Vol. 5, Issue 2, March 20, 2007
Hearings Seek to Educate Lawmakers on Dangers of Satire
Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel has warned freshman legislators to avoid being interviewed on the satirical Comedy Central Colbert Report show, only to find that the lure of the high publicity is too much for most of them to ignore. As a result, Emanuel has begun a series of informational hearings on satire and humor in a desperate attempt to convey the full extent of the risks inherent in such an appearance.
"Colbert is smart, Colbert is well-informed, these guys don't know what they're up against," grumbled Emanuel. "They think a career in politics will prepare them to stay on message in any interview; but before they know it, he's got them debating about throwing kittens in a woodchipper or admitting they're a felon. They are getting steamrollered because they don't understand what's going on."
At issue is the fact that politicians tend not to understand satire, other than as a general adversarial attribute of the media.
"What is satire? It's, you know, what the media does to make you look bad," said Congressman Steve Cohen. "You know, like when the Washington Post points out inconsistencies between your campaign promises and your voting record. Isn't that it?"
In response, Emanuel just shook his head grimly. "Sweet Jesus," he muttered.
The hearings are essentially an intensive series of seminars on basic humor techniques and how parody, satire and irony can be used as effective weapons against political figures or institutions.
"Jonathan Swift, Mark Twain, even Art Buchwald - all these guys are just names to most representatives," said Emanuel. "When every joke you tell is carefully scripted by a committee with a specific purpose in mind, it is challenging to develop your own sense of humor. Most congressional representatives do not have a sophisticated sense of humor, let alone irony. So we have been forced to start with the Three Stooges and work our way up."
The gruelingly detailed hearings have raised some eyebrows among representatives, some of whom are clearly struggling with the concepts they have been exposed to.
"Okay, so irony is when you say the opposite of what you mean, but actually convey through the tone of your voice or whatever that you really mean the opposite of what you are saying?" said Congressman Bruce Harding, scratching his head. "Usually when I say the opposite of what I mean, I'm trying to convey that I really mean what I'm saying, not that I don't mean what I'm saying. This is confusing."
Despite the warnings about the combined perils of irony, reductio ad absurdum, and Colbert's razor-sharp wit, most representatives seemed to feel they could protect themselves against even the most sophisticated satire or parody on the Colbert Report or elsewhere.
"You know, if people are making you look bad in the media, you can always just shut them down," said Harding. "What's that? Protected by the first whatchamacallit? What are you talking about?"