Saturday, September 1, 2012

Laughing at Icarus

If the President falls from the sky in this election, the media will have no one to blame but themselves for making him into a messiah, conveniently forgetting what humanity did historically to the only one who actually could make that claim and not be engaged in pure hubris. It didn't help that the President bought into the image and let the illuminated images, Greek columns, halos and Light worker comments stand without comment. He didn't check the nonsense at the door. He spoke it himself to the crowds.


Thus when he showed himself to be merely mortal, to enjoy the luxury of the job, made gaffes or bad decisions, the fall from grace one had to know would be more perilous. Granted, when you make your whole campaign of ideas center on the cult of personality and mercilessly castigate through willing sycophants anyone who disagrees as the embodiment of all evil past and present, it will take time for resistance to such a myth to be shattered but if it should, the fall will be hard. 


The speech with the chair was hailed in part because a whole people have been lectured for nearly 4 years to NEVER criticize or laugh at this President. Perhaps some laughed harder than the bit deserved. I thought it was clunky but did like when he would get to the punch lines. I did laugh. The news was not that an old Hollywood person stood on the GOP platform, but that American people laughed at their leader, on that floor and in their homes watching.


Up until 2008, this was nothing we didn't do on a regular basis. We laughed at our politicians because we could, even if we agreed with their politics. People laughed at Chevy Chase playing Ford, at Tina Fey as Palin, we laughed hard at all the skits by stars who pretended to be the Presidents. We laughed and it wasn't because they were cruel or lacked understanding of the political arguments being made, but because that was one of the powers of being an American. We can laugh at our government for its abuses, its failures, its overreach, its underservice, for all the ways in which it does not live up to the ideals upon which it was founded. We can laugh at our leaders and not go to jail for that bit of mirth.


Eastwood broke the 4th wall of Politics in our current age, daring to publicly satirize the sitting President. Merely doing that was an act of open rebellion against the daily propaganda, the political correctness Nazis, the overzealous rage of those who have declared this leader of the free world to be something beyond what he is, a politician who won elected office.  They have also declared dissent the equivalent of moral treason, at best the result of innocent ignorance, at worst, proof of hearts of pure darkness.


We cannot survive as a representative republic if we cannot tolerate even the gentlest of mocks without declaring the source of disagreement something by its nature evil. It means the side that wins takes itself too seriously and engages in an almost puritanical wrath of self justification in all policy and procedures. Being able to laugh at ourselves, at our government, at our leaders is a sign of our humility about our nature and our fallibility. We have ideals. We fail to live up to them...often. We fly higher than our wax wings will allow.


Most of us wake up and are friends with people regardless of how they vote. Most of us could see that there was much to criticize regardless of what political party holds the majority.  Most of us know the President and the political parties are neither the enemy nor the devil.  Most of us also presume or would hope, that those who disagree with our own politics, would give us the same benefit of the doubt. The absence of humor directed at one side of the argument made the discussion much harder. Humor/satire makes those pointed barbs that sharpen the debate. Comedy illustrates the absurdities that otherwise might go unnoticed if all we do is rah rah rah for our own side. It makes the truth about our condition, our government, our leaders, our reality, more tolerable to bear.


With the birth of blogs, YouTube, face book, twitter and cell phone cameras, we have become a nation with nearly instant access to every human moment possible in both ordinary and political life. What will allow us to survive this brave new world of being constantly reminded of each other’s humanity is twofold: the grace of humility (to recognize the humanity in those we see or read about on the internet or news) and the grace of forgiveness. It isn't enough that we see the reality that the people revealed to be stupid in thirty seconds of film from an I-phone, but that we forgive them their moments of sloth, crudity, anger, lust, wrath, shortsighteness, stupidity or what have you. In politics, there is a dearth of both humility and forgiveness, resulting in the take no prisoner’s rancor that frequently passes for policy debate in the public square. We have fake apologies, fake acknowledgements of wrong doing, but what we never see, is public fake forgiveness, or even rarer, public acceptance/forgiveness of actual wrongs.  If  a public figure caught doing something inappropriate is taken to task, as part of reformation of the individual’s character, the wrong is spun and whittled until it is a virtue or a survival mechanism or a sign of evolved awareness of nuanced realities. (See when President Clinton lied under oath and article after article discussed the necessity of lying for good mental health, or President Bush signed the first deal running up our deficit and bailing out the banks and article after article about debt being good). 

We don't have to forgive what isn't wrong. We don't have to reflect or change if we can instead pretend what we did required that others reflect and change their minds about what is wrong.  I am talking about being given the grace of forgiveness the same way we now exercise the public gift of scorn (through com boxes and snarks and barbs and sharings of moments of extreeme humaness).  We are otherwise in danger of becoming a nation of gossips, of emotional wolves who prowl the internet for our next pack like opportunity to pounce and rend.   We must recognize how there but for the grace of God, could be us. 


Next week, I fully expect the DNC to fire back with both barrels. I will hope that if I laugh at something, I will admit it was funny. Further, I hope that here is the beginning of the restoring of good faith in our nation, the kind that exists between neighbors, between friends, between most Americans; the presumption that humor is not meant in malice, political allegiance does not require a rubber stamp agreement with all policy, and obedience to one's political ideology or President is not a moral imperative or sign of intellectual strength or weakness. It simply is a free choice which each American has the right to make and unmake as the situation warrants. 


And hopefully, some day we can look back at the madness and silliness of politics in this age and laugh. 



Suburban Correspondent said...

Watch Jon Stewart, Sherry - he's been making jokes about the President for 4 years. And I can remember many times in the President's speeches when he poked fun at the Messiah complex himself - mostly at things like the White House Correspondents Dinner and that other thing that both he and McCain spoke at during the last campaign - what's it called? It's in NYC and I think it's a fundraiser for charity. Both candidates had funny speeches, poking fun at themselves and each other. It was awesome.

I didn't mind Clint's speech myself, and I appreciated his sense of humor. But Clint seemed frail, almost, shockingly more so than he did 4 years ago. I just thought it didn't show Clint in a very good light and in that sense was a tad disrespectful to an older person. It felt like he was being used, even though I know he was up there of his own volition. I can't really explain it. It felt wrong, but not because he made fun of Obama. Definitely not that.

SherryTex said...

I rarely get to watch Jon Stewart. (I have to sleep sometime), but I also agree that Clint looked frail.

Karen said...

You've missed some truly excellent political humor in the past four years if you haven't read/seen the jabs at Obama. Even the liberal New Yorker poked fun at him. (Great cover mocking Romney-Ryan last week too)

Clint Eastwood seemed a sad puppet, a shadow of his former self. Not funny because he's not known as a comedian and not funny because his effort lacked subtlety. Good humor tickles the brain and lingers. It doesn't bludgeon an audience with rancor. Ol' Dirty Harry ain't what he used to be. Sad.

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