Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Are Americans Too Dumb to Appreciate Satire?

To respond to my title question, the answer is a resounding

Y E S ! ! !

Blog readers of the world, listen up! Yes, I am an American citizen since birth and no, I don't hate America as some conservatives would like to believe. But I am bluntly honest and I don't believe in "my country, right or wrong" (unless it's that excellent Midnight Oil song, which expresses my views exactly). I don't believe America has the best of everything. In fact, I know we don't. We are falling behind in so many areas, but to point it out to the Bush-brainwashed followers is to invite accusations of treason, "hate America first!", and other such nonsense. I daresay that it simply is not possible for any liberal to commit the kind of treason that the entire Bush Administration has done these past seven years.

I've had the fortunate experience of living six years of my life in Europe as a teenager and young man. One thing I learned when I traveled throughout Europe and had dialogues with various Europeans as well as traveling Middle Easterners, Africans, and Australians, I noticed that even if we disagree in our views, there's still an underlying respect. The disagreements are on facts, with no devolving into personal and ad hominem attacks (such as, "oh yeah? Well, your mom is ugly!").

Try doing that with the average American...particularly one who only watches the Fox News Propaganda ("We distort, you comply!"), listens to reichwing radio, and reads screeds by Hannity, O'Reilly, and Coulter. Chances are, if you talk with people of that persuasion, you'll be dissatisfied because they are angry (why are they angry? Their peeps controlled the White House for seven years, with a rubber stamp Congress for six). You can't have a reasoned debate with these people because they remain ignorant of facts and like it that way. That's why they are deathly afraid of Obama's rockstar popularity. We haven't seen this level of popularity in a politician since Mandela, and he was a black man, too. They're jealous because their president has been hated by half the country and the rest of the world since day one. Now, he's hated by over 70% of the country and the rest of the world has fallen in love with Obama.

When you saw the parade of geriatric old fogies running for the Republican nomination this year, you can totally understand why they are still angry. Not a rock star among them. The youngest guy happened to be a Mormon, of all religions! They are a party floundering under Bush's mess, nostalgic for the mythology of Reagan, and completely void of any politician who would rival Obama's star quality (no, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal does not count! He might be Indian-American, but he's still governor of a state that almost elected Klansman David Duke in 1991, also a Republican).

But, I'm getting away from myself here. Though I personally found the cartoon in "The New Yorker" magazine to be an amusing satire about the false beliefs some Americans still have about Obama, I agree that it was poorly thought out and in borderline bad taste. The reason is simple...too many people are sending around the email that Obama is a secret Muslim agent who, when elected president, will enforce a sharia law on us in which we'll have to convert to Islam or die. Any rationally minded person can see the lunacy in this belief, but when you know so many gullible conservatives who believe everything Fox News tells them, you can see why this cartoon is dangerous.

On a personal level, I have received that notorious email from a church member back in my home congregation in Atlanta. That congregation was always too conservative for me. Back in the late 1990s, I kept getting emails from fellow churchmembers about Bill Gates giving away money to everyone who forwards the chain email. I always hit the delete button, but not before noticing the name of the gullible sap who sent it to me. They often sent me other chain emails as well, promising varying amounts of good fortune depending on how many people I forward it to. Each time, I'd shake my head at how gullible some people can be...people that I went to church with, for God's sake! It's unnerving to me how stupid our fellow countrymen can be. I've been a fan of logic for as long as I can remember. I don't believe anyone's claim without verifying the info for myself. Some are obviously false that you can dismiss outright (Fox Propaganda is full of them).

If you want proof that Americans don't understand satire or irony, here are a few examples:

British singer Robbie Williams has released a few great cds of catchy music with even better lyrics. Many of his songs are hilarious, but you have to be a bit sophisticated to catch his humour. It hasn't been a secret that he had hoped for a successful career in the U.S., but I had a theory that he was just too smart for the average American music buyer. If you listen to his lyrics (particularly on the cd "The Ego Has Landed"), you can see a huge difference in quality between his lyrics versus someone like Justin Timberlake.

Would Adam Sandler, Jack Black or Will Farrell even have careers to speak of if America understood irony and satire? Here are some examples of great satire in movies: "Down With Love", "American Psycho", and "I Heart Huckabees." Were any of them hits? No. But "Talladega Nights" was!

Look at the bestseller lists and see who dominates. It's mostly formulaic fiction by the likes of James Patterson, Nicholas Sparks, Danielle Steele, and John Grisham. If you want to find good literary fiction, you really have to search for it. Would Americans find Voltaire's "Candide" hilarious? Probably not.

So, I'm joining the chorus of people condemning "the New Yorker" magazine for their illustrated cover that will most likely cement in the minds of America's average voter all the stereotypes that they read about in the circulating emails they get regarding Obama. It's one more example of the bubble that the New York literati class live in. Yes, it is a sophisticated place and residents there look down on the rest of America, but they also forgot that while they might find humour in people believing the most outrageous things about Obama, if they truly want to help him get elected president, they did him no favors with that cartoon.

Some pundits like to point out that "The New Yorker" had a cover cartoon featuring a White House in a flood, representing the aftermath of the Katrina fiasco. The pundits want us to think that there is some level of equality there, which is false. To make it a true analogy, a cartoon would have to feature McCain posing with a black prostitute, holding a baby, while being brainwashed by the Viet Cong, while his wife is shaking down babies for their drugs. We forget that voters in South Carolina in 2000 also received circulating emails from their religious folk portraying false rumours about McCain's adopted daughter from Bangladesh. Such a cartoon would only reinforce in their minds what they read in the emails that they are so quick to believe without investigating the veracity of it.

When I saw the cover cartoon of Obama and his wife, the first thought that came to my mind was: "Finally, an issue that Rush Limbaugh will actually buy and frame to display on his mantle!" He probably wouldn't read the articles because the magazine is too "liberal elitist" for him, but the cartoon image speaks a thousand words. It is the desperate strategy of the right, knowing that they can't win on ideas when they have none nor on their record because it has so tarnished our country, so what else do they have to go on in order to retain the White House? Complete and utter character assassination, plain and simple.

"The New Yorker" should have known better.

This is my favourite headline from the aftermath of the 2004 election. A British newspaper printed it and I remember reading that many Bush voters were offended by it, but what can you do? The truth hurts. Hopefully many of them will wise up and make amends by voting for the party of competence this time. The Repuglicans have done enough damage.


Margie's Musings said...

Boy, Nicholas, you are "right on". When i saw that cartoon, I knew we were in real trouble. Most Americans do not understand anything about politics at all. They definitely do not understand satire. They will buy that cover hook, line and sinker as the "truth". Obama may not have been upset about it, but he should have been. If South Carolina bit on the lie that McCain had a black baby, you know they'll now believe Obama is Muslim. Every time I discuss politics with the average American, I am amazed at their ignorance. They watch so much daytime television that they don't have time for the news.

Sansego said...

Oh, another word about satire. I have a messenger bag with an image that was taken from Nazi propaganda posters of a young man in a tan uniform. There are German words on it. It was clearly an American (as he held an American flag). The poster is a jab at Fox News.

Whenever I go anywhere with it, I've been approached by people who thought it was German or assumed that I was a Nazi. One elderly lady chided me for displaying "Nazi" propaganda. When I pointed out that the bag's image was pointing out Fox News (it's written as Faux News Channel on my bag), she then got upset because she watches Fox News and it's "the only honest news channel." Yikes!

A minority of Americans get irony and satire. The vast majority, unfortunately, is too stupid. If it weren't the case, you'd see more intelligent films made and become hits, while crappy films with lowbrow humour lose money. Irony and satire is a sophisticated form of humour that people who read a lot of books and value learning and intelligence are able to get. Most Americans prefer to remain ignorant and controlled by propaganda, so that's why this cartoon caused such an uproar.

j janell cf said...

most people that read the new yorker can probably get the point. it's not US or star or even people.
i wasn't sure how i felt about it when i first saw it. i agree it makes you stand back. but then again, if there was something similar about bush no one would be bothered. i don't think good satire if generally appreciate by the original audience. it usually offends--which is in some ways what it's intended to do. make you think twice. i say it stays.