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Emancipated Satire

Icebox.com's 'Hard Drinkin' Lincoln' takes on our most beloved prez

By Richard von Busack

SUPPOSEDLY, summer 2000 is a season for epochal sick humor that's gone as far as it can go, but all I see are pulled punches. Take Eminem's "Just kidding, folks" stance, which makes him all the less interesting as a satirist. When the shock-punk rockers of the 1980s--the Meatmen, the Angry Samoans or Fear--preposterously overdescribed assaults on their own families, they were eager to be misunderstood, anxious to be perceived as criminal scum instead of as four or five loons in a smelly van.

Unlike his punk-rock predecessors, Marshall Mathers uses fake identities that spout their hate. These personas are commercial wisdom on his part. Cowering behind the pseudonym Slim Shady, Mathers can defend himself against criticism. Later, he'll be able to "reinvent himself," after his audience ages, finds girlfriends, has children and starts to care about something besides their own hurt feelings. By accusing his mother of abuse--a charge that's going to court, since his mom is suing him for libel--Eminem has already revealed an injured side. Will it be long before he reveals a sensitive side, then?

Disappointed by the lack of anything more radical than the re-release of the nearly 30-year-old film The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, I was pleased to discover some real blasphemy on the Internet. Since Lincoln was our American Jesus, the blasphemy is especially hard to resist. The Internet (www.icebox.com) cartoon Hard Drinkin' Lincoln offers one of the wittier moments of humor in an insufficiently iconoclastic summer.

Icebox.com contains a selection of cartoons developed by personnel from The Simpsons and other Fox animated shows who hope to platform these cartoons out to TV. The limited animation can be quickly downloaded on the faster computers and watched in three-minute bursts.

Nothing else I've seen on Icebox.com is as clever as Hard Drinkin' Lincoln. The only other recommended show is Poker Night, the understated, Mamet-style adventures of the famous poker-playing dogs, seen on tapestries, postcards and place mats. It's promising, but it's started to get cute after only two episodes.

Hard Drinkin' Lincoln, created by Mike Reiss, must earn its power from our resentment of any American, even one as saintly as Old Abe, being presented as a paragon. That canonization of Abe inflames our national anti-aristocratic urge to see great men cut down to size.

Director/writer Xeth Friedman amuses by making Lincoln a drunken oaf. (A preposterous attack: Lincoln was a lifelong teetotaler.) Recent episodes include Lincoln taking Frederick Douglass to see Othello at Ford's Theater and heckling the show as if he were a frat boy overcome with the newly discovered ecstasy of pimp lore: "Go O.J. on that bee-at-ch!" Lincoln yells during the handkerchief scene. The obstreperousness is avenged, since John Wilkes Booth is playing Othello in burnt cork.

IN ANOTHER EPISODE, Booth stars on TV's Who Wants to Win a $5 Gold Piece? and stupidly uses Lincoln, incapacitated with drink, as a lifeline. The best episode ("The Un-Civil War") begins at Appomatox. Lincoln is seen weeping over "so many dead soldiers" (a few dozen empty whisky bottles) when he's called away to accept General Lee's surrender. The drunken Lincoln takes the opportunity to rub in the defeat with such vicious gloating that General Grant blurts out, "For God's sake, Abe, give the man some dignity!"

Friedman's drawings look more like vintage Jay Ward than this year's live action The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle. The show earns extra fondness for an irresistible theme song worthy of as many Grammys as you could warehouse in a old folks' home: "Abraham Lincoln's deserving of glory/But when he starts drinkin', it's a whole different story!/The Great Emancipator becomes an irritator/He's a rabid Irish hater/and a public masturbator."

Noah Robischon, a writer for Entertainment Weekly, has suggested that the reason Hard Drinkin' Lincoln is so funny is because there were no scandals associated with Lincoln's presidency. However, Lincoln's presidency was rife with controversy. His suspension of habeas corpus--which let him throw political enemies into the dungeon--made the 16th president widely unpopular.

Lincoln was accused of everything from atheism to illegitimacy to being related to gorillas (remember: he and Darwin were born on the same day). Gore Vidal's long but satisfying novel Lincoln reminds us that Lincoln had hoped to relocate American blacks to a reservation in Central America. In the end, however, as Edmund Wilson notes, whatever Lincoln felt about African Americans, he died in the cause of ending slavery.

Ironically, I never hear Hard Drinkin' Lincoln's catchy theme song without a surge of patriotism. This animated jackassery is a reminder of the sacredness of the First Amendment, which allows presidents to be dragged through the mud, just like Eminem's mom or anyone else.

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From the August 30-September 6, 2000 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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