Comedians pick on Republicans – Should we care?
Posted by sanityinjection on October 16, 2008
Over a five-week period since the end of the conventions, a study shows that late-night comedians told 7 times as many jokes about John McCain and Sarah Palin as they did about Barack Obama and Joe Biden. Should we care?
Well, yes. The point is not that comedians like Jay Leno or David Letterman are deliberately trying to smear the Republican ticket. I have no doubt that they would be surprised by the disparity and insist it is unintentional. And I’m sure that’s true, at least to the extent that they are unlikely to be censoring jokes about the Democrats thought up by their writers.
Rather, the writers themselves simply aren’t suggesting jokes about the Democrats. Again, probably not intentionally. Comedy writers tend toward the liberal side of the spectrum and it’s natural to make fun of those you disagree with.
I don’t think anyone would argue that it is a problem if, on a given episode of the Tonight Show, Leno does a Sarah Palin joke and doesn’t do a Joe Biden joke. No one wants to take equal time to that extent. However, it is a different story if night after night after night, the barbs are only going one way, especially if they are repeating a theme over and over again. If you hear something over and over many times, and never hear anything contradictory, it’s only natural you will start to believe it. So for example, if Leno and Letterman are doing jokes about McCain’s age night after night, eventually a regular viewer cannot help but become partially convinced that, in fact, maybe McCain *is* too old to be a good President.
Want proof? I give you Gerald Ford. Comedians frequently made jokes about President Ford being a klutz and a lousy golfer, based on a couple of things Ford did on particular occasions in front of the camera. Millions of Americans old enough to remember still associate these characteristics with Ford. In fact, Ford was actually gifted with above-average dexterity, having been a college athlete, and was quite a good golfer. But people believed these myths about Ford because they were fed them over and over and over again.
Nor do I buy the line that Obama and/or Biden aren’t as funny or as ripe for the picking. Come on – Biden is famous for sticking his foot in his mouth, and makes an easy target. And one can endlessly make fun of the “Obama as Messiah” theme without any reference to his race. Comedians certainly have not shied away from spoofing Jesse Jackson for fear of being called racist.
It’s healthy to be able to laugh at our politicians and elected officials. But when all the laughter is one-sided, it starts to blur the line between humor and character assassination, however unintentional it may be.