The Politics of Humor

Topics: Political campaign, John McCain, Comedy Pages: 8 (2323 words) Published: July 14, 2005
Is this thing on?
In efforts to promote voter education, laughter is perhaps the best strategery.
Comedy and tragedy prove one in the same, as the saying goes. The variability of the twosome, however, substantiates rather inconsistently in politics, an arena overflowing with participants who take themselves too seriously. And where a potential candidate attempts to utilize comic relief, one often discovers the result to be rather tragic.

In lieu of the consequences politicians may endure with the mere utterance of a poor joke, most tend to stray from the possibility of Meet the Press turned comedy hour. Especially when their reputations are at stake; politicians are well aware, according to Mark Katz, humorist and speechwriter for Bill Clinton, that "a good joke will last about a week", whereas a "bad joke will be reprinted in you obituary."

Perhaps responsibility lies within the confines of a narrow-minded media, exhibited as a threat to be avoided rather than a tool to be implemented. But certainly with just cause; "the news media are poorly suited to their role as the principal intermediary between candidates and voters," rooted in the conception of politics as "game" and a "business" rather than a "struggle" over national policy.

The aforementioned incidents occur frequently, but not absolutely, should candidates appropriately utilize humor. The war on terror provides unavoidable roadblocks on an already-tumultuous campaign trail, and even primitive technology such as television suffices in establishing the general 9/11 ‘fear climate'. The presumption of a candidate's entrepreneurial priorities over his public relationship undermines the use of humor as the candidate's ultimate weapon.

The primarily noticeable aspect of political campaign humor pertains to its absence. Undoubtedly humor "is used more sparingly than songs in political commercials" ; the commodity appears even more so in the early campaign efforts of the mid-nineteenth century than recent endeavors. Humor's effectiveness originates from its multilevel success in the campaigning process. Involuntarily proliferated by an ever-expanding press, the ideal candidate would employ comedy because of its effervescent facility of concurrent humanization and advertisement. Moreover humorous politicians formulate an equally comical and less aggressive response within the entertainment realm, successfully intertwining the sphere of pop culture with the relatively unscathed territory of political science. The general consensus regarding the benefits of humor relates to its malleability; it can "be employed to attack the opposition, or it can serve to enhance a campaign."

While it can be argued that humor refers to a conscious campaign maneuver on the part of its source, as a tool it only succeeds with regard to the respective candidate. As Mike Murphy, senior strategist for the John McCain campaign, emphasizes that politicians cannot be taught to be funny. "The worst thing you can do," Murphy says, "is take an unfunny person and try to make him funny."

Thus the aforementioned objectives of humanization and advertisement reserve themselves for the politician who readily applies artful, spur-of-the-moment quips over canned laughter. Therefore it is necessary to characterize the candidate and the campaign that so aptly and ideally epitomizes these qualities. Condemning the traditional straight-laced campaign requires that a candidate remain optimistic though not dogmatic, knowledgeable yet willing to learn, humbled yet outgoing. In essence, he embodies the "universal man". The public preference portrays a man with whom it can personally identify, yet one who fully communicates and implicates his vision with an ever more exceptional grandeur. Thus the ideal candidate's aspirations "are more highly motivated and magnified versions of what we all dream of doing" , with the prowess and potential for us to do the same.


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