Thursday, August 19, 2010

Why Obama Can't Be Parodied

Parody is a form of comedy/commentary that involves highlighting the ridiculous. Done right, it’s one of the most interesting and entertaining forms of comedy, and it can be devastating to its target where the target lacks substance or hides behind a facade. Parody is particularly effective against politicians; they make prime targets. But what about Obama?

Obama is rife for parody. Like all politicians, Obama has flaws. Some might even argue that he has more flaws than most. Moreover, more than any politician I can recall, Obama lives behind a facade that he’s finding harder and harder to maintain. Consider this:

• The most obvious flaw with Obama is the difference between how he speaks when he’s reading from the teleprompter and how he sounds when he’s speaking “off the brain.” He’s like some modern-day Cyrano De Bergerac, which should be fertile ground for comedy, as comedy thrives on contradiction and juxtaposition.

• Obama also speaks in a strange combination of dispassionate rhetoric (as if he were teaching a course he’s taught so many times that he no longer pays attention to the lesson) and anger. And if you doubt me, as yourself two questions. First, what was the last thing Obama said that you knew he felt passionately about? Secondly, how long would you work for a boss who spoke to you in the tone Obama constantly uses on us. Even the left has noticed that he’s generally dull and joyless when he speaks these days.

• Obama has shown a propensity for shooting off his mouth, backing off immediately, and then trying to claim he never backed off -- as he did with the mosque incident and the beer summit. This and his acceptance of the Nobel Prize for Hopeful Anticipation shows a Bidenesque lack of judgment or control combined with a good deal of arrogance.

• He’s shown a disturbing lack of substance in all of his endeavors, which he compounds with simplistic attack phrases, such as “just tell me whose ass to kick.” This has been a primary source of griping in his party as they feel he’s set convoluted or contradictory goals and then attacked them when they sought his guidance.

• He’s also shown he “doesn’t get it” in terms of the amount of work the job demands. Indeed, he routinely claims to be too busy to get around to important matters, even as he spends his days on vacations.

• And speaking of vacations, he has a wife who spends her days taking luxury vacations at five star resorts with MC Hammer-like entourages (like the left's stereotype of Nancy Reagan), while Obama preaches austerity (like the left's stereotype of the hypocritical preacher). He’s also clearly embraced the rock-star culture even as he talks about being humble and accuses his opponents of not being serious.

• He has also shown a penchant for using his daughters as political props.

• And he’s shown himself to be all but humorless.
Each of these is a trait that comedians have used to parody other politicians in the past. Yet they won’t lay a finger on Obama. Why? I think the answer is obvious, even as it is unpleasant. The answer boils down to race.

When parodying any human being, the first order of business involves mocking the person’s mannerisms: without this you cannot have a parody. If you want proof, think about everyone you’ve seen parodied in the past. Reagan was mocked for his age and his speaking tone. Bush I was rich and spoke funny. Bush II was stupid. Palin was mocked for her colloquialisms. Carter was mocked for his accent and general wimpiness, Schwarzenegger for his accent, Nixon for his sweating and paranoid tone, and Ford for his clumsiness. Clinton was mocked for his salesman like mannerisms and evasions. Gore was mocked for his wooden speaking style and penchant for telling whoppers.

In each instance, you know instantly what I’m talking about without me even needing to get into specific quotes or policies. The reason for this is that parody is mostly defined by attacks on a person's mannerisms. Indeed, parody must always begin by taking the person and exaggerating them for the audience. If you can’t exaggerate the person to unrealistic proportions, then the things you say next will sound like nasty criticisms of the person rather than funny zingers aimed at the caricature. It’s the difference between: “I did not have sex with all those women!” and “you betcha I can see Russia from my house” -- which make a myriad of points without sounding personal -- and “Clinton lies about his affairs” or “Palin’s response was stupid,” which are harsh and pointed comments aimed directly at the living breathing person.

And therein lies the problem. Before we can parody Obama for his policy failings and other flaws, we must mock his personality. But here’s the catch: you can’t do that without being accused of racism. If you point out that he sounds angry, you’re accused of perpetuating the “angry black man stereotype.” If you point out his Cyrano problem, you’re accused of perpetuating the “stupid black man stereotype.” If you point out his penchant for vacations and living the highlife on our dime, you’re accused of perpetuating the “lazy black man stereotype,” or worse. If you talk about his use of his kids as props, you would be accused of perpetuating the “bad black father stereotype.”

What does that leave us? Nothing except criticism, which just isn’t that funny.

If Obama were white, I think you would have seen each of the above flaws exploited. You would have seen scenes where Obama uses soaring rhetoric to order off of menus in five star hotels, but uses his dispassionate tone when arguing with his wife. You would have speechwriters writing the argument for him. You would have him using his angry tone at all the wrong times. You would have him promising to never rest until he completed the task at hand, right before heading on vacation as he complained about the 5 hour work day being forced upon him. And you would have him using his daughters as human shields to protect himself against reporters and other politicians.

But you won’t see that. As I’ve said before, each of these things was said or done to other politicians in the past. But with Obama the game is different because comedians know that they will be accused of racism if they try it. Thus, the path of least resistance is to avoid the parody entirely and instead parody his fans or enemies.

And if you think I’m wrong about the desire of people to take the path of least resistance, ask yourself when the last time was that Hollywood presented you with a black street thug or advertisers used a black character as the butt of the joke. Both Hollywood and Madison Avenue have learned that it is easier to avoid anything that could bring out the race or gender lobbies, because those groups aren’t trying to make sure that everyone is treated fairly, they are trying to stamp out all negative portrayals.

That’s why Obama can’t be parodied. And if history is any guide, this will ultimately hurt him and his legacy severely. Because there’s only one thing worse than a politician we all laugh at. . . that’s a politician we aren’t allowed to laugh at.


Tennessee Jed said...

I think I may disagree here, Andrew. To be sure, you are absolutely correct in assessing that parody will get the individual accused of racism, but that is just as true for straight criticism. It becomes much harder to parody Obama for two reasons.

First, most entertainers are liberals. Just like the media formerly known as "mainstream" there has been a dearth of talent available for such duty. But just like conservative media is in the rise, so may be the number of people who are willing to take a crack at it. Doing it effectively would take a black conservative, and I agree that is a tall order, but as "O" tumbles in the polls, there is a chance he will be too tempting a target to leave alone.

Look at Mr. Snerdley on the Limbaugh show. Or even the other guy who does impressions. I know it is radio, but they do parody him, and have a large audienceso it can happen.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, Disagreement is fine, just don't make a habit of it.

Seriously, I would agree to an extent that there is a problem with most entertainers being liberals. But they did eventually get around to lampooning Clinton, Gore, Carter and others. I really think the difference is that they just don't know how to parody a black male without falling into the racism trap.

Also, the idea that it make take a black comedian (conservative or otherwise) sort of reinforces this point -- it's hands off for everyone else.

JG said...

All I can think of is "....lockbox." My favorite SNL sketch on a very short list.

But yes, I think you nailed it. "Media Malpractice" touched on this as well when it went over the SNL debate sketches. The Obama actor (don't know his name) was the straightman to Hilary's shrew. It wasn't one of their failed attempts at humor - it was blatantly obvious they weren't even trying to be funny about him.

AndrewPrice said...

JG, I remember the lockbox! That was funny.

I didn't see the piece by Media Malpractice, but that's my recollection -- they've always played Obama as the straight man and everyone around him as the butt of the joke.

Even now, whenever I see him portrayed (which is much more rare than any prior politician), they still play him as the straight man -- serious, smart, determined.

Ed said...

Here I thought he couldn't be parodied because he was perfect? That seems to be the general excuse. I agree with you though, I think this is all about race because I remember each of the things you mention being parodied in some other politician before, even the Democrats, but they won't do it to him and because race comes up very quickly every time there's any disagreement with him.

JG said...

(slight tangent) - Media Malpractice is a documentary by John Zeigler. I can't speak to all of his work, but this one basically outlined the effect of the JournoList before we knew there was a JournoList, insofar as it related to the 2008 election cycle. Definitely worth checking out. I know at least parts are on youtube, if not the entire program.

AndrewPrice said...

JG, Thanks, I'll check that out. That could be very interesting. He sounds familiar.

AndrewPrice said...

Ed, You noticed that too huh? In fact, on issue after issue, one of the first things that happens whenever someone criticized him or opposed one of his policies, the nuts at Huffpo jumped on the race issue: "these complaints are driven by racism." No, they're driven by the fact he's an idiot who is doing bad things to the country.

I think race remains one of those touchy taboos in our society and so it's easier to avoid the issue and parody those around Obama rather than to take him on directly and face the wrath of the race lobby.

I don't think most people buy the idea that we're all racist anymore or that criticism of him is racist, but it's just not worth the protests to anger this very small, very angry minority.

Unknown said...

Andrew: I just received a memo from the White House. The President read your article, and he's furious. In fact, he said he would respond immediately, but they're busy packing for their next vacation. LOL

CrispyRice said...

I gotta agree with Jed - any criticism of any sort, not just parody, will get you branded with the racist label. Heck, standing up as a tea party member gets you branded. It's insane. Luckily, I think the vast majority of Americans aren't buying it anymore, either.

AndrewPrice said...

Lawhawk, LOL! I'll wait for the memo. Hopefully they'll write it on hotel stationary and then I can start a collection of stationary from the world's greatest hotels?!

Unknown said...

Andrew: Sorry, I just got the clarification memo from the White House. The President said he's too busy right now, but when he gets back from Martha's vineyard, and they have the TelePrompter fixed, he'll make a speech on the subject.

AndrewPrice said...

Crispy, I agree that people no longer buy into the racism charge (and it's weakening every day), particularly the public.

BUT, I do think that it still creates a point of resistance for people like comedians, Hollywood, and corporations. It's just easier to avoid the issue than it is to draw the ire of the small group of people who would come after you if you touched that hot-button.

It's the same way you don't see advertisers using Hitler even though he deserves a pie in the face or poking fun at religious figures. The benefit you gain from the broad public who might enjoy the humor just isn't worth the protests, boycotts, and threats from the small, energized groups who would be opposed.

AndrewPrice said...

Lawhawk, At least I didn't make his kids cry. ;-)

LL said...

I need to hear Chris Rock weigh on the difference between black people and N-word'ers. Then apply it to the hard working black community and barack hussein obama.

AndrewPrice said...

LL, Somehow, I don't see that happening. Although Spike Lee took a shot at Obama for not "acting like a black man" (i.e. not tough enough) in the BP situation. That seems to have been what led to the "whose ass to kick" comment.

Chris Rock is an interesting guy to me because he's one of the first to really blast into all the taboos surrounding blacks -- he never danced around the edges. I think he's backed off that a lot now that he's made his name, but his early stuff was truly unheard of before.

Tennessee Jed said...

JG - i have media malpractice and enjoyed it. Andrew - o.k. you caught me. I had to really, really work hard to find a nit' to disagree about.Quite possibly, I was still disappointed over thefact you read a "Time Magazine" article. LOL :))

P.S. If my comments seem brief, it's because it is hard to type when Maggied is being cradled in my arm while I try to type.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, No problem on the typing/dog issue, I've done that myself on many occasions.

I tried to explain the Time thing... I swear I won't do it again! LOL!

(P.S. Glad to hear it was hard to find fault with the article!)

BevfromNYC said...

Andrew - Yes, all that and Our Dear Leader sadly has THE most fragile ego of any head of state besides Hugo Chavez. Someone described him as "glass-jawed" and that is absolutely right and so is everyone around him. That and he has no sense of humor except when laughing at and ridiculing his loyal opposition. Something I have NEVER seen a sitting President do publically (and as policy) nor allowed to be done in his name.

Can you imagine a "Li'l Obama" parody like Comedy Central did with "Li'l Bush" or "That's My Bush"? There would be an investigation by Nancy Pelosi.

AndrewPrice said...

Bev, You are absolutely right, he's got no sense of humor nor do the people around him. The slightest hint of criticism brings out the long knives.

And, like you, I've never seen an administration ridicule it's own side as much as these guys do. But then, they seem to ridicule anyone who is not part of the administration.

If Comedy Central did a lil'Obama, it honestly would not surprise me if the Justice Department suddenly found some reason to go after Comedy Central the next day.

What's ironic about that, is that humorless leaders tend to go down in flames. People don't like people without a sense of humor. Even the communists discovered the need to allow people to crack jokes about the state and the party to keep people from reaching the breaking point. Obama doesn't seem to get that.

BevfromNYC said...

You're right. They'd break out some arcane FCC rule or election law and call it "campaigning".

You can say alot about Bush, but he had a great sense of humor about himself and I would bet real money that he probably watched "Lil'Bush" and laughed his you-know-what off! He can take the heat without belittling the commenters because he knows who he is and is comfortable with himself and his principles.

Obama and Company could learn alot from Bush in that respect. Bush never lowered the Office of the President to comment on chatter...

AndrewPrice said...

Bev, That's very true, Bush had a great sense of humor. Obama could learn a lot from him in that department.

You're also right that Bush never lowered himself to talking about chatter, but Obama can't seem to raise himself above that.

rlaWTX said...

I agree about the racism fear. But, I think another problem with making fun (parody, sarcasm, etc) of this group and their supporters is that they already say the DUMBEST stuff. When your target is living better material than you can write and [1] everyone is too scared to laugh OR [2] everyone's too ticked off to laugh, what's the point in trying to be funny?

Over at BH on an article about Russel something (rappy guy) on Larry "Am I Dead Yet" King, someone made a comment that was rather funny and totally sarcastic. More than half missed it because the trolls really BELIEVE that crap. I really don't get it.

Yesterday Crispy was banging his head on the wall - this is what starts me banging my wall.

Individualist said...


I think you are right but I am not sure that Obama's race has everything to with this.

It seems to me that since the 90' the liberals, especially the MSM have gotten more shrill and nasty. It started with the absurd noting that Ken Star was a pervert for wanting to investigate Bill Clinton's perversions. Since then it seems to escalate with anyone that criticizes the liberal establishment being immediately centered on for attack.

Would Joe the Plumber have been savaged by Clinton, Carter the way he was in this campaign. I don;t know if it is tweeting or blogging or what that has opened this up or the paranoia of liberals seeing their media monopolies crumble but I think there is something else at work as well. I just am not sure exactly what?

AndrewPrice said...

rlaWTX, I think there is definitely something to the idea that his side has no sense of humor and our side is too ticked off to laugh. Those aren't really conditions that are conducive to comedy. And right now, the past 6-8 years have really been a poisonous time for political debate.

There are even organizations who troll the internet looking to make "enemy" sites unusable by just pouring out hateful comments. When the Michelle Obama vacation story finally hit Yahoo, about an hour later close to 4000 comments came in all a few seconds apart which were all variations on a theme -- "you're all racist for criticizing her." That was Media Matters trying to spike the story.

AndrewPrice said...

Individualist, Ironically, I was just saying something similar to rlaWTX.

When Clinton moved to the right, the left lost their minds. They were afraid that the Democratic Party was slipping away from them. At the same time, people had gotten sick of hearing others use race or poverty as an excuse, so those groups were facing a collapse as well. At that point, the left began a very aggressive campaign to poison dialog in this country. When Bush "stole" Florida, things ratcheted up again, and then when we invaded Iraq, they kicked into high gear. People like Pelosi were actively cheering for us to lose the war so they could score political points.

Since that time, they've invested hundred of millions of dollars to create professional progressive groups that engage in propaganda, political theater, and the kinds of tactics that radical groups have always used.

All of this coincided with the internet. That's where groups like Media Matters come into this. They send out trolls to poison right-wing sites (in this, they are aided by just regular trolls who are simply very sad, ugly people looking to upset others). This also included things like creating the Journolist, where leftist journalists coordinated their efforts to undermine anyone who disagreed with their views.

Basically, our "free and open debate" has turned into a hidden propaganda war. And demonization is almost always the first tool of the propagandists.

So imagine if you are Individualist The Funny, and you add an Obama parody to your routine. You will suddenly find yourself awash in hate mail and death threats, you will be picketed, your website attacked, and your name slandered with a whole host of false allegations.

Is that worth it?

Unknown said...

Yo, homie;ya down for the struggle mon? Yo' no playa inada street hea. I got all you game. Be steppin son and wit da quickness!

Unknown said...

Every card in the 57 card Obama deck is a "race card". It's his strongest and only weapon. It's the only reason he's president. If he were white, he'd just be a goofy Dennis Kucinich wanna-be with bigger ears and a better jump shot.

And, he knows that it's his Kevlar that will prevent the white liberal media establishment from criticizing his obvious stupidity, arrogance, lack of depth, naivete, and cluelessness. He is, after all, "clean and articulate" when on the prompter. He's basically "too black to fail" to the weak liberal mind.

I say, bring him down and bring him down hard. That would be equality. He's dumber than Bush, more rash than McCain, has poorer personal judgment than Clinton, and more corrupt then Nixon.

He makes Carter look decisive.

And yes, he's half black. Welcome to the big leagues, Barry.

AndrewPrice said...

Mike, I think you're right. He has made mistakes that the media tore Bush, McCain, Clinton and even Carter apart for, but they have not only ignored these same mistakes with him, they've gone out of their way to proclaim the opposite.

Brian said...

Great article. I think it's a mix of the fear of looking racist and this overly long love affair the liberal Hollywood types are still having with him.

This is a little off topic but I wondered if you had seen the episode of 30 Rock where Tracy Morgan was complaining that now with a black President it was safe to be racist again. He gave an example of an ad for a security company that used a black thief breaking into a house. As hugely liberal as they all are on that show I'm a little surprised they haven't poked some fun at him yet. Maybe this year. I'm not holding my breath though.

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks Brian, I'm glad you liked it. I think you're right that there is definitely a liberal love affair element to it. Though that alone doesn't explain the extreme reluctance they have of making fun of him at all.

I haven't seen the episode you're talking about, but it sounds like a funny line. I wouldn't expect much to change on the Obama-comedy front any time soon. Until a few big names start making fun of him (and not being attacked), I don't think most people will risk it.

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