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Guest Post: When Satire Is No Longer Funny

(Today's post is a guest post by longtime reader Matty P. If you would like to guest write for us, please check out our guest post guidelines. We look forward to publishing reader posts on future Thursdays.)

Political satire is not new. Comedic dissension for political policy, representatives, or current event is an ever growing medium. Comedy central icons Stephen Colbert and John Stewart make a living mocking politicians and our political system. While some portrayals are intelligent and clever, others are derogatory and borderline militant. Certain attempts at satire push a line that both isn't funny and show a lack respect for our political institutions.

Last week, a family member emailed me this political cartoon.

It seemed harmless at first, the usual satirical affair. Yet after I read it, I wondered, “Is this cartoon advocating the death of people supporting Obama?” I felt, and Eric C agreed, that we had to respond to this growing trend of advocating Violence in our modern political discourse.

It’s a single ember in a seemingly growing fire composed of political hostility and outright hatred. Zazzle.com recently received flak for selling the following bumper sticker.

The bumper sticker reads: “Pray for Obama” but cites “Psalm 109:8” as it's inspiration. The passage reads: "May his days be few; may another take his place of leadership." (NIV) Insulting, but harmless unless you read the verses to follow. Such as "May his children be fatherless and his wife a widow." The prayer for Obama is not to bestow wisdom or guidance, but for his life to fall into desolation and his family line to die off.

This is a departure for the “Don’t blame me, I voted for ___” bumper stickers that seemed so popular on my block in the early 90’s. There is growing hostility toward our elected officials. Facebook shut down a user initiated poll asking “Should Obama be killed?”  Subsequently, the poll and those who answered are now under investigation by the Secret Service. Currently, President Obama has his own wiki page dedicated to attempts on his life. Recently, Bill O'Reilly suggested Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid need to be kidnapped and waterboarded.

The hatred runs deep along party lines. Consider President Bush’s two rather unsuccessful comedy shows on Comedy Central. That’s My Bush!, whose tagline was “A brilliant man deserves a brilliant sitcom,” only lasted eight episodes. The animated Little Bush managed seventeen episodes. Both portrayed the then President as an idiot and child. While insulting, these shows barely compare to the sentiments conveyed in Death of a President(2006) a docu-drama about George W. Bush's assassination or the novel Checkpoint by Nicholas Baker, about a man planning Bush's assassination. 

At some point Americans made a departure from acceptable and viable methods of protest to advocating acts of Violence against those we disagree with. Dislike for policy has evolved into malice for individuals. A combination of free speech, apathy toward actual political action, and misguided hatred fueled by polarized media outlets have led to an age of political passive aggression. Where outrage once led to rallies, protests, or petitions, the response now is angry blogs, disrespectful artwork, and death threats. 

Differing opinions is not a bad thing nor is disliking an elected official for his policies and public acts. Inspiring violence against those who don’t agree with your opinion is. How we respond to those who disagree with us is pinnacle to solving actual problems. Sadly, not everyone can be Stephen Colbert. Most shouldn’t try.

ten comments

I have some major disagreements with this post, mainly because I think I’m more left wing.

The first is that I think, though liberals certainly hated Bush, you did not see the violence. I never received a joke or catoon about Bush being killed. No one I knew ever thought that would be a funny idea. Yes, checkpoint and Death of a President deal with these themes, but at least those are art. And there were two sitcoms on Bush being stupid, but SNL portrayed Ford as stupid, Reagan as stupid, Clinton a sex addict, etc.

The line is when comedy turns to violence. Or just political discourse turns to violence.

I would put a coarser brush on it: This is not ok. It is never acceptable to threaten the life of any political representative.

2 things:

(a) Political commentary recently led to murder: Dr. George Tiller, the abortion doctor, was slain by a devoted fan of Bill O’Reilly, who often referred to the doctor as “Tiller, Tiller, the Baby Killer.” Regardless of your view on abortion, this was a terrible, terrible thing that happened.

(b) Why are there so many threats of violence toward Obama? What has he done to inspire hate in so many people, moreso than Clinton, either Bush, etcetera?

The faction voiced by Rush, BillO, and the like, has openly stated from day 1 that they oppose everything Obama does, regardless of what it is. This faction has also led to a death that THEY CALLED FOR.

I guess we can call them terrorists, because they have made me very afraid that something awful will happen.

TANGENTIAL FUN FACT: Did you know Dick Cheney was able to watch the entire JFK assassination from his office window in downtown Dallas? Fascinating…

Eric, I’d have to disagree with your position that violent thought was never expressed towards President Bush.

Like you said, yes, Death of a President is art, but so too was Al Brandtner’s “Patriot Act” artwork, which featured a gun to Mr. Bush’s head. Is the “line” only when comedy or political discourse turns to violence, and not art as well?

Chris Matthews endorsed Malachy McCourt, Green party candidate for governor of New York, when Mr. McCourt said in an interview with Matthews that he favored capitol punishment for President Bush. In Cindy Sheehan’s “Peace Mom,” she described how she often imagined going back in time and killing President Bush when he was an infant in order to prevent the Iraq War. Nobel Peace Prize winner Betty Williams, who helped start peace talks in Northern Ireland, said in 2007 at a peace conference in Dallas, “Right now, I could kill George Bush… I would love to be able to do that.” In Los Angeles, I frequently saw bumper stickers and t-shirts expressing similar sentiments.

There are violent radicals on both the right and the left. I think while Bush was president, the violent rhetoric towards him from the left was intellectualized a bit more, because it was in the name of “peace.” With the current administration, the violent rhetoric from the right is usually attributed to either ignorance, racism, or both. In either case, whether from the right, left, or center, violence toward the President (or any political representative, or anyone for that matter) is, like you said, unacceptable and inexcusable.

Yeah I have to disagree with Eric C that no one led death to Bush protests during the Iraq war. Whether or not there are more death wishes on President Obama than President Bush is way too complicated and I couldn’t begin to guess. I would just reiterate that politicians dying is never humorous.

@ Sam a) Dr. Tiller’s murder really upset me, for the reasons you mentioned. As I’ve written before, and will write again, vigilantism is not ok. b) I think it is racism, pure and simple. That and the right is more millitant and aggressive.

Finally, do you have link for the fun fact? That’s fascinating…

@ Kelly – I do stand corrected. There is violence on both the left and the right. But the conservative movement is larger. An email advocating killing Bush didn’t reach as many people as one for Obama. Maybe conservatives are larger, or own more weapons.

Also, there was no hatred for Bush this early in his presidency. Obama had people estimating his assisination weeks after he was elected. Bush had to start the war in iraq first.

@ Sam – I had forgotten about the Dr Tiller murder. Great point. I would like to hope that Eric is wrong about racism being the cause. But I’m not sure which would be worse; a long line of militant racist or a long line of militant far-siders (left or right).

@ Eric – I have to agree with Kelly and Michael here. I’ve seen the “death to bush” posters too. Though I too was worried about how long President Obama would be in office for the same reason Colin Powell refused to run: militant racists.

@ Kelly – great examples. I agree, threatening people or advocating harm to the is unacceptable.

@Eric I think you’re right about the racism, and I believe that is what is fueling the militance and aggression of the right.

As for the fun fact, I’m looking for the link now. I recalled from memory that the building where Cheney was working can be seen in a panoramic shot of Dealey Plaza. I’ll admit, throwing that fact out there without the proof readily available wasn’t exactly responsible on my part. But I’m going to hunt that link down and let you guys know when I got it.

Finally, @Kelly regarding the “capital punishment” comment… although still unacceptable, there’s a difference between inciting vigilante justice and stating the fact that Bush did many things that hurt this country, and it would certainly not be impossible for many lawyers to make a case that some of these acts could construe treason. Still, I hate capital punishment, so that comment still was pretty damn bad.

I just wanted to say, my bad for not mentioning the most important thing about this post, which is that the original cartoon that inspired this whole thing isn’t even funny. I mean, where’s the joke?

On the treason issue, I just listened to a whole podcast on how Clinton was investigated, and it blows my mind we would have no investigation into the Iraq War. I’m not interested in sending people to jail, I just want an honet investigation into how that war got started.

I always thought this video was hilarious, though it is obviously atleast halfways humor:


Bottom line, that cartoon is not funny.