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Old 12-02-04, 01:03 AM   #1
Kalonymus
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Default a few ideas about politics and humor

Greetings comrades,

Here are a few ideas about politics and humor inspired by the U.S. elections. Thought this might be an audience that would get a kick out of my rant. Criticism of my ideas appreciated.

- Kalonymus
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Last edited by Kalonymus; 12-31-04 at 04:49 PM.
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Old 12-28-04, 02:18 PM   #2
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Paragraphs, punctuation and layout play quite an important part in winning over an electorate!

Read the attachment (eventually). Interesting but hard work.
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Old 12-28-04, 03:25 PM   #3
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I'm waiting for the edited version.
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Old 12-29-04, 11:06 PM   #4
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Default the edited version

Sorry about the density of the essay -- and the punctuation and paragraphs. I'm dyslexic and tried to avoid essay writing as much as possible in school. I'm trying to get my mother-in-law, who's an English teacher to help with editing. She's a former minister so it promises to be an interesting process. In the meantime, here's an abridged version that should be a bit more entertaining (I'll gladly email the latest draft of the whole piece to any one who wants to slog through my whole obsessive theory of what's wrong with the world).

HUMOR AND POLITICS

How do we fight the Republican propaganda machine?

We use humor. Laughter is a universally understood human signal that communicates the messages, “There’s no threat here” and “All of us who are laughing together are members of the same trusted group.” Depending on the context, the exact message will vary but it will always be a variation of this basic idea. For example, “The thing that triggered this laugh is not a threat, “The person we are laughing at is not part of our group (and, what’s more, he’s insignificant)”, “It’s safe to play now”, “I mean no disrespect, I’m just playing.” By the way, most laughter has nothing to do with humor. Most laughter is merely a signal from the speaker that communicates, “This speech is not intended to be threatening.” In typical conversation, women laugh much more often than do the men.

Remember, we’re talking about unconscious mechanisms here. To borrow a term from another field, humor is a defense mechanism. Humor, like all defense mechanisms, distorts our perception of reality. Specifically, it allows us to look at a situation without noticing danger.

Two categories of humor are useful in the political context: Xenophobic and Irreverent. In xenophobic humor the enjoyment comes from mocking members of another group. Xenophobic humor functions to strengthen group bonds and to lessen the perceived threat of the competing group. An extreme example is the chilling pictures from Abu Graib. The joy on the faces of the laughing soldiers comes from their use of humor to mask their fear of the enemy: i.e.,
“There’s no threat here. It’s safe to play.” If you, Gentle Reader, can't see the humor, it’s because you don’t perceive yourself as part of that group. Rush Limbaugh, on the other hand, got the joke.

In irreverent humor, the enjoyment comes from mocking the group’s dominant individuals or social mores. We’re allowed to show disrespect because we’re “just playing.”

The power of clowns like Voltaire, Swift, Mark Twain, Dario Fo, or Durov and his pig, in the political arena can be formidable. I experienced a taste of this by accident while busking in Australia. I had just gathered a crowd when a Christian with a loudspeaker began preaching on the same spot. When standard heckler lines failed to quiet him, I did what any performer would: I incorporated attempts at solving the dilemma into the performance. First, I had the audience taunt him in unison. When that failed, I threatened to order the crowd to turn down the volume on his loudspeaker permanently. I honestly hadn’t considered I was inciting real violence. I counted down from ten and saw the crowd turn as one and a mob of about 200 actually charged the guy. “I was just kidding! Let him go!” had no effect, I had lost control of the mob. The preacher did escape, with his loudspeaker intact, but he had to sprint. The mob chased him about half a block. The audience was particularly generous at the conclusion of the show further demonstrating the mass appeal of this particular form of audience participation comedy.

So why couldn’t Al Franken, Michael Moor, Bill Maher, Jon Stewart, and all the others get the masses to notice the obvious humor present (if one ignores the danger) in practically everything the Bush administration does or says? THE EMPEROR HAS NO CLOTHES! It should have been easy -- what’s the problem?

I’ve been watching a lot of Canadian T.V. lately and think I have the answer. Canadians are the most patriotic folks I have encountered. They also share a national sense of humor that is quite remarkable. I don’t believe a prime minister has ever been shot but I have seen a prime minister hit in the face with a pie (yes, an armed citizen can easily get that close to the leader of this country). Humor works the other direction here too. Legend has it a reporter asked Pierre Trudeau if he’d ever used marijuana, Trudeau replied, “What do you need?”

(Continued in next post)

Last edited by Kalonymus; 12-31-04 at 01:38 AM.
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Old 12-29-04, 11:15 PM   #5
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Default Edited version - part two

(Continued from previous post)

Canadian liberal comedians appeal to a wide audience with xenophobic humor. Once the audience is watching and laughing, the irreverent jokes get heard too. Canadians love to hate Americans. For example, Rick Mercer, star of the Canadian T.V. shows, “This Hour has Twenty Two Minutes“ and “Rick Mercer’s Monday Report”, had a running piece called, “Talking to Americans” in which he would go to the states and talk to Americans about Canada. In various episodes, Americans have believed Canada uses ten-hour-day metric time or that the Canadian parliament building, which is constructed entirely of ice, is beginning to melt because of global warming. During the U.S. election campaign of 2000, Mercer approached presidential candidate George W. Bush asking for comment on the news that Bush had received the endorsement of Canadian prime minister "Jean Poutine". Bush accepted the endorsement with a short thankful speech to Mercer’s camera. (A “Poutine” is a popular Canadian fast food dish consisting of French fries covered in cheese curds and gravy. The then prime minister's name was Jean Chrétien, and he had certainly not endorsed Bush). The next week, Mercer asked Gore if he would visit the capital of Canada, Toronto. Gore promised he would.

Hardcore conservatives probably don’t enjoy Mercer’s humor but a large proportion of every one else in Canada does. Canadians like the guy because they know he loves his country. He is a comrade in the struggle against the rival group; ergo, he is trustworthy. Because Mercer has earned the affection of his audience through xenophobic humor, Canadians allow themselves to be amused by his irreverent humor as well

Stockwell Day, the leader of the right wing, Canadian Alliance Party, and candidate for Prime Minister of Canada, had proposed that the federal government be required to hold a referendum on any subject if 4% of the electorate (350,000 voters) signed a petition requesting this. Mercer’s show posted a petition on their website calling for a referendum to require Day change his first name to Doris. Over 1,200,000 Canadians signed the online petition.

A few weeks ago, I watched Mercer deliver a three minute impassioned speech while walking quickly down winding streets behind a steady-cam that tilted cleverly as he turned corners. The speech was about Canada’s history of screwing the province of Newfoundland, and specifically about a current plan to renege on an agreement that would allow Newfoundland to keep profits from offshore oil drilling in the province. When it was over, I realized there hadn’t been a single joke in the speech. Mercer can actually get away with making a soapbox political speech in the middle of a comedy show. The only attempt to mask the message under a veneer of entertainment was the interesting camera work. The next week, it was the eve of Bush’s visit to Canada. Mercer’s speech was an appeal to Canadians who planned to protest to be polite or at least “keep it down to a dull roar.” Mercer specifically admonished potential protesters not to do anything that might jeopardize negotiations between our countries on softwood lumber or beef. This is in the middle of a comedy show!

The reason irreverent humor is so much more effective in Canada is that most of the population watches and enjoys the same leftist comedians. In the U.S., only Liberals watch leftist comedians. With the division now in the U.S, mocking the president isn’t really irreverent humor anymore. For an audience of Liberals, it’s xenophobic humor - we get pleasure out of seeing those who threaten our group made to seem less powerful. Our group sees Americans who support the president as a competing group and they see us the same way, at least in terms of what’s funny. Humor is relative. “Rush Limbaugh is a big fat idiot”, “Hillary Clinton is a Feminazi”: the jokes have the same construction and are funny (or not funny) for the same reason. All jokes are inside jokes.

I saw comedian Margaret Cho perform a while back. I, and every one else in the audience, laughed at her riff on Bush’s pronunciation of “nuclear.” Cho performs a valuable service to our group. She rallies our spirits, she makes us more enthusiastic in our struggle. I wish her all the monetary and reproductive success she wants (heck, I’ll admit it: I have a crush on her). Unfortunately, few republican voters are ever going to be in her audience.

Howard Stern and Larry Flint are among the only sources of irreverent humor actually viewed and enjoyed by a non-liberal audience in the U.S. Yes, Larry Flint. Every issue of Hustler has an article under the banner, “Asshole of the Month.” A full page of liberal propaganda. Check it out, if just so you can say you read Hustler for the articles. Eminem’s tour de force regicidal rock-video was another beautiful example of irreverent humor. Unfortunately, that masterpiece was probably a one shot deal. His character’s audience appeal benefited from the one beautiful salvo fired at the king but Eminem is savvy enough to understand that unless he destroyed the king with the next blow, it would damage his credibility and status with his fans.

Speaking of bad boy superstars, I suspect this is the same reason Osama bin Laden hasn’t struck on U.S. soil since 9/11/2001. A good performer knows to leave on a high note with the audience wanting more. The intended audience for the 9/11 “tragedy” wasn’t the U.S.. Bin Laden’s audience were his potential followers in Moslem countries -- fellow members of the radical Moslem group. Remember the celebrations and laughter in the streets of occupied Palestine on the news? Terrorism may not be comedy but it definitely is theater. The motive for the dramatic crime was to improve bin Laden’s status in the group, and by extension to facilitate fundraising and recruitment. He’s doing well on all these fronts -- a repeat performance would risk much and add little.

So how would a scientifically informed liberal comedian reach the widest possible American audience? You guessed it: xenophobic humor -- America needs a rival we can all love to hate. The European Union is perfect for this role. Like high school football teams, we can enjoy the playful “hatred” but understand that we are rivals not mortal enemies. The Right has already set this up with their sneers about the French. The citizens are primed to love a clown who can lead them in some rollicking Europe bashing. What’s more, by the 2008 election, if this administration keeps doing what it does, our rival will be our economic superior and genuinely scary to our country’s economic interests. And, of course, that will make the jokes even funnier.


Thanks for reading my ideas. Criticism welcome.

Aloha,

Kalonymus
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