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Some Commentary on Political Humor
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MIcah Smith

Dec 20, 2023

Politics has a strange way of combining solemn gravity with captivating humor.

The guys at Channel 5 news on Youtube are doing excellent work, insightfully documenting the … less desirable elements of American politics. They give American citizens much to reflect on.

For instance, their documentation of the "San Francisco Streets" gives viewers a vivid glimpse into the realities of homelessness and substance abuse. And while doing so, it strikes an immensely difficult balance between respect, sensitivity and — a distinct but necessary component — humor. 

The documentary is only rescued from being a cry worthy short film through the use of comedic relief, adding satire to an otherwise somber experience that would, without humor, turn many viewers away. The camera crew encounters characters that feel real pain, but they all make light of their situation by laughing through it.

 

Blending political seriousness with humor may seem like a difficult task, prone to masking grave concerns with callous, misplaced giggles. Still, maybe politics itself does most of the work in striking this balance. Let’s face it: politics is weighty, and politics is funny.

"They're destroying our country, they don't like it when I said that. And I never read Mein Kampf ... They're destroying the fabric of our country and we're gonna have to get 'em out."

These were Donald Trump's statements about undocumented immigrants, statements made at a rally he held in Iowa on Dec. 19. Now this may deeply anger some, but I think there is comedic value in Trump saying something with profound similarities to fascist talking points and then trying to recover by saying he's never read Hitler's manifesto.

If he does have a valid point that undocumented immigration is a precursor to increased crime and the spread of domestic disease, he should base his claims in concrete events and stats, instead of making assertions based on no evidence other than what he may know and does not tell.

Whether you agree with Trump’s policies or not, I think you’ll agree that his rhetoric is often poorly executed — a fact that’s of somber significance, but also makes for some sardonically hilarious soundbites.

The first 60 seconds are the only important bits.

(Via MSNBC on YouTube)

But there’s a stark contrast between Trump’s antics and the Channel 5 documentary. Though both humorous, one presents substantive policy issues and the other seems to distract from them. There are bigger topics than Trump’s statements and behavior, or whether or not he gets thrown in jail for being an insurrectionist, or whether or not he is one.

Yet, his past and prospective political positions, his symbolic importance and his strange, simultaneously concerning and entertaining rhetorical style make him the center of attention. This creates awareness dead-zones where we tunnel vision our focus into the showmanship of politicians, instead of putting it towards, say, the likely cost of buying a house or groceries in 2024. Sure, we still talk about those things in the media, but our focus on political antics seems excessively disproportionate.

And that goes for our media treatment of both sides of the aisle.

Fox News has a funny clip of Biden reacting to a recent Colorado Ballot ruling to remove Trump amid allegations about the January 6 whatever you'd like to call it. Perhaps Biden doing anything is hilarious because he has funny, old person mannerisms — and because he also happens to be the president.

He's asked about the court case as he gets off of a plane. His initial response is funny. He wants to keep comments short but decides to approach the interviewer, walking up on her with the same gait my 94 year old grandmother had, peace be with her soul. His approach to the fencing where the press is waiting for him will always make me laugh. "What was that?" 

Humor is a fantastic tool. But I wonder: is our enthrallment with political humor best spent on the antics of politicians?

Again the only important part here is the first 60 seconds.

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