Category Archives: Political humor

The Paradox of Political Humor

Q:  Is political humor always anti-establishment?
A:  Only if it’s funny.

Humor tends to be diminishing. When it diminishes others, it reflects poorly on the character of those who deliver it—unless they are professional comedians. And even then, it can be received poorly.

Whether political or not, humor directed at people who are weak, unfortunate or unpopular comes across as cruel and demeaning. Not that this kind of humor has not always had an audience… how many offensive racist, sexist, and ethnic jokes have you heard in your lifetime? Imagine how often they were used before harassment laws were enacted.

There is a bit of an exception to this position: the jokes about enemies. Stereotypes of fat sausage-and-sauerkraut-eating Germans and near-sighted buck-toothed Japanese may have helped the Allied WWII efforts by further defining the “Us against Them” scenario.

In the absence of war, this kind of humor still tends to perpetuate the Us against Them values held by racists, sexists and xenophobes.

On the other hand, when humor is directed at oneself—self-diminishing humor—it tends to show an appealing side to the self-diminisher’s character. You’re going to like me more if I make myself the butt of a joke rather than you.

You’re going to like me more if I make myself the butt of a joke rather than you.

There’s always room for self-deprecating humor from the Establishment. The endearing enduring jokes from political heroes tend to be mocking of themselves:

[from comedy-zone.net]

“I have often wanted to drown my troubles, but I can’t get my wife to go swimming.”
—Jimmy Carter.

“I have orders to be awakened at any time in the case of a national emergency, even if I’m in a cabinet meeting.”
—Ronald Reagan.

“I’m glad I’m not Brezhnev. Being the Russian leader in the Kremlin, you never know if someone’s tape recording what you say.”
—Richard Nixon.

“I have opinions of my own – strong opinions – but I don’t always agree with them.”
—George W. Bush.

“Politics is supposed be the second oldest profession. I have come to realize that it bears a very close resemblance to the first.”
—Ronald Reagan.

“You can tell a lot about a fellow’s character by his way of eating jellybeans.”
—Ronald Reagan.

“People who like this sort of thing will find this the sort of thing they like.”
—Abraham Lincoln.

Considered by many to be one of our best Presidents, Lincoln was certainly one of our best Presidents with a punch line… and this was before the era of Presidential joke writers.

Here are a few more of Lincoln’s most famous lines:
[from www.basicjokes.com]

“It has been my experience that folks who have no vices have very few virtues.”

“If I were two-faced, would I be wearing this one?”

“Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.”

Moral Fiber

Right now, amid so many depressing reports about the demise of our nation’s economic, health care and education systems, there are still two areas in which we remain the clear world leader: incarceration and obesity.

Is there a connection?

Since the 1980s and the Reagan administration, the prevailing government approach to behavioral issues such as these—the national marketing strategy—has been to present them as individual moral failings, and to encourage people to rise above temptation: JUST SAY NO!

Obviously, this strategy has never worked. It conflicts with what seems to be a fundamental characteristic of American Culture. There is certainly a pervasive belief, reinforced by decades of marketing messages, that we, as Americans, are entitled to what we want, when we want it. Our society seems to be telling us to JUST SAY NOW!

I wish I were an exception.

In the 1960s, when I had less body fat than a Barbie doll, I used to laugh at a TV commercial in which a middle-aged white guy (he must have been almost forty) stands in his attic trying on his old army uniform, which doesn’t come close to fitting. Alarmed, he rushes to the kitchen and slugs down a gallon of MetriCal, the Great Tasting Diet Drink That Tastes Like A Shake™.

Last night, following this philosophy of “the more you take, the more you lose,” instead of climbing on my recumbent bike for another 600 calorie journey, I went out to the local Hannaford supermarket and bought flavored rice cakes (Only 50 Calories Each!), curry-flavored Ramen noodles (Great As A Meal Or As A Snack!), organic dates (Only 40 Calories Each And A Great Source of Natural Fiber!), Newman’s Own Popcorn (All Profits Go To Feeding Other People Real Food!), and a freshly-baked Bran Muffin (Nothing Makes A Finer-Shaped Stool!!).

Before my metabolism changed to resemble that of a three-toed tree sloth, I used to think this diet-and-exercise stuff was all a matter of will-power and discipline. Now I realize it just takes applied intelligence and a valid VISA card.

Who needs moral fiber when you can buy Metamucil at a discount. (30% More For Free!)