Joking Matters

Written by Douglas Davis on . Posted in Breaking News, Posts.



Last Friday, Google.com
listed 16,100 Gore jokes, compared to 11,700 for W; and among the veeps, Lieberman
took Cheney 461 to 274. If you believe the Sigmund Thesis, the volatile up-down
quality of our political mood is best tracked this way. Just before the Democratic
convention, for example, W began to challenge Gore in both the mood and numbers
of jokes. "Little Dumbo" changed places with "Big Stiff."
Since Al deep-kissed Tipper and his poll numbers rose, he’s on top in the
sheer number of jokes. But the mood swing has been in his favor. Now
the jokes are about Gore the tub-thumping Wife-Lover, not Gore the Bore. Toondude’s
salacious cartoon of last Friday depicted Al dialing "1-800-Hot Babes"
while Bill and Janet Reno leered.


Why? Satiation, in part.
After thousands of Al the Dull quips, it’s hard to find anything new to
say on this score. Just in time, Gore seems to have played out his primordial
role as class dullard. How many times can you listen to variations on Al correcting
Bill when he says "quickie" rather than "quiche" to the
waitress? Whether Al or Formica or the FBI agent is stiffer? On "dressing"
for sex with Tipper? Al Franken reached way down to hit Al’s tipping point
(no pun meant) two weeks ago, preconvention, joking that from now on Gore’s
going to save our timberlands by recycling the wooden stick up his ass rather
than inserting a new one every day. Nowhere to go after that. And Gore slyly
keeps repeating Gore jokes himself, ensuring their death.


George W. mostly responds
to his Dumbo image with thin-skinned, tight-lipped fury, making him a more appealing
target. Last year, for example, he raged in public against the brilliant "Unofficial
Official" Bush website devised by RtMark, a group of cranky digital artists,
handing them millions of hits. Surely this explains all the parody anti-W sites,
from About.com’s "Dubya, If Only We Knew Ya" to "The Georgy
Bush Project" to www.gwbush. com, where you’ll find poison-pen "prisoner
letters" written by a captive audience. Surely this is why W is now reaching
a tipping point of his own, based on his alleged stupidity, reminiscent of the
condescending Quayle jokes of 1992. They’re not like the mushy, charming
Reaganisms that circulated in the 80s, when we saw Reagan depicted as an amiable,
dozing bumbler, not a danger to the republic. These are more like this one,
which recently made the e-mail rounds:


Nader, Gore and W went to
a fitness spa for some fun (if you believe Nader ever has fun) and relaxation
(if you believe Gore ever relaxes). After a healthy lunch, all three decided
to visit the men’s room and found a strange-looking gent sitting at the
entrance who said, "Welcome to the gentlemen’s room. Be sure to check
out our newest feature: a mirror that, if you look into it and say something
truthful, you will be awarded with a wish. But, be warned–if you say something
false, you’ll be sucked into the mirror to live in a void of nothingness
for all eternity." They entered, and on finding the mirror Nader said,
"I think I’m the most truthful of us three." In an instant he
was surrounded by a pile of money, which I suppose he invested in tech stocks.
Gore stepped up and said, "I think I’m the most ambitious of us three,"
and he suddenly found the keys to a brand new Lexus in his hands, which he liked
because it looked better than the Veep’s car. Excited over the possibility
of having a wish come true, W looked into the mirror and said, "I think"–and
was promptly sucked into the void.


Several reasons why this
joke ought to shake the GOP. It was ubiquitous. Its curt, quick punchline confidently
assumes we all think W is stupid. And this is bad, because most of us would
rather have a (sexy or boring) president with a high IQ than a charmer who’s
dumb. I know this last point flies in the face of media assumptions about the
American voter. Not long ago, after a day of reading Dumb W jokes, I tuned into
CNN and found solemn, well-paid analysts assuring us that no matter how good
Gore is in repartee, he still isn’t as "likable" as W. That even
if W is murdered in the fall debates, he will still win because Ma and Pa will
"like" him and "dislike" Gore.


What a wealth of history
this ignores! Nixon, probably the least "likable" candidate for president
in history, won twice, over ingratiating rivals, one of them (McGovern) an authentic
war hero. At the high school prom, handsome Barry Goldwater, not Lyndon Johnson,
would have dated the queen. Among the totally distasteful or wooden personalities
elected in the 20th century–a century obsessed with the "personality"–were
Calvin Coolidge, Woodrow Wilson and George Bush the Elder. The truth is we actually
worry about the candidate’s IQ. Very few of us want to put Dumbo’s
finger on the nuclear trigger or the economy or healthcare. Intelligence–or
the perception of intelligence–matters hugely in all final electoral decisions,
according to exit polls. Carter defeated Ford in 1976 not because of his Peanut
Smile but because the voters perceived him as intelligent and capable. He lost
in 1980 because his economic policies didn’t work, not because Ronald Reagan
was lovable. And Reagan devastated Mondale, a more nimble debater, with a booming
economy–well before Ollie North and the Contra war scandals depressed his
popularity.


Yes, JFK is an exception.
So is Clinton. I contend that Clinton’s current high approval rating is
positively fueled by the tens of thousands of sex jokes swamping his name on
the Web. Gore might consider a little serious public petting next. Lustiness
doesn’t threaten voters the way a low IQ does. Here I take issue with Sigmund.
Jokes don’t simply bubble up through our veins and emotions. They filter
through our brains, too.


Douglas Davis is an artist
and author. His latest book is
The Five Myths of Television. Exchange
jokes at dd2001@sfd.com.


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