Abreen Ali has a post at Congress.org, “‘Mocktivists’ Use Humor to Protest” reporting on recent political skits subjecting the Ku Klux Klan, a wingnut religious group and tea party protesters to measured amounts of ridicule. Here’s how the Klan protest went:
Last summer, activists dressed up as clowns to counter a Klan march in Knoxville, Tenn. For each cry of “white power” from the Klan rally, the clowns had a carefully prepared response.
“White flour?” the clowns shouted at first, throwing fistfuls of flour into the air….Later, they shouted “white flowers?” while waving flowers…Finally they yelled, “wife power” and began jumping around in wedding gowns.
The counter-protest proved popular in Knoxville and online, helping undercut the otherwise ugly imagery projected by the Klan rally.
Wearing black suits and the occasional top hat, members of Billionaires for Bush have held signs like “Wealth care, not health care” at legitimate rallies and Tea Party events…”We want to confuse people long enough that we can engage with them behind party lines,” said Marco Ceglie, a “Billionaire” based in New York.
Ceglie said the problem with traditional protests is that people stop listening once they know you are from the other side. His group, though many of their stances are liberal, aims to be nonpartisan…”We want to tap that populist anger and put it towards the real culprit,” he said.
Ali also reports on a San Francisco group protesting church homophobia, which may not have had as much impact, given the ‘preaching to the choir’ aspect of the location of their protest.
I’ve been wondering for a while why we haven’t seen much counter-protesting at the tea party events. Turns out, however, that there have been some ‘mocktivist’ protests of note, according to Ali:
Billionaires for Bush is a group of demonstrators who pretend to be wealthy bankers and CEOs arguing that people should vote for Republicans…The ruse draws attention to the role money plays in politics, the activists say.
Not sure if the scant coverage of the ‘Billionaires’ protest was due to MSM neglect, or maybe I just missed it. But there should be more significant counter-protests at tea party events. Certainly the nature of the events invite mockery, as one recent photo essay of tea party signage aptly demonstrated.
The key thing about parody in national politics is that it has to be (a.) funny, and (b.) televised, to have a significant effect. Hence the powerful impact of Tina Fey’s parodies of Sarah Palin. It’s fun to entertain the possibility that Fey may have swung the election for Obama by making Palin a national joke, although Palin probably said enough on her own to swing a bunch of votes to the Democratic ticket.
An important caveat, however, would be that mockery is usually not beneficial coming directly from elected officials themselves, which may be why Sen. Al Franken has curbed his tart-tongued put-downs of wingnut excess. And political humor can backfore, as Ali notes, particularly if it crosses the line into mean-spirited territory.
The progressive left may have an advantage in leveraging ridicule, because the right’s rigidity invites it more often than do the ideologues of the left. The late-night talk show hosts generally strive to be even-handed with their political put-downs, and usually have a zinger or two for Democratic leaders. But the right gives them a lot more material.
Perhaps the most clever goofs on Democrats come from the Washington, D.C.-based musical parody group, The Capitol Steps. But the ‘Steps’ also do hilarious skits shredding the right, so Republicans may be reluctant to call too much attention to their performances.
But the cultural right has no satirists of the caliber of Fey, John Stewart, Stephen Colbert or Bill Maher, with the exception of Dennis Miller, now a radio talk show host, who doesn’t get as much TV face time as he used to. Miller is a hawk now, but may be too much of a loose cannon for Republicans to rely on him supporting the rest of their agenda. The ranks of conservative satirists quickly grow thin after him.
The powerhouse right-wing media personalities, such as Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh are not known for their sense of humor, although Glen Beck’s over-the-top theatrics inadvertently provide many parodists with ample — make that a mother lode — of material.
Democrats have a built-in advantage when it comes to using humor in debate and media political coverage. It’s not because Democrats are smarter or more virtuous. It’s because the follies of the right are often so extravagant, that few comedians can afford to ignore them. Dem leaders should give some thought to leveraging this edge in the months ahead.