An update on a new image that emerged: The Fall of Trump: A New Image of the Donald
Like many observers this summer (and heading into fall), I have been fascinated by the rise (and continued buoyancy) of Donald Trump. And like many, I considered him a joke at first.
Early in the Trump Era ™, political cartoonists, like late night hosts, were excited to have Trump for fodder. And what is not to love (for a comedian): the hair, the brashness, the class, the near-constant stream of material… it’s the Donald. He was a walking punchline before he entered the race.
Especially for cartoonists: the hair. Earlier this summer, I was riding in a van in Oakland with Yakov Smirnoff, and he mentioned getting his start at a Trump casino. Someone said, “you mean our next president.” To which he replied, “no, he shoots his foot… into in his mouth…shoots himself in the…” Yakov, as you may know, has built his comedy career out of his encounters with America as a foreigner, including struggles with idiom. So I helped him out, “you mean, he puts his foot in his mouth, then he shoots it.” And that is the story of how I mad Yakov Smirnoff laugh
In looking at political cartoons of Trump, it is clear that his image has shifted from that of sideshow clown. As the summer progressed, the humor of cartoons shifted from a making fun of Trump or mocking his effect on the Republican Party to ridiculing him for his bombastic rhetoric. To many observers–both left and right–Trump has become less humorous as his supporters have shown more serious support.
Reflecting more general reactions people have had to Trump, political cartoons can be grouped into a few different areas: criticisms of a variety of types, immigration-related images, Spanish-language reactions, Republican party reactions, pro-Trump, and comparisons to Democrats, especially Sanders, but also Clinton and others. Finally, there are a few, but not many, pro-Trump cartoons, although some of the cartoons focus on the question of “political correctness,” and are only borderline positive.
Several years ago, we posted a collection of humorous responses to President Obama’s change to support gay marriage. For a follow up, here are some of the humorous responses to the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize marriage across the country.
Responses seem to fall into a few general categories:
1) Celebration of the ruling
2) Comments on the Supreme Court, pro and con, but with no real connection to the recent Obamacare decision (see bottom for examples of responses to that)
3) Connections to the questions of race and the Confederate flag
4) Satire on the institution of marriage
4) Reactions of opponents
Here are a few cartoons and memes that show examples of these trends.
And here are some web-based humorous responses:
Last Saturday the Washington glitterati gathered at the Washington Hilton for what has become a major political event; the White House Correspondent’s Dinner. The draw has over the years become the president doing a stand-up bit followed by a professional comedian roasting more or less everybody in the room. This year’s invited host was Cecily Strong, a Saturday Night Live cast member known for playing The Girl You Wish You Hadn’t Started a Conversation With. Strong, only the second female to host in the last 20 years, did not go soft on those attending, pun intended. In twenty minutes she made sure to joke both left and right. My personal favorite was when she went after Obama: commenting on criticism that Senator Elizabeth Warren is “too idealistic and her proposed policies are too liberal,” she told people to look at President Obama “people thought the same about him and he didn’t end up doing any of that stuff.” Obama’s jokes also hit home, especially his jab at Hillary Clinton: “I have one friend, just a few weeks ago she was making millions of dollars a year and she’s now living out of a van in Iowa”. Indeed, the White House Correspondent’s Dinner has become something of a comedic highlight of the year for those interested in politics, giving it the nickname “Nerd Prom”.
The modern classic of the annual dinners is from 2006 when Stephen Colbert appeared as his signature parody of a conservative media pundit and brutally criticized George W. Bush and the media’s failure to confront his administration. Among the zingers was when he tried to reassure Bush not to pay attention to approval ratings; “we know that polls are just a collection of statistics that reflect what people are thinking in reality. And reality has a well-known liberal bias”. Reports after the dinner claimed that Bush was furious over Colbert’s jokes and especially conservative media pundits agreed that Colbert had gone too far. However, seeing the comedian take on the president as close to mano a mano as you can get is something the audience longs for. In medieval times it was said that the only one who could speak the truth without fear of repercussions was the court jester. Today the court jester is often invisible, even if Jon Stewart is still on the air a couple of months, Larry Wilmore has done an excellent job with the former Colbert Report, and cartoonists like Ann Telnaes of the Washington Post is fighting the good fight. At the White House Correspondent’s Dinner the court jester speaking truth to power should be the main attraction.
Back in January, local businessman Marty Jakosa thought that along with the honor of being chosen to MC the 45th the Turlock Chamber’s 45th annual “Best of Turlock” dinner came the right to tell an off-color—even conceivably treasonous—joke about our President.
The joke was about Obama following in the footsteps of past presidents like Washington and Jefferson, and concluded with, “How about you be like Abe Lincoln and go to a play?”
Apparently, somebody with some influence said something to change Jakosa’s opinion, because not too much later, he effusively apologized, saying he was “truly, truly sorry,” and had “exercised extremely poor judgement,” adding, “I would never purposely disrespect the office of the President of the United States.”
Except that he did. And since “never” includes things that happened in the past, one can only conclude he was lying. And you couldn’t argue that his intentions weren’t purposeful, either, since in response to audience moans and boos, he felt compelled to add, “That’s a cute joke.” As in, ‘Come on, you oversensitive nits, that was a cute joke and you know it.’
According to Wikipedia, the prototype for 18 USC § 871, Threats Against the President, was the British Treason Act 1351, an act that made it a crime to “compass or imagine” the King’s death. More relevantly, convictions under 18 USC § 871 have been sustained for simply declaring “President Wilson ought to be killed,” and for displaying posters calling for the hanging of President Roosevelt. “The US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit held that a threat was knowingly made if the maker comprehended the meaning of the words uttered by him.”
I suppose one could argue Jakosa in fact didn’t comprehend the actual meaning of his joke, that perhaps he felt Obama just needs more culture in his life. At least this would help explain why he thought the joke was cute to begin with.
Then again, According to the US Attorney’s Manual, “Of the individuals who come to the Secret Service’s attention as creating a possible danger to one of their protectees, approximately 75 percent are mentally ill.” Given Jakosa’s assertion the joke is “cute” in the face of a offended audience, I’d say deteriorating mental health is also a likely possibility.
But here’s the thing. Just a few days ago, I caught an NPR story about some Republican (whose name I don’t remember) who’s defending Jakosa’s joke, saying (and I’m paraphrasing), “Well, back when Bush was President, right after Cheney shot his friend in the face, there were tons of jokes flying around from Democrats about how Bush should go hunting with Cheney. So that makes what Jakosa said okay.”
Only there weren’t.
First off, the hunting incident was so bat-shit crazy, even Bush himself couldn’t help joking about about it. While hosting the 2007 Stanley Cup winners at the White House, (at which the Anaheim Ducks were in attendance), he said, “Have you noticed a lot of security around here? It’s because the Vice President heard there were some ducks around.”
Solid joke, right? Score one for President Bush.
Not enough? How about this: at an executive order signing in October, 2007, Bush said he was going to do some fishing because, “The Secret Service won’t let me go hunting with [Cheney].”
In other words, Bush had opened the doors, providing clearance for any Cheney hunting jokes to come. However, if you look at those that did follow, you’ll see a fundamental difference between them and Jakosa’s. A difference Republicans either don’t appreciate or choose to ignore.
And I don’t know about you, but frankly, I can’t recall any specific Bush-Cheney jokes that paralleled this situation, nor could I find any online, Despite scouring the web for late-night talk show Cheney jokes, not one came close to implicating Bush as shooting victim or even implying he should become one.
For whatever reason, Argus Hamilton has amassed an exhaustive collection of Cheney hunting jokes, which can be found here: argushamilton.com/hunting.htm. Funny thing is, out of the fifty or so jokes listed, in every instance, the butt of the joke remains Cheney. This only makes sense, since Cheney is the one who shot his buddy in the face and then didn’t report the incident until the following day.
This joke from the Hamilton list is interesting, but the aim (sorry) of the joke is to avoid Cheney’s birdshot, not to get taken out by it, so really it’s just a variation on Bush’s own joke: “Dick Cheney’s job approval rating fell to twenty-nine percent in polls released Monday. However, President Bush stated categorically he’s standing behind the vice president. If he’s standing anywhere else the Secret Service makes him move.”
Out of all the jokes listed on Hamilton’s site, this one comes closest to Jakosa’s: “Dick Cheney got bad news Wednesday when the CBS News poll came out showing that the vice president’s approval rating has sunk to eighteen percent. There’s a way out of anything. To get his numbers up, he just invited President Bush to go hunting.”
However, even here, Cheney is the butt of the joke, the one inviting Bush to go hunting, suggesting the VP is the one who wants to shoot the President in order that he might take over his position. That’s very different than implying the general public would like to see Obama go the way of Lincoln.
In general, whenever I think about the ways Republicans respond to allegations of impropriety (whether it’s assassination jokes, or redefining rape) I can’t help but think of my four year old son. After being caught slamming his sister’s head into the wall, he’ll defend himself by shouting, “She poked me in the eye!” But when you sit them down and the truth comes out, we learn what had happened was she had accidentally brushed his face with a feather…after he gave her the feather.
The point is, let’s all tread lightly. Sometimes a joke isn’t just a joke. The assassination pump is already primed, people. According to Wikipedia, President George W. Bush received 3,000 threats a year, while Barack Obama received four times that many.
Maybe Jakosa should be like Abe Lincoln and Gettysburg the hell out of here.
Be sure to check out my Huffington Post blog – I’m with Mitt: Adventures in Amercia!
The election is upon us. If you live in a swing state, I am sure you are sick to death of political commercials. If you live in Texas, like me, I am sure you are sick of Geico commercials, Ford Truck Month , and that Tostitos commercial with the dancing bag…
It seems to me that humor has played an interesting role in this election. Not that humor hasn’t long played a role in elections, going back centuries. I have discussed the question of satire in relation to the Daily Show here. We have also looked at political cartoons here and here . The question of voter fraud here. See also Mark Twain’s views on running for president here. But increasingly that role seems to have been played out on YouTube videos and spread across social networks via Facebook and Twitter. Short, funny videos have gone viral, as the term has it, and shaped the way some people perceive the terms of the election.
Via my Facebook feed, here are the most posted humorous videos of the campaign season. Which is your favorite? Are there others?
Joss Whedon on Mitt Romney and the Zombies
Chris Rock’s Message to White Voters
We here at Humor in America are seeking to add one or two contributing editors to replace several departing editors. The task of an editor is fairly straightforward: contribute content once per month on an area of humor studies. Our departing editors work in the fields of visual humor and stand-up, but we are open to adding solid work in almost any area of humor studies.
You will be scheduled to post a piece once per month, although I am extremely flexible about scheduling. The goal is to make your work for the site useful for your own academic interests and valuable to our readers. If you are interested, please contact Tracy Wuster at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you have expressed interest before, please do so again to remind us of who you are and let us know you still might be interest.
For more information, see our “Write for Us!” page, and feel free to ask questions.
In other news, we have an open slot for a day shortly before the election, and I was hoping to post a sampling of the best political humor of the political season. What I need from you is an email with nominations–what humor (cartoons, TV satire, internet meme, video, commentary, joke, tweet, etc.) was your favorite or was most interesting in how humor and politics interact. Please email me at: email@example.com
In the meantime, here is one nomination, from Joss Whedon, on Romney and Zombies:
It’s president-electing season again, and the Republican and Democratic Conventions provided a bounty of material for comedians and satirists to play with. As we have discussed before on this site, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert rank as two of the most important humorists of our time. Clearly in the political arena, their humor has the most resonance.
Take, for example, this piece—a satire of the campaign videos played throughout the conventions.
What is the point of this piece? Sure, it is entertaining, but what impact might it have on the audience watching. As Ruben Quintero writes in his edited volume, Blackwell Companions to Literature and Culture #46: A Companion to Satire: Ancient and Modern , the key to satire is its intended effect on its audience. He writes:
The satirist, either explicitly or implicitly, tries to sway us toward an ideal alternative, toward a condition of what the satirist believes should be. It is assumed that the satirist has our best interests at heart and seeks improvement or reformation.
Improvement or reformation—those are some big and nebulous aims. Let’s put it into a modern parlance: the satirist seeks change, but what kind of change? As with Barack Obama’s political slogan, change is a concept that means different things in different contexts, and maybe we are expecting too much from a satirist to completely change minds, just as we were probably asking too much of a president to change a dysfunction and a partisanship built into the construction of our Constitution.
As Jeffrey Melton so compellingly discussed on his article on this site—Teaching the Irony of Satire (Ironically)—even Jon Stewart has doubts about the efficacy of his satire to effect change. As Melton wrote:
In the highly publicized article, “The Irony of Satire” (International Journal of Press/Politics 2009), Heather L. LaMarre, Kristen D. Landreville, and Michael A. Beam, indicate that the human brain may be even less likely to respond to satirical inferences than we have dared to imagine. LaMarre, Landreville, and Beam focus attention on The Colbert Report and demonstrate that viewers of the show tend to interpret Stephen Colbert’s satire directly in terms of their own political views. In other words, the message is fungible and by no means clear. In short, people see what they want to see; believe what they want to believe; and, moreover—here’s the kicker—conclude that Stephen Colbert agrees with them.
In her recent book, A Conservative Walks Into a Bar: The Politics of Political Humor, Alison Dagnes writes that political satire might have important impacts, arguing that “Modern political humor has become a powerhouse of cultural influence and Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, and their brethren wield an immense amount of sway among voters, especially young ones.” But I’m not young. And while I enjoy the satire, I am skeptical about its impact on my own political views.
In his review of the book in the Washington Monthly, Joshua Green quotes several satirists questioning the thesis of the book, and the very act of academic study of humor:
When Dagnes cites the studies about how satire affects political behavior, the comedian Lewis Black replies, “Well, first, tell those academics to fuck themselves.… Really, tell them it is bullshit … satire doesn’t have that effect. If satire was really that important as a way to get things done, then, you know, more shit would be getting [done].” The common thread running through all these interviews is that professional satirists are almost exclusively concerned with being funny, and while many hold liberal views, they don’t expend much effort trying to impose them on others or imagine that they’d succeed if they did.
I think this focus on the entertainment value of satire might both trivialize the effects of satire by pointing in the wrong direction for its impact. We might be making a mistake by trying to quantify change and by delinking entertainment from impact. What improvements is satire aiming at? What is the scope of reform?
Improvement or reform—the aims of satire. Two pieces of satire from this week’s Daily Show have pushed me to reconsider the aims of satire as a political force. While the aim of satire is often framed as changing minds, might one purpose of satire be to force viewers to reconsider our own views, to define and defend them in more depth, rather than to change them from one thing to another?
Let me illustrate. First, take a look at this clip on the contrast between the Republican platform and the idea of freedom.
From a liberal point of view, this piece satirizes what liberals would see as the contradictory views of Republicans on the issue of “freedom.” Keep government out of our lives, they say, except for out of women’s healthcare. And there seem to be very clear paradoxes involved there that conservative thinkers would need to explain. But I don’t think that piece would change the minds of those conservatives who believe in both limited government and regulating conception.
It might be nice to think that pointing out such hypocrisy would lead to an “A-HA!” moment. But I don’t think beliefs work that way. Let me give another example, again from The Daily Show.
From a conservative point of view, this piece accomplishes a very similar task as the previous video—it points out key internal contradictions in the internal logic of a belief system. Whereas the video about the Republican convention made me laugh at hypocrisy, the Democratic convention video made me cringe with recognition. I had been hit with satire… as someone who holds that belief system, this video doesn’t change my mind, but it does make me much more uncomfortable than the previous video.
A liberal response to the satire would seem to require thinking through this “paradox of tolerance” in order to better defend one’s beliefs from critics who point out this key contradiction: how do advocates of tolerance defend being intolerant of those they see as being intolerant? A serious question to be discussed, as is: how do those who advocate freedom from government regulation of individual liberties justify governmental restriction of personal health decisions?
Maybe the satirical assaults on these seeming hypocrisies will help young people avoid these and similar paradoxes. Maybe these satires would have more of an effect on young people—on our students—whose political views might be more malleable, or at least less entrenched. That is something to study. But satire’s effects on those of us whose political views are more settled might be worth consideration as well, not in terms of changing our views but in making us better at explaining and defending our views in ways that won’t cause people to make fun of us.
© Tracy Wuster, 2012
Would you like to write a piece on satire for this site? Please contact Tracy at firstname.lastname@example.org
See this post for reactions to the Supreme Court’s legalization of marriage.
The reaction to President Obama’s changed stance on gay marriage is obviously big news. While I have argued before that proponents of gay marriage have a funnier argument than opponents, when it comes Obama’s decision the focus of the humor is less on the issue of gay marriage but on the politics of the situation. In the midst of an election season, Obama’s changing (evolving or flip-flopping? depends on who is drawing) view of gay marriage was bound to become a key instance in cartooning the major issues of the campaign.
We will be running some compilations of political cartoons as the campaign continues in order to examine how the visual representations of the candidates and the issues help shape the political conversation. As M. Thomas Inge noted in his essay “Politics and the American Sense of Humor,” “the editorial or political cartoon has been a mainstay in the media of this country from its very founding.”
The first thing one notices in looking at cartoons over the past few days is the rapid change in the situation once Obama came out of the closet in support of gay marriage (to use some popular metaphors). For instance, Mike Luckovich illustrated both the possible political “grenade” of the subject and one major theme of the fallout in two cartoons.
Mike Luckovich, the next day
many more below…