A few days ago, I posted about the increasing prominence of what I can only call bat-shit crazy political beliefs–beliefs that evidently function to justify the adherents’ fear and hatred of various “others.”
The growth of what we might call the fantasy phenomenon has a number of consequences; for one thing, it makes it difficult–okay, impossible–to “reach out” and try to find common ground. What do those of us who live in what we fondly hope is the real world have in common with people who actually believe that an elitist “cabal” rules the world, and that its members keep children in basement hideaways so that they can periodically drink their blood? Because they also believe that drinking young blood keeps them young…
I’m not making that up; it’s a staple of the QAnon fantasy.
A troubling but far less consequential result of “the crazy” is its effect on satire. It would seem that our current political reality has killed satire. And that matters for far more than entertainment, because satire can be a particularly effective form of political criticism.
Satire is defined as the” use of humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people’s stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues.” Exaggeration is particularly important to the creation of a satirical observation; it is by exaggerating an argument or behavior that the humorist identifies and amplifies what is ridiculous (or at least silly) about it.
So what do you do when reality overpowers your ability to exaggerate a position in order to demonstrate its essential nuttiness–when what people say or believe is already so outsized and insane that there’s nowhere else to go?
I think we are there. I was struck by a recent post to Daily Kos that featured a quiz: Is it satire or is it real?
Here’s the quiz:
1) Eighty-five Percent of White Evangelicals Support Boastful, Lying, Thrice-married Serial Adulterer, Say He’s “Good Christian.”
2) Republicans Who Oppose Using Tax Money to Aid Needy Americans Lament That Money Sent to Ukraine Could be Used to Aid Needy Americans.
3) Congressman Who Claims He Didn’t Witness Systemic Sexual Abuse of College Athletes Named to Oversight Committee
4) Mass Shooting Victims Offered Thoughts and Prayers by Thoughtless, Godless Politicians.
5) Majority of Republicans Deem Colleges, Universities Harmful to Society, Prefer People Remain Ignorant.
6) Republicans Who Warn of “Government Coming Between You and Your Doctor” Mandate Medically Unnecessary, Invasive, Trans-Vaginal Ultrasounds, Feel No Disconnect
7) Congresswoman Who Angrily Disrupted State of the Union Bemoans Lack of Civility in Restaurant.
8) Book Banners and History Deniers Decry “Cancel Culture.”
9) Conservative Commentator Sexualizes M&Ms, Gives “Melts In Your Mouth, Not in Your Hands” Disturbing New Connotation
10) Supporters View Man who Lost Money Owning Casino as Great Businessman
11) Reporters Routinely Hide Blockbuster News Until Book Published, Still Regard Themselves as Journalists
12) News Media Insists Upon Calling Most Radically Activist SCOTUS Justices in History “Conservative.”
13) Republicans who Tout Deregulation of Rail Safety, Environmental Protection Criticize Safety Regulators, EPA, For Not Doing Enough
14) Republicans in Uproar Over Mister Potato Head Call Other People “Snowflakes”
15) Tennessee Legislator Promotes Lynching as Capital Punishment Method, Remains Utterly Lacking in Awareness of Term “Utterly Lacking in Awareness.”
16) Georgia Congresswoman Proposes Red State/Blue State “Divorce,” Forgetting Her State Elected Democratic President And Two Democratic Senators.
Those of you who follow this blog, or political life in general, undoubtedly answered correctly that all of these examples are real world specimens snatched from today’s degraded political landscape. (Granted, the framing betrays some bias, but the identified behaviors are accurate.)
How can you possibly exaggerate today’s walking, talking buffoonery?
The purpose of satire has always been to make a point–to demonstrate the inanity or wrong-headedness of a particular behavior or belief, and (hopefully) to shame those who are engaging in that behavior or endorsing that belief. What we are discovering in our bizarro new political world is that the people who take these positions and/or trumpet these beliefs are either dishonest–playing to the MAGA crowd–or clueless true believers, and in either case, that they are utterly shameless.
Whatever the true beliefs of today’s performative political figures, the real question doesn’t focus on them. The conundrum is the question that several commenters to this blog routinely pose: what is wrong with the people who vote for these buffoons?
The real problem isn’t the embarrassing idiots who dominate the news cycles. It’s the large number of our fellow-Americans who are evidently impossible to embarrass.