James Trainor

James Trainor was US editor of frieze between 2004–07

We’ve just observed Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of atonement, and the sins and transgressions of the past year have been more or less absolved. Which may be just as well, since another major guilt-trip may loom on the horizon: ‘If Barack Obama doesn’t become the next president of the United States, I’m going to blame the Jews.’ Or so threatens Sarah Silverman, the aggressively sardonic and deadpan comedian (_Jesus is Magic_, The Aristocrats), in her new web video The Great Schlep.

Noting that Florida is yet again going to be a pivotal swing state in the upcoming election, Silverman made the video with the help of the political action committee The Jewish Council for Education and Research to urge young Gen-X and Y Jews to head down to the Sunshine State and badger, bully and coerce their retired grandparents to let go of their latent fears and prejudices and vote Obama in November. ‘Yes, OK, Barack…Hussein…Obama: it’s a super fucking shitty name. But you’d think someone named “Manischewitz Gooberman” might understand that,’ explains faux-exasperated Silverman regarding why normally staunchly Democratic nanas and zaides might believe all the right-wing blogosphere rumors about Obama being a Manchurian Candidate-like closet Muslim bent on the destruction of the state of Israel.

I first came across The Great Schlep while in Tel Aviv for the opening of Art TLV, where it started to get a lot of play, and in the two weeks since it’s release it has been watched by over 7 million viewers in the US, where it is circulating virally and is the latest instance of a brand of confident, informed, acerbic and focused satire that is fast becoming a significant insurgency tool against the Republican’s Rove-style disinformation machine. A tool that is actually having a measurable effect. (After Tina Fey nimbly lacerated Sarah Palin with her pitch-perfect impersonations of the VP nominee – using her own incoherent interview and debate transcripts as fodder – Palin’s solidly positive poll numbers immediately began to drop in inverse proportion to the rising TV viewership of NBC’s Saturday Night Live. Even Palin acknowledged during a campaign rally in Florida late last week that she is ‘providing job security for Tina Fey’ in an odd feedback loop between the parodist and the parodied.) All this stands in stark contrast to the lonely job description of the political satirist just a few years ago (think of Stephen Colbert’s bravely inspired roasting of President Bush at the White House press correspondents dinner in 2006 at the height of W’s mass popularity and the media’s timid self-censorship and how radical and nearly suicidal his speech then seemed).

Now former SNL comedian Al Franken is running a serious campaign for US Senate in a close race against the incumbent Republican senator in Minnesota, and it has become a familiar fact that a disproportionate and rising number of 20 and 30-something Americans get their news from such news parodies as The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, not the major networks. Meanwhile, as Silverman assures her bubbe, using the kinds of carrots and sticks that only a grandkid can wield, Obama’s “brisket is beyond…it’s beyond”. If that doesn’t sway the election, what will?

BY James Trainor | 11 OCT 08

Various sites, New York, USA

BY James Trainor | 01 OCT 08

What are the environmental costs of publishing a magazine?

BY James Trainor | 06 JUN 07

‘How to Live Together’, was a compelling challenge to biennial models based on national representation

BY James Trainor | 01 JAN 07

For the 100th issue of frieze the editors celebrate the pleasure and pain of criticism 

Revisiting Nancy Holt's monumental Earthwork

BY James Trainor | 10 SEP 03