Why did you write a comedy about the Manson family?
That’s what everyone keeps asking me. To me, a fitter question might be, “How can all the other writers NOT write one?” As prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi, author of the runaway bestseller Helter Skelter smartly knew, the saga of the hate-mongering hippie cult leader is surely one the most astounding true stories of all time. But a deadly serious one.
However, as the attorney for the defense, allow me to cite precedent in the violent, ribald pages of Voltaire, Swift, Fielding, Pope, Rabelais, Jarry, Moliere and even Charlie Chaplin (who by the 1940s was making comedies about Hitler and the Holocaust). Technically speaking, Willy Nilly is (like the work of the writers I named) not a comedy, but a satire. In a comedy, little things go wrong until they magically right themselves…and then everyone gets married. In a satire, characters representing the human race are shown committing follies – even atrocities – and are ridiculed. The difference in approach is between acceptance of the status quo and a rather sophomoric dissatisfaction with same. If anything, ironically, the satirist (with his accentuation of the negative) is the more naïve and idealistic of the two. He dares to hope for something better from his unpromising subject, or else he wouldn’t bother. The hell of it is, by using tragedy as the raw material for his comedy, he sets himself up to be misunderstood by the majority of audiences who can’t be bothered to probe beyond the outer skin.
Real murder, racism and sexism are not funny. But hypocrisy, self-satisfaction and lack of self-awareness truly are. On the other hand, you have to admit, Charles Manson himself, the real Charles Manson, is pretty funny. In fact, he’s a clown. How do I know that? Could it have something to do with the fact that the mainstream media has given this murderer countless hours of prime air time, piped his image and his voice into millions of American living rooms, and millions of us have sat there, riveted, hanging on to his every demented word? Charles Manson, in fact, is an industry. He sells tee shirts. He has a Web site. He cuts records. He is a celebrity. Yet the source of his notoriety is a rash of murders. This might also be said of O.J. Simpson, Che Guevara, Stonewall Jackson, Robbespierre…oh, any number of people. In fact, I’ll go you one better. Manson learned everything he needed to know in a series of U.S. “correctional” facilities, that is, before becoming a darling of the American media, selling his fair share of deodorant and breakfast cereal on the airwaves, while far more efficient killers operated under the radar at the very same time. Do I think Manson and his deeds are funny? No. But I think we are. For being drawn to his narrative and being so facile with our condemnations – when we spend our entire lives as part of a “family” no less bloodthirsty.
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