Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

National Lampoon’s Lost Reality


Lord, how the mighty have fallen. In the ‘70s and ‘80s, National Lampoon magazine was the funniest thing going. I owned every issue, and read them from cover to cover. Remember the cover where a revolver was pointed at a dog’s head, with the line If You Don’t Buy This Magazine, We’ll Shoot This Dog? Something to offend everybody, but with wit. Then they started writing for what seemed to be an audience of about 15 super-hip people in New York, and faded away. But along the way the National Lampoon label was on two of the funniest records ever made: Lemmings, and Radio Dinner. They made two of the funniest movies ever: Animal House, and Vacation. Then they sank in the mire of Van Wilder and, god help us, Christmas Vacation 2: Cousin Eddie’s Island Adventure. No, I haven’t seen them. I don’t have to.

Now they, whoever they are, since the Lampoon label doesn’t really mean much anymore, have hit bottom. This direct-to-video stinkeroo purports to be material too rancid even for the immeasurable depths which “reality television” has plumbed in recent years. It’s 65 minutes long, covers 8 fictional shows, and we made it about 15 minutes into it. You know, I love a good gross-out. John Belushi filling his mouth with mashed potatoes, squeezing his cheeks and shouting “I’m a zit!” almost killed me. I laugh every time I even think about it. An elderly man caught by a “hidden camera” throwing a bedpan full of shit and piss on an elderly woman had me just sitting there, stone-faced. I smiled just a little at the first sketch, 15 yuppies trying to win the hand of a beautiful woman who turned out to be a man. But when a man tried to get his KKK robe cleaned in a laundry run by a black man, we bailed out.

Big problem: even if there was some real comic genius at work here (and there isn’t), reality TV has already gone beyond that point where exaggeration can work. Satire is no longer possible, the medium satirizes itself, as you see promos for show after show and sit there with your mouth open, wondering “What sort of syphilitic retarded primate watches this shit?” Honest to god, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Holocaust Island in the new season line-up. Every week somebody gets voted into the ovens. Or how about a show where a hidden camera shows a new mom’s reaction on discovering her newborn dead in its crib? Loads of laughs.