Most of the time, politics is a serious business. People tend to take the government fairly seriously–our laws, our government, our rights. True, traditionally Congress has been an object of fun, and politicians–from Abraham Lincoln to Sarah Palin–have been the butt of jokes. But the importance of political humor–from parody to cartoons to satire–might best be seen as a reflection of how seriously people take politics.
In this highly political year, I have been very interested in questions of how political humor functions in American society. Recently, I discussed the satire of the RNC and DNC conventions on the Daily Show. Similarly, Self Deprecate’s contributions to our site and his site have tackled the current state of political humor.
One political issue that I have been increasingly concerned with this year is distinctly not funny: voter suppression. While proponents of voter ID and other voting laws argue that voter fraud is a real issue (apart from their clownish attempts to prove voter fraud by committing voter fraud), critics of these laws have argued that they are better explained as politically motivated efforts to suppress the votes of people of color, the poor, and the elderly. As John Dean argued in a blog post entitled, “The Republican’s Shameless War on Voting“:
There is absolutely no question that Republicans are trying to suppress non-whites from voting, throughout the Southern states, in an effort that has been accelerating since 2010. It is not difficult to catalogue this abusive Republican mission, which unfortunately has spread, in a few instances, to states above the Mason-Dixon Line as well.
Other stories back up this argument:
Recent developments in voter laws in Texas, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and other states also testify to the seriousness of this issue. Those with any historical sense hear echoes of past efforts to restrict suffrage for political gain and based on cultural prejudice. Serious stuff.
Where does the humor come in?
Let’s start with Gary Trudeau’s “Doonesbury” strip from July 23 of this year:
And from the next day:
But that wasn’t all…
Cartoonists took up the issue with gusto. A few examples:
Adam Zygus showing a common theme: the GOP trying to squash votes for its own benefit.
The aim of these cartoons seems to be two-fold: to raise awareness of the issue of voting rights and to argue that Republican efforts are overreactions designed to make voting harder for certain groups. Trudeau goes further than most in linking these efforts to Jim Crow laws (but see this one).
As satire, the aim or impact of such humor might depend on the audience, depending on whether one has a settled opinion of the issue at hand or whether one is undecided or unclear on the issue. As with the satire of the conventions, the workings of such political humor is a complex transaction that has different aims depending on audience. While it is undoubtedly important to think about such material in terms of changing opinions, it is also to spend more time thinking about how cartoons might reify and clarify existing opinions.
One test might be one’s reactions to cartoons/humor that challenges one’s views (and if you are in favor of voter ID laws, then you have already seen those examples). But for me, the examples are below. For instance, Gary Warvel raises the most prominent counter-argument about the activities that require an ID. See here, as well. (Also, see a few that raise the issue of dead voters–also here).
The argument here is simple and straightforward and needs to be addressed, as its logic clearly appeals to large numbers of people (whereas the fear of dead people voting, or people voting multiple times, seems simple a fear tactic).
More pieces of note:
*Bill Maher on voter suppression.
*How to Steal and Election (feature comics)
*Register to vote. Go here for instructions.
*A good collection of cartoons on the subject at Cagle’s place.
What else? Feel free to post other humor on the issue or to comment on this post.
(c) 2012, Tracy Wuster (all images and clips copyright of their producers, used under fair use)