A Conservative Walks Into a Bar: The Politics of Political Humor

Why Aren’t Conservatives Funny?
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Add to Cart. However, in its systemic scrutiny, one that chastises the powerful over the powerless and the exploiters over the exploited, satire gives sustenance to the underdogs and a weapon for those wishing to fight for them. As such, satire can be seen as playing to liberal values that include empathy for victims, distrust of unchecked authority, and sensitivity to discrimination.

Of course, the hypocrites and faux moralists that provide regular targets for satirists come from across party lines. As much as satire has the ability to reveal injustice and present it in animated form, can it actuate real change? Historians may cite the new policies that were introduced in the wake of the cutting humor of Jonathan Swift on poverty or William Hogarth on alcoholism , but most would concede that satire can only do so much.

We can laugh and be outraged all we want by watching Seth Meyers, John Oliver, Samantha Bee, Stephen Colbert, and Bill Maher unmask Trumpian political obfuscation, but it means nothing if we don't show up to vote on election day. For liberals, the challenge is to harness the outrage, the questioning, and the uplifting joy of satire and to channel it into effective activism. The liberal domination of satire has less to do with bias -- as is often claimed -- than with the nature of the form itself. Satire aims at questioning the power structure -- so why would conservatives want to do that?

This rationale, while valid, has been complicated by contemporary political developments. Whether due to the lure of new populism, the successful deployment of wedge issues, or the propagandizing of cultural grievances, recent conservative voters, even their working class constituents, regard themselves, not liberals, as the change-agents of our society.

So, if the entertainment industry is mostly run by conservative giants like Rupert Murdoch, and the conservative base includes many economically and culturally disgruntled blue collar workers, why has satire not found a footing in this political world? Here, Dagnes tip-toes around a theory that places character at the heart of the form. Satire, traditionally, creates empathy because it punches up at those in power.

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When it punches down, as conservative humorists often do at racial minorities, immigrants, and women, it can come across as mean-spirited. Such an assertion, of course, comes dangerously close to suggesting that conservatives are simple of both mind and wit, incapable of understanding the subtleties of satire. Yet, Dagnes cites various studies in her book that show many conservatives as not only averse to satire but as satire-challenged.


Dagnes even cites one Republican Congressman that relayed a news report he had read from The Onion , wholly oblivious that it was intended as a satirical piece of faux news p. If satire requires an informed, open-minded, and questioning audience, conservative humor is more absolutist, with a world view painted in black and white sometimes literally!

Reviving a genre that enjoyed its heyday in the '80s, Trump elicits the same kind of laughter that Andrew Dice Clay, Rodney Dangerfield, and Don Rickles once did. Ever-the-egotist, Trump pushed his incendiary humor further, growing ever more intoxicated by the loving embrace of their mob adulation. Rube practitioners pre-empt liberal ridicule about unrefined rural ways by exaggerating their features and self-parodying them in-house, in the process calling attention to the elitism and condescension of liberal outsiders.

Bush Jr. There are comforts to be had from the respective expressions of humor emanating from each side of our ideological divide.

For liberals, satire has proven to be an essential substitute for a mainstream news media that has so often proven derelict in its duty when covering contemporary politics. The truth-telling and low tolerance for BS that are the calling cards of satirists are a welcome contrast to news reporters that, in their relentless pursuit of higher ratings, sycophantically fawn over a pseudo-dictator and react with impotence to his stream of misdirections.

Conservatives, too, have found sustenance in the insult humor they consume daily from talk radio and right-wing web sites. The Other Eighties. Bradford Martin.

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