Wednesday, October 12, 2016

It's Only A Game Focker!

One of the great moments in film comedy occurs during the volleyball game at the Oyster Bay home of former spy Jack Byrnes, the father of Gaylord Focker's (Ben Stiller) fiancee Pam.  Stiller's character struggles for Jack's acceptance and has trouble making a positive impression on the entire family. The volleyball match epitomizes Gaylord's inability to fit in and make anything right. While the match is fiercely competitive, he barely contributes. When he has a chance at a winning shot, he succeeds , but everything goes wrong and he is chided - "It's only a game Focker!"

So that kind of humor seems to play across the spectrum of comedic sensibility. We can all identify with Gaylord and recognize characters like Jack. But political humor is different. Not because we laugh at opponents and commiserate or support our chosen candidates, but because political sensibilities come into play. The asymmetry of sensibilities is striking.
When Comedy is King sets forth an explanation of the workings of political humor when viewers have a shared sensibility, with the argument that political propaganda drowns out any chance for comedic success at Fox News.
But we know those who watch Fox News laugh, so what do they find funny. Bill O'Reilly recently hosted Jesse Watters' Chinatown Edition which played extensively on racial stereotypes, even confusing Japanese with Chinese. The concept of stereotype based on race is literally defining ourselves as members of an in-group and placing the focus on differences between our in-group and the racial outgroup.  This is consistent with closing the mind to new information, limiting ideas and observations to that which we already know and within our comfort zone. This kind of thinking propels fear of all Muslims. O'Reilly and Watters exhibit a remarkable lack of self awareness in their on-screen discussion after the segment. They must be warming up for the "War on Christmas" again this year, which is more of a "War against those who do not observe Christmas".  Remember the Ailes rule -- they accuse you of doing what they are already doing or plan to do.

That brings us back to "It's only a game" which is Donald Trump's line time after time and would be funny if it were not so dangerous. "Locker room talk" in the Billy Bush video. "Sarcasm" to describe calling for Russia to hack the emails of the Democratic National Committee (which they did). "Joking" to describe calls to assassinate the Democratic candidate. And so on. Trump is always ready with a pivot. We have noted the familiar pattern of deny, deflect, distract, accuse, often with anger. But some situations lend themselves more to the "I was only joking" denial of reality.
And it's not only a game only to Trump. It is only a game to the moderate Republican leaders. (By "moderate", we mean the less extreme behaving among remaining Republicans, a moving target for sure.)
For these folks, winning the House and Senate elections is the first order of business. Some of these Members were playing chicken with the functioning of government in the shutdown battles and the threat to default on debt payments. Now the game of chicken requires condoning Trump, but not supporting him, or whatever contradiction of "being in favor of" and "being against" the Member can concoct. When an institution fails, it is not a pretty picture. Collapse can appear gradual, but then become sudden. We are in a tense standoff between the fracturing of the Republican Party and the fracturing of the democratic institutions of the U.S. - the integrity of elections, the functioning of Congress based on two-party structure, and the Supreme Court dependence on the Senate confirmation process. Based on the recent history of Republican tactics including the toleration of Trump and Trumpism, the best guess is that moderate Republicans will allow our democratic institutions to disintegrate -- and then blame the Democrats. With Putin's Russia playing their part to weaken our institutions, we approach the upcoming election, and the aftermath, with trepidation.

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