Comedy, like a newborn infant, can capture our love by being adorable and wondrous. At other times, tantrums and a biting nature can signal a troubled future to come. For “funnyman” John Hodgman, something similar happens. His cherubic face and mundane disposition draw us closer. Yet once there, his angry wit is surprisingly unsettling. He confuses us by being nonspecific. And then he outrages us by never quite being honest. After prolonged exposure, we should be questioning his ultimate agenda on the national scene. Why is he here? What is it that he’s pushing? Sadly, for many young people today, the right moment to ask these questions has come and gone.
America has gorged itself on the meal that is John Hodgman without truly understanding the subversive, anti-America foodstuff that has been crammed down our gullets. He is an unhappy man. He is a voracious man. He is the type of comedy star whose insatiable appetite has pushed him to cross far too many media platforms. Yet everywhere his message is the same. He seeks to radicalize the geek, to turn nerds into social engineers who agitate for liberal redefinitions of traditional institutions. The precarious state of the U.S. economy is a consistent target of his disdain. He mocks America and its religion while offering no constructive alternatives. He is a man without faith whose atheistic, technophilic worldview provides a saggy and somewhat grotesque comfort to the young, lost and lonely. In essence, he is the lame duck hero of our future’s laziest, self-hating anti-heroes.
Mr. Hodgman first crept up on the national consciousness by representing the typical PC user in tv spots made by Apple, Inc. The ads ran for years, through many different iterations and were highly successful. Each advertisement was crafted to make PCs (and thereby their fans) look antiquated and weak. Hodgman played the role to a T. With bland clothes and a cloying voice, he turned many away from products manufactured by traditional American companies such as Compaq, IBM, Dell and Microsoft. In the process, he mocked the straightforwardness of Fortune 500 corporate style– the yeoman-like glory of consistency and reliability as personified by the gray-colored computers that powered America through the worst moments of the Cold War, 9/11 and beyond. In their stead, Hodgman and his comrades in this underground “fanboy” movement proposed the far less reputable flashy toys by Macintosh (whose parent company, Apple Inc. is an avowed supporter of liberal causes, including “homosexual” rights).
By playing such a role, and playing it for millions of dollars over many years, Hodgman seemed to hypothesize that hardworking, traditional Americans who aspire to the Puritan ethic of sobriety and loyalty were less admirable than the creative, shaggy-haired obsessives who inhabit the underside of our culture. At the zenith of Apple’s television campaign, Hodgman was this country’s top pitchman for the idea that geek culture can be redeeming and fulfilling. He posited that computer-based neurological indulgence will mean more for America’s future than the muscle-building hard work that has historically made this nation so great.
High on this first addictive taste of fame, John Hodgman next moved to cable tv to expand upon his message. He joined the cast of comedian Jon Stewart’s “The Daily Show” and quickly became a regular on the liberal news program. Away from expert makeup artists and the possibility of endless reshoots, Hodgman looked nervous and awkward on live television. You imagined him sweating profusely under those cheap suits as he stumbled through arcane interpretations of outdated economic theory. His bitter, confused silences drove audiences to pity him. Crushed by their disinterest, he sought refuge in big words and complex monologues in an effort to appear intellectual. But the sad reality of watching this pudgy man squint and rotate his head back and forth as he followed complicated words on a teleprompter only made the entire scene far more pathetic. One has to wonder if Jon Stewart kept him on “The Daily Show” as a foil to his own hyperventilating Jewish histrionics.
From the beginning, it was a haphazard dance between Hodgman and Stewart. The intellects of these two men never quite matched. Stewart is far more of a comedic “ham,” a scene-stealer who knows a goofy face can win over an audience. Hodgman is patient and persistent, trying to garner attention through an assault rifle attack of leftist factoids, shot to the brain instead of the heart. He drones on at times and appears so bland that many cannot bear the sight of him. For others, however, they find his countenance unassuming. They fail to see the incredible self-satisfaction and egomania of this media mini-phenomenon. He does not wear his big-brain ideas like the feathers of a peacock, but with that smirk you can tell he believes he is the smartest man in the room.
Behind the scenes, Hodgman chafed and seethed under Stewart’s mercurial management style. This competitiveness often boiled over to on-air segments, where he seemed to prop up the aging icon Stewart while secretly undermining and discrediting him at every turn. Towards the end of their relationship, Hodgman openly sneered at Stewart’s amateurish grasp of issues and rewatching their exchanges today, on topics ranging from art authentication to economics, can still make you cringe.
Desperate to expand his bona fides beyond Stewart’s schmaltzy liberalism, Hodgman then turned to two grand dames of the underground geek “culture” movement: folk musicians Jonathan Coulton and John Roderick. Both men, despite being openly lascivious and unkempt, served as mentors to the uptight Hodgman. They taught him the power of endless internet promotion no matter how pointless or frustrating. With their assistance, he published two books (“The Areas of My Expertise” and “More Information Than You Require”) to give himself a grander title beyond, “former Daily Show correspondent.” Along the way, Mr. Hodgman refined his routine. He mimicked the style of a “wonk,” becoming an obsessive’s obsessive, so obsessed with being obsessed that reason and facts flew out the window. He simply wrote to write, spoke to speak. There was no content to his words. They were there to fill up space and promote the man that John Hodgman had become. And the man he is still becoming today.
This leads us full circle to the question: Why is John Hodgman here? Is his comedy even necessary or relevant? As we struggle through one of the greatest economic crises in years, as our country faces some of the most dire moral issues ever faced by any society, as global terror threatens to wipe any semblance of Christianity clean off this earth, should we really give a man like John Hodgman a moment on the national stage? He does not present anything positive or helpful to America. He does not contribute to our understanding of ourselves, nor does he promote the ethical wisdom so necessary to guide us in these perilous times. He is ultimately an antithesis to the various theses of American primacy. He is a void, nihilism boiled down to one-liners and monotone haughtiness. He is like an eddy off the main stream of America. If it we not for the fact that our children could get caught up in his circular, self-absorbed logic, we would completely ignore him. But the danger is there. Floating off course from a normal life, a child could so easily get spun around by Hodgman’s ever-spiraling delusion, forced to gulp down big mouthfuls of his fraudulent intellectual satire, weighed down by his fleshy smiles… And once you’re that deep, what is left? You raise a pale arm to the sky, frantically waving for attention. But who is there? Who will notice a lost soul so far off the main stream? Sadly, the nihilism of John Hodgman has grown just so great that he would not even lift a finger to save that drowning child.