Monday, August 02, 2004

Humor in Politics, Vol. 8724398

Regular readers will recall that one of my favorite academic areas of study is comedy - so cross that with the obvious political bent and it's easy to see why this post from Josh Marshall on GOP plans to spend their convention portraying Kerry as "an object of humor and calculated derision."

Ah, yes, because the sadest of all sad American truisms is that you can pick up 4 to 5 points by giggling and yelling "dork!" at your opponent.

Josh picks up on this theme as well, commenting:
The more discussion-worthy point, however, is the use of humor as a political weapon -- mockery, derision, diminishment.

Republicans are very good at this. And it can be a tool that is deceptively difficult to respond to or combat. Effective mockery is 'sticky', hard to shake off, hard to parry. And it appeals to people's appetite for fun and humor.

Indeed, it's not just contemporary Republicans who have a knack for this. There seems to be something intrinsic to the reactionary or right-leaning mentality that
gravitates toward this method of political combat. Think of the Tory pamphleteers and essayists of the 18th century in Great Britain or others of a more recent vintage in the US.

This is potent stuff. And Democrats would do well not only to be on their guard but consider applying this approach to the current president, who is more than a bit ripe for such treatment.

Yes, he has a good point, we certainly would do well by applying this approach to the president. Problem is - he has done a great job laying the groundwork for his obvious retort: you make fun of a war president, you're unpatriotic. The greatest thing is, this is SO ingrained in the American psyche right now, Bush has insulated himself from the dangers of the "that's not funny" comeback - a reply that hands your opponent a whopping victory (think about it - do we like Milhouse more, or is he more likely to win, when he tells his tormenters they aren't as funny as the entire audience thinks they are? We've covered that bad idea here and here, and likely a bunch of other places too).

The other big problem is that Democrats aren't funny. Well, we are, but we routinely sacrifice humor for political correctness, never caring much to find the powerful balance between the two. The Republicans don't rely on particularly high brow jabs, which is what makes them so hard to combat. Dems don't have to resort to mocking the same way, with the same cruel streak, but they do have to grow a thicker skin and get ready to roll with the impending punches. Everyone wants to be friends with the popular kids, and the popular kids get and stay popular by pointing out their differences from those they've deemed less popular. As with much of their PR strategy - the Republicans have found that you have to make dissent not just unpatriotic, but uncool as well.

Democrats may be the party of inclusion - but the Republicans put us to shame by getting more people in on the joke. It's a brilliant strategy. Unfortunately for the Democrats, we're what's funny.

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