidal practice of anal intercourse, which is the primary means by which the AIDS virus is being spread through the ‘gay’ community” Patrick Buchanan, Boca Raton News, December 2, 1987
‘The car belonged to a tall, thin fag who was on his way home to Kansas and wore dark glasses and drove with extreme care’ Jack Kerouac, On the Road ‘I don’t want some sharp chick who can quote Kerouac and walk with poise… I just wanna hear my old lady say, “Get up and fix the sink, it’s still making noise”.’ Lenny Bruce, All Alone ISIS
‘In our struggle for responsibility, we fight against someone who is masked. The mask of the adult is called “experience”.’ Walter Benjamin, ‘Experience’ 1913
In Jeff Magnuson’s animated version, the Lone Ranger is drawn with a long gaunt face, like a death mask: the death mask of Lenny Bruce, who is and isn’t The Masked Man; is with and against the law; is a fag and isn’t; is silenced and yet speaking; is the masked man and the hillbilly. He looks like an AIDS sufferer. Tanto too is skinny and gaunt. They are both spindly. The mystic/messianic obscurity of the heroic masked man aligns him with those other spindly harbingers of the law, the prophets who declare the coming of The Messiah. ISIS
‘The so-called image of oneself that we all possess is a set of pure improvisations from one minute to the next. It is determined, so to speak, entirely by the masks that are made available to it. The world is an arsenal of such masks. But the impoverished and desolate human being seeks out the image as a disguise within himself. We are fascinated by the opportunity of looking out through these masks. We see the constellations, the moments in which we really were one or another of these things, or all of them together. We yearn for this game with masks as a kind of intoxication, and it is this that enables fortunetellers and palm-readers and astrologers to earn a living even today. Walter Benjamin, On Belief in Things That Have Been Prophesied. Fragment in Walter Benjamin: Selected Writings 1927-1930, p. 271
Lenny Bruce: ‘an observer who will not let the unsuspecting malefactor out of his sight’ (Benjamin, The Arcades Project, M13a, 2), choosing freely from the ‘boxful of exotic masks, offering us the more unusual kinds, such as the mask of the murderer, the magnate, or the round-the-world sailor.’ (Fragment in Walter Benjamin: Selected Writings 1927-1930, p. 271)
In South Park Se03 Ep14 â€˜The Red Badge of Gaynessâ€™, a Civil War reenactment in South Park goes too far. The men dress up in period costume and drink schnapps liquor, which is the sponsor of the reenactment. Under the impression that the reenactment is a competition of some sort, Cartman bets that the South will win the Civil War, and if it does, Stan and Kyle will be his slaves for a month, or vice versa. Knowing that the outcome is supposed to be historical victory for the North as planned, Stan and Kyle eagerly accept the challenge. Cartman, dressed up as General Robert E. Lee manipulates the now drunken Confederate actors into actually striving to win the reenactment, in order to win his bet. Motivated by Cartman (as Lee), the Confederates proceed to ruin the reenactment once again by routing the Union soldiers, and going on a pro-confederate rampage.. Kyle and Stan discover that the only way to stop the progression of the confederacy is to don masks themselves and become Jefferson Davis and Abraham Lincoln, and reenact the surrender of the Confederate army. The mask is such an addictive substance for Cartman that when they rip his fake beard off his scream of pain reverberates around the whole universe, across alien planets and back.
Wearing masks creates allegories, which do not translate neatly. Politics doesn’t fit neatly into these allegorical boxes, but it seems the only response is to promulgate the donning of masks, in an evolutionary, allusive politics of tactics.
In Batman, ‘The Joker is Wild’, the joker springs (literally) out of prison leaving behind a bust of his own head. The Joker stages a heist at the Gotham museum where there is a ‘comedians hall of fame’. Criminals appear from behind the busts of Laurel and Hardy, Ernie Kovacs, W.C. Fields. Batman and Robin eventually pursue him to a TV set of Pagliacci performance. The Jokers face is revealed behind the mask of the clown. The drunken mobster watching on TV exclaims in disgust: “that’s my mother-in-law”. The Joker exclaims to the TV audience: “and now… the zenith of my career, the unmasking of batman and the boy wonder hahahahaha”. As the camera follows the joker closing in on the potential disastrous unmasking, Batman and Robin pose together as a couple in the style of the romantic climax to an episode of many other 60s TV shows particularly The Lone Ranger. See the shot of Jim and Miss Barton at the end of The Lone Ranger series 1 episode 14. Batman 1966 S1E05 - The Joker is Wild
‘I’m a clown on the stage for you’
Lenny Bruce, Monster Routine (with hecklers)
‘In 1954, Dr. Frederic Wertham a German-American Psychiatrist published the infamous “Seduction of the Innocent” A book that claimed comic books, with their violent imagery, were contributing to juvenile delinquency. Most of the book focused on crime and horror comics, but superhero comics were targeted in a few instances. One notorious account claimed that Batman and Robin were a depiction of a gay couple. Of course, this is ridiculous, but many think this claim is what inspired writers to make Batman (or more accurately, Bruce Wayne) a shameless womanizer to help chase off the rumor.’ - Listserve – 10 things you probably didn’t know about Batman Listserve – 10 things you probably didn’t know about Batman
‘If there’s anything that Hugh Hefner is passionate about, aside from lovely ladies, it’s comic books. Hefner admits that, aside from publishing, one of his early projects was cartooning. Much later in life, he still liked to throw comic-book themed parties. In 1965, at the Chicago Playboy club, the Hef decided to have a Batman themed party that celebrated the campiness of the comic. He had actors dressed as Batman and Robin at the party, using the goofy “Golly gee whiz” lines from the comic, and the old Batman movie serials were screened. Little did Hef know, Yale Udoff , an ABC executive was attending. When he saw the crowd’s positive reaction to the goofy Batman and Robin, he immediately ran to a pay phone and called ABC with an idea for a new Batman TV show. So was born the campy but lovable 1960’s Batman series. Listserve – 10 things you probably didn’t know about Batman
Lenny Bruce; Bruce Wayne
South Park Se13 Ep02 ‘The Coon’ Cartman dresses up as a superhero, ‘The Coon’, to save South Park from rising crime during economic depression. The Coon: “This city is a dying whore, she calls out to me to save her, and I don’t know if I can.”
Kyle: Ye dressing up and running round at night is faggy anyway. Cartman: You’re a fag Kyle! Fuck you! Kyle: Dude, what? Cartman: He’s not a fag! Kyle: Why do you care?
Cartman: Oh, er, I’m just mad cuz you should never use the term fag, Kyle. That’s a hate term, and it’s insensitive to butt pirates. South Park Se13 Ep02 ‘The Coon
‘Mysterion: I cannot be unmasked, for then I would stop being a symbol. I need some help, someone who can do background checks for me. South Park Se13 Ep02 ‘The Coon’
Officer: Don’t do it, Mysterion. If you show your identity, we’ll be forced to arrest you for being a vigilante. The Coon: Don’t you think he knows that?
But superheroes know that sometimes you have to sacrifice yourself for the greater good. South Park Se13 Ep02 ‘The Coon’
Bill Cosby also has a bit on the Lone Ranger and Tanto from 1964. It touches on their bizarre relationship. It deals also with what would happen if – in Lenny’s terms – when the messiah came, if there was no trouble to solve. Well they would get drunk. It also touches on the homoeroticism (‘How d’yu like to take a look under my mask?’) His bit is in classic Lenny style, with the interplay of dramatic voices in dialogue. Cosby won a Grammy for the album on which this bit appeared. Could anything be further from the way the animation of Thank you Masked Man was received? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FEEIyvl0PlM
‘The Lone Ranger: Justice from Outside the Law’ on NPR Gary Hoppenstand, an American Studies professor and editor of the scholarly Journal of Popular Culture, ranks the Lone Ranger among a handful of important iconic figures in American popular culture. He’s a vigilante lawman who protects the criminal justice system by working outside it — a hero made for radio audiences of the Great Depression: “In the 1930s, the perception was that there was a failure of capitalism… There was a failure of government to protect the American people from ... what was, up to that point, was one of the worst financial experiences of American history.” A masked vigilante who operated outside the bounds of government — but in the interests of the law-abiding public — resonated with that public. And he was “wonderful escapist enjoyment, as well.”
Rod Serling’s 1966 creation, The Loner was set in the years immediately following the American Civil War. Lloyd Bridges played the title character, William Colton, a former Union cavalry captain who headed to the American west in search of a new life. Longtime TV Guide critic Cleveland Amory wrote that Serling “obviously intended [The Loner] to be a realistic, adult Western,” but the show’s ratings indicated it was “either too real for a public grown used to the unreal Western or too adult for juvenile Easterners.” Serling had expressed an open distaste for television ‘Westerns’: “It seems a reasonable conjecture that if there are any television sets up in cowboy heaven and any of these rough-and-wooly nail-eaters could see with what careless abandon their names and exploits are being bandied about, they’re very likely turning over in their graves - or worse, getting out of them.” The Loner aired Saturday nights at 9:30 Eastern. It debuted on September 18, 1965; the final episode aired March 12, 1966; selected repeats continued through April 30th. The Loner challenged to the boundaries between kids and adult entertainment, dealing with adult complex politics in traditionally a children’s genre, thus placing it in a lineage to South Park. ISIS
Serling was a Jewish New Yorker only eleven months Lenny Bruce’s senior. He was known as the “angry young man” of Hollywood, clashing with television executives and sponsors over a wide range of issues, which also populate Lenny Bruce’s material, including censorship, racism and war. In The Loner, ‘Westward, The Shoemaker’, The Loner meets a foreign man who had come to the United States just a year before. This man’s name was Hyman Rabinovitch, and he was a shoemaker. After he is given a ride into town, Hyman tells the Loner that he’s looking to buy a shop. He had a ring from his great-great grandfather. In New York, a man had told him, “Go West.” The role of Jews in writing the ‘Westerns’ TV and Radio programs may help us to think about the social observations Lenny is making in having Texas sheriffs and rangers speak in Yiddish and with accents that range from New York Jewish, to Southern, to WASP, to Ebonics. His mask is his voice, it is always roaming and changing; it is the box of wonders that Benjamin speaks about and it is the evasive tactical social critique based on the concept of ‘poaching’ as observed by Gournelos in The Tao of South Park.
“In the aftermath of the blood letting called ‘The Civil War’, thousands of rootless, restless, searching men travelled west. Such a man is William Colton. Like the others he carried a blanket roll, a proficient gun, and a dedication to a new chapter in American history, the opening of the West.” intro to The Loner (1965)’
In, The Loner, “An Echo of Bugles” (1965), despite having fought for the Union, Colton steps in to help the weakened Nichols, an ex-confederate soldier (his former allegiance revealed by his strong Southern accent), as he attempts to defend the honor of the confederacy. “My name is Colton; first name is William. My rank I turned in a month ago. I don’t allow any allegiance to that flag either but too many good men died for it to let me sit by and see it get desecrated by a dirty little loud mouth who had no hand in bringing it down - a loud mouth who was still sucking milk and candy drops while this flag was still in the breeze.” Colton (‘The Loner’)’s critique of the young, drunk Union supporter involves the tactical position shifting that characterizes much of South Park’s critique of the cliché ‘liberal’ position, which makes their politics so tough to pin down. ISIS
“If you say you’ve only been tempted… it would be an empty statement. You have to have some follow through. You have to say, ‘What? Tempted enough to see what it’s like? Yeah that tempted.’… I frankly wouldn’t trust a chap who hadn’t… chopped on that side of the street. And it has to be avowed and should be avowed that homosexuality is a form of love as well as a form of sex and deserves respect, and in my case nostalgia for that reason. (Laughter) Why do you laugh at that? That’s not supposed to be funny that was supposed to be touching… That was touching.” (Christopher Hitchens, ‘The Hitch: Lenny Bruce meets Wodehouse’, at the Hay Festival) This is Hitchens’ most Bruce-like moment. We are reminded of the Masked Man’s line “I’m not a fag… I’ve just read exposés and wanted to try it”. But more than this convergence of content, it is the final sentiment that sits most in the Bruce lineage. The irony of Bruce’s jarring reconstruction of the Lone Ranger and Tonto’s caring relationship of dependency (“Kemosabe” – ‘the term of endearment and catchphrase used by the intrepid and ever-faithful fictional Native American sidekick Tonto’) as the jibe “Give me that Indian over there”, plays on his knowledge that the average audience hasn’t avowed (as Hitchens reminds us to) ‘that homosexuality is a form of love as well as a form of sex’. The subtlety of Bruce’s critique of contemporary homophobia in ‘Thank You Masked Man’ is that it is homosexuality as a form of love, which is supremely obscene to the audience. He achieves this through the ironic displacement of any humane relationship between the Lone Ranger and Tonto, with the purely sexual ‘act’. Bruce tricks the audience; by making them think they are laughing at homophobia (against the ‘act’ of sex), making them think they are good liberals, he exposes their true homophobia, their inability to avow the ‘love’ of homosexuality. He makes them laugh and then laughs at them. Similarly, in Bruce ‘On Censorship’ when the laugh is cued at the revelation that the innocent young girl has ‘died of blood poisoning outside of general emergency’, there is an implicit dismay on Bruce’s part, ‘Why do you laugh at that? That’s not supposed to be funny.’
The Real Lenny Bruce LP The Masked Man is Jewish. He is ‘revealed’ by slipping into a typical New York Jewish accent. “I never knew you were a Jew, Masked Man!” “Zugnisht*, some Christians are coming!” * zugnisht means “don’t tell” in Yiddish
‘Marvin Belli handled a preliminary for me, and he’s a groovy lawyer, except that he got caught with his mask off. In Texas, Belli sounded to those people like the reverse of a Southern attorney talking to Liebowitz and a Jewish and Italian jury.’ The Essential Lenny Bruce, ‘The Southern Sound’ (p. 226)
‘Cause we know in our culture that ‘peeple who tawk lahk thayat” – they may be bright, articulate, wonderful people – but “peeple who tawk lahk thayat are shitkickuhs.” As bright as any Southerner could be, if Albert Einstein “tawked lahk thayat, theah wouldn’t be no bomb”.’ The Essential Lenny Bruce, ‘The Southern Sound’ (p. 226)
‘Oh what joy to be all alone. I’m happy alone, don’t you see... (?) I forgive you…’ All Alone – Lenny Bruce
Lone Ranger: Oh, yes; this mask. I’ve made many movies in Paris with a moustache and garters. You didn’t recognize me did you? It’s like “Tilly, Mack and Tonto” – those would be really good schmutz (dirty) books.’ Thank You Masked Man, as transcribed in The Essential Lenny Bruce
‘I always wonder about the anonymous giver. Cause the anonymous giver truly is the egomaniac: “I’m so good – I’m not going to tell anybody.” That’s sick, man. I’m going to leave you with this, that the only anonymous giver is the guy that knocks up your daughter.’ Thank You Masked Man, as transcribed in The Essential Lenny Bruce ISIS
September 29, 1961: Busted for possession of narcotics, Philadelphia. October 4, 1961: Busted for obscenity, Jazz Workshop, San Francisco. September 1962: Banned in Australia. October 6, 1962: Busted for possession of narcotics, Los Angeles. October 24, 1962: Busted for obscenity, Troubadour Theatre, Hollywood. December 1962: Busted for obscenity, Gate of Horn, Chicago. January 1963: Busted for possession of narcotics, Los Angeles. April 1963: Barred from entering England. April 1964: Busted for obscenity, CafĂŠ Au Go-Go, New York City. October 1965: Declared a legally bankrupt pauper, San Francisco. August 3, 1963: Found dead by police, Los Angeles.
On Jack Ruby who murdered Lee Harvey Oswald (who, assassinated JFK): ‘But Ruby came from Texas. They’re really concerned with “bawls” – they got ninety year old men biting rattlesnakes’ heads off! And shooting guns! And a Jew in Texas is a tailor. So what went on in Ruby’s mind, I’m sure, is that “Well, if I kill the guy that killed the president, the Christians’ll go: ‘Whew! What bawls he had, hey? We always thought the Jews were chickenshit, but look at that! See, a Jew at the end, saved everybody!’” And the Christians’ll hug him and kiss him and they’ll lift him on high. A JEWISH BILLY THE KID RODE OUT OF THE WEST! But he didn’t know that was just a fantasy from his grandmother, the villain, telling him about the Christians who punch everybody.’ The Essential Lenny Bruce, The Jews, p.58 ISIS
‘The critique of spiritual realities, consists in distinguishing the authentic from the inauthentic. But this isn’t something language can achieve other than by the detour of a deep disguise: humour. Only by becoming humour can language become critique. The magic of true critique appears precisely when all counterfeit comes into contact with the light and melts away. What remains is the authentic: it is ashes. We laugh at it. Whatever emits light in great profusion ends up by initiating these divine enterprises of unmasking that we call criticism.’ Walter Benjamin, Briefe, vol. I, p. 132
Efraim Carlebach's online project which traces a politics of masking in American popular culture through a montage of quotations, guided by...
Published on Dec 19, 2013
Efraim Carlebach's online project which traces a politics of masking in American popular culture through a montage of quotations, guided by...