Over the past few weeks here in Austin, Texas, the issue of women’s health and abortion restrictions has been front and center, becoming a national story with the dramatic filibuster of SB5 by Wendy Davis (along with Kirk Watson, Judith Zaffrini, Leticia Van De Putte, Sylvester Turner, and others). Thousands of protesters filled the capital building, hundreds of thousands of people watched online (while CNN discussed blueberry muffins), and Wendy Davis became a national celebrity. Witnessing these events from both inside the capital and online, I was struck by the intense passion on both sides of the issue and by the ways in which humor might both express and relieve the tension that passionate political debate creates.
I understand that the issue of abortion is sensitive, so I will stick with the humorous responses to the issue. What struck me, as an observer, was the swift creation of humorous memes, the jokes on twitter, and the use of humor within the filibuster itself.
During the filibuster, and during the previous House sessions (in which legislators engaged in “Chubbing“–feel free to chuckle), mocking laughter came from the audience at several points in which the legislators tried to play ignorant at the larger implications of the bill, as well as laughter of relief when legislator’s raised parliamentary inquiries or points of order (POO in shorthand, again, chuckle). At one point during an argument over a particularly absurd POO, one legislator told of a previous filibuster in which senators formed a ring around the speaker so that he could “take care of business” in one of the trash cans on the senate floor. The humor of legislative procedure, in which true purposes and animosity are hidden under the formality and politeness of tradition, should not be ignored. But I am not a political scientist, nor do I study humor in communication, so I don’t have a whole lot to say on that subject.
At the same time, the drama of the situation was being transformed into humorous memes and twitter jokes. I was in the capital, and I saw at least one person working on turning images of Davis into memes, such as the Game of Thrones image and the Kill (the) Bill image–see know your memes for more. I was not following on Twitter that night, but I think I may have been the only one, and from looking at the discussion, I would estimate that jokes made up a good portion of the tweets on the issue.
The next day, the internet (which seems to have gained its own agency) began to produce more and more humorous responses:
*prominent humorist/politician Kinky Friedman on Davis
*cartoons by John Branch at BranchToons, including:
*I have been able to find very few cartoons, or other pieces of humor, critical of Davis. This from the Kennebec Journal in Maine. Pro-life (or anti-choice, depending on your terminology) cartoons have tended to focus on the figure of Kermit Gosnell.
Of course, the Texas filibuster was only one of many similar fights. Similar laws have been proposed or passed in Ohio, Wisconsin, and North Carolina (as well as national bills) in the past few weeks, part of a larger strategy to limit abortion access and/or protect women’s health, depending on what side of the argument you buy.
As I said before, abortion is obviously a difficult subject–one that inflames passions on both sides, and it this passion can also inspire humor that seeks to deal with this difficult subject. For instance, here is a feminist article that collects stand-up comedians and one short film on abortion. Cartoonists have similarly taken on the question of what these laws might signify for a larger political culture. A selection of cartoons on the subject of abortion at the Cagle website.
I can’t resist one more, on Rick Perry, who is announcing his political future today:
(c) 2013, Tracy Wuster (all images used under fair use)