Sunday, December 09, 2007

Humorless Feminists

I never got into complaining at feminists for their supposed humorlessness. I relate to the irritation one feels when a person or group is made fun of for the wrong reasons. It is one thing to make fun of personal or group eccentricities, or ironies and inconsistencies, but quite another to mock a group for their core beliefs.

No, that's not it. Mocking core beliefs is often acceptable in American discourse as well. It is misunderstanding the core beliefs and making fun of those caricatures that is not funny. To note that many of the oppressed feminist leaders are wealthy, educated, white, and attractive is fair game. To claim that they all "just hate men" and make fun of that with lesbian or castration jokes is bogus. It may be legal, it may signal a strength of our democracy, but it's just low.

Which brings us to George Bush. (And every feminist I just won over I just lost again with that.) To make fun of his wealthy background contrasted with his humble-folk style is fair. To believe that he likes war or hates the poor is a different kettle of fish. These things, were they true, would not be humorous, but abhorrent. And if they are false, why mention them at all? In this I understand the anger of the KosKids - the type of things they believe about Bush admit of no humor. Using humor in that way can hide a basic dishonesty - we don't dare make the actual accusation, because then we would have to move to a ground of proofs and refutations. Much better to just sneer, and when challenged say "What? Can't you take a joke?"

It's rather like the political cartoons of Lincoln not caring about the deaths, or of MLK Jr preaching hate. Such things are legal, and may even be a sign of a healthy democracy, but they are low. They are unconscious but often intentional attempts to deceive. It is not criticism and dissent which make America special, but our toleration of them.

There is dark humor, and context changes many things, so I don't want to be laying down any rules for political humor here. But I think the self-deceit is more common than we admit. For a political cartoon to be effective, it must oversimplify to the point of untruth. Yet the rhetoric of cartoons is spilling over into our other discourse.

Sometimes it's just a base insult dressed up in clown makeup.

1 comment:

Dubbahdee said...

The rich bumpkin (or wealth boor)is a distinctly American character (stereotype?). The rough demeanor almost always hides a practical shrewdness. At first I tried to come up with examples of other wealthy people in history who demonstrated this same dichotomy. Not coming up with any real ones, I think it is more of a literary device. I think of Quincy, the rich Texan in Stoker's novel Dracula. Unfortunately, I'm not getting much farther than that, so my case is not strong.
Perhaps Teddy R fits this, but he at least went west and actually worked as a cowboy to actually earn his chops as a workingman. I love Teddy Roosevelt.
I'm glad there is something I can make fun of in GWB.