Tuesday, September 16, 2008


I have to admit I have a soft spot in my heart for those who gently mock the left; and no one does it better than Greg Gutfield... AND he does it on their own territory, the vastly overinflated HuffPo
Calling Sarah Palin a murderer might seem a stretch.

At first.

But alarmingly, Sarah Louise Heath Palin was born on February 11, 1964 - a suspicious beginning, as it is also the forty-eighth anniversary of the arrest of the free-thinking "first-wave feminist" Emma Goldman, for lecturing on the benefits of... birth control.

This "coincidence" could be easily dismissed, if poet and woman Sylvia Plath had not committed suicide one year (to the day) prior to the birth of Palin. Whether Palin was aware of this fact as a child isn't known - and whether the banning of the book "The Bell Jar" was actually discussed with her parents cannot be said for certain, but there had to be a reason why both mother and father landed comfortable jobs at various schools of learning - convenient locations that gave them easy access- not simply to books - but to bells, jars, and to children as well.

Yes: Our children...many of whom at the time were childlike - and vulnerable, like the late Sylvia Plath. If Plath could not weather the already considerable exploits of a youthful Palin - what harm might come to these young and helpless individuals?

One must wonder if George Orwell would have seen the irony in Palin winning the Miss Wasilla Pageant, for it happened, of course - in 1984, only a few miles from a local animal farm. Eerily, this is the same year that Richard Ramirez, also known as the Night Stalker, claimed his first victim. Whether Palin was in contact with Ramirez at the time cannot be verified, but when Palin finished second runner-up in the Miss Alaska pageant, it is unlikely that the outcome sat well with either of them. Few experts know what drives serial killers to kill serially - but later, Palin winning the "Miss Congeniality" award, must have been icing on the cake.

A very deadly cake, one might add. With murderous frosting. Made of death.

And murder.

Gutfield skewers the entire mind-set that has joyfully embraced 'scandal' after supposed 'scandal' involving the Republican VP nominee, and exposes it for the nonstop neurotic nonsense it is.

Mockery is a form of ridicule, contempt, or derision. When effectively combined with gentle blend of humor it can be very funny. When focused on a specific indivuals it can be cruel, vicious, sadistic and painfully insulting (think of the over-the top portrayals of Bush as Hitler or a terrorist in 'cartoons' and print, for example). For some--usually at the mental level of a 6 or 7 year old, this kind of humor may also be funny.

From a psychological perspective, not all humor is created equal.

Satire is considered a highly-sophisticated and intellectually-demanding display of wit, and it furnishes a satisfaction quite distinct from what we experience with less cerebral forms of humor. There is no other pleasure quite like that of inflicting intellectual torment on one's adversaries, proving them wrong and rendering them ridiculous. Because of its allusive complexity and subtlety, satire's insulting humor may surprise an unsuspecting victim like a "literary Trojan horse" which "promises to tell us what we do not want to know" (Connery and Combe 1-2). Or, the reader may be a "co-despiser" (Freud, Jokes 163) who identifies with the satirist's viewpoint and partakes of all the satisfaction accompanying the triumph of the humiliator over the humiliated. The satirical blade cuts deeply, littering the field with the shreds of an opponent's politics, intellect or pride. Satire is the most gratifyingly bellicose of the belles lettres....

Fundamentally then, the satiric sense of humor can be quite vicious; yet satire really provides a relatively benign emotional vent for civilization and its malcontents.

Some forms of humor can be quite vicious, but even those are a non-violent emotional strategy for discharging aggressive, angry and even sadistic impulses. At it's core, all humor has some negative emotion at its heart. But, there are varying levels of successfully discharging that humor in positive, even pleasurable ways. Some satire and wit-- like the Gutfield's piece--are not at all cruel, because it mocks an idea or attitude (in this case, a meme about the 'horror' of Sarah Palin as a VP candidate). It manages to make its point without resorting to cruelly attacking a specific individual or individuals and utterly humiliating them.

This is also true of the Saturday Night Live skit with Tina Fey portraying Palin. The mocking there is also fairly gentle and thus it is able to provide pleasure for almost everyone (even Sarah Palin who jokingly retorted that she once dressed up as Tina Fey for Halloween!) The skit includes a good take-down of both Palin and Hillary, and it's too bad that the McCain campaign officially chose to be insulted. But I think it is quite successful at being funny precisely because of the intellectual mockery that is used. It could have been buffoonish or tasteless, but it overcomes that tendency with good writing. Lisa Schriffren picks up, however, on one flaw, which for some might make the humor a little flat:
Putting politics and the economy to one side for just a minute, this is a pretty funny, immediate classic Saturday Night Live routine. Yup, they sure got Hillary's inner monologue down. Tina Fey delivers the character with perfect pitch, but over time writers may come up with a more accurate-sounding rendering of what Sarah Palin thinks. Or would that not be so funny?

Best line: "I didn't want a woman to be president. I wanted to be president." We knew that.

Not all political mocking is mature and effective humor; nor does it always utilize the specific psychological defense mechanixm which allows the transformation of negative of ideas and feelings (especially those that are unpleasant to focus on or too terrible to talk about) in a way that gives pleasure to others. The most effective humor allows you to call a spade a spade, while what passes for "wit" (very common in the blogshere) is actually a less mature form of psychological displacement).

There are important differences between mature humor and displacement or it's cousin, passive aggression. The latter are also a psychological defense mechanisms, but less mature ones (neurotic), that are not quite as effective in bringing 'pleasure to others.'

Let's go back in time to the 2006 White House Correspondents' Dinner where Stephen Colbert mocked President Bush. Comedian and commentator Richard Cohen had this to say about Colbert's performance at the time :
The commentary, though, is also what I do, and it will make the point that Colbert was not just a failure as a comedian but rude. Rude is not the same as brash. It is not the same as brassy. It is not the same as gutsy or thinking outside the box. Rudeness means taking advantage of the other person's sense of decorum or tradition or civility that keeps that other person from striking back or, worse, rising in a huff and leaving. The other night, that person was George W. Bush.
Why are you wasting my time with Colbert, I hear you ask. Because he is representative of what too often passes for political courage, not to mention wit, in this country. His defenders -- and they are all over the blogosphere -- will tell you he spoke truth to power. This is a tired phrase, as we all know, but when it was fresh and meaningful it suggested repercussions, consequences -- maybe even death in some countries. When you spoke truth to power you took the distinct chance that power would smite you, toss you into a dungeon or -- if you're at work -- take away your office.

But in this country, anyone can insult the president of the United States. Colbert just did it, and he will not suffer any consequence at all. He knew that going in. He also knew that Bush would have to sit there and pretend to laugh at Colbert's lame and insulting jokes. Bush himself plays off his reputation as a dunce and his penchant for mangling English. Self-mockery can be funny. Mockery that is insulting is not. The sort of stuff that would get you punched in a bar can be said on a dais with impunity. This is why Colbert was more than rude. He was a bully.

Read the entire piece, which accurately deliniates the significant differences between humor and displacement. True humor offers a catharsis for more than just the person using it; and while displacement may be funny to some, it is the childish/adolescent version of humor that is more like disguised cruelty.

Humor is an extraordinarily mature and healthy psychological defense. It is the overt expression of ideas and feelings (especially those that are unpleasant to focus on or too terrible to talk about) in a creative manner that gives pleasure to others. Often humor can let you call a spade a spade in a way that transforms the negative into a positive. As an example, President Bush himself displayed considerable humor of the self-deprecating variety, in his own skit with the Bush double. As Cohen notes above, self-mockery can be funny; and it can also demonstrate maturity and honesty.

So, what are we to make of Colbert's humor at that dinner? Rude and insulting is too nice a word for it (and I must admit that I usually find Colbert rather funny).

It was very revealing precisely because it revealed something about Colbert and any of those who found it hilarious--it revealed immaturity and intolerance. To be precise, it was just another attempt at displacement, the underlying psychological motivation of Bush Derangement Syndrome. The purpose of this kind of "humor" is to hurt. It makes very few feel pleasure except at the pain of someone else.

Mostly, this kind of humor is found in children and adolescents. The "ha-ha!" shout of the character Nelson, who makes fun of everyone's pain; while blissfully unaware of his own family's psychopathology in The Simpsons is an example; or one of the three stooges beating up on another.

Kids love that kind of humor because it lets them act out their aggression in a slightly less...physical manner (and therefore a more socially appropriate). While displacement may be a bit psychologically healthier than actually physically hitting the President over the head with a baseball bat, it is hard to see how those on the "caring and compassionate" left--so sensitized to others people's feelings-- are not exactly aware of how insensitive and loutish it was to attack someone who cannot respond. They rationalize their own behavior by making Bush a monster. This is only projection (an even more primitive psychological defense), however.

In short, Colbert's behavior at that dinner and that of those who approved of it (and see him as some kind of courageous hero for speaking "truth to power"); are expressing a typical kind of adolescent behavior that allow the immature and uninsightful to be indifferent to their own cruelty and insensitivity towards others.

This is why no one at the dinner actually laughed at Colbert's jokes. Such rudeness in the name of humor is actually painful to witness (i.e., not funny) because when someone resorts to it, they are unintentionally revealing their own deepest--and darkest--soul.

Now, I don't think that the humor of the SNL skit was even close to that insulting; as is the kind of thing that passes for humor at DU and a lot of (particularly lefty) blogsites--though immaturity knows no political bounds.

The Colbert moment described above, however, cannot even remotely compare with the sadistic "humor" that is often prominent in the Arab world and which is usually directed at the Jews.

I believe that the underlying motive is readily apparant in these cartoons that come from the Arab media; and which are particularly sadistic and humorless, considering that they are supposedly "cartoons". Such sadistic and even malicious humor can be very funny to a 6 year old (think of the "Itchy and Scratchy" cartoons from The Simpsons, which are egregious in this regard). The overt hostility inherent in the violence is obvious to anyone who looks and detracts from any psychological benefit of the humor--either to the originator or to the observer. This particular kind of humor is actually a form of passive aggression or displacement--as are most of the cartoons from Arab newspapers linked above

Thus, the more immature psychological defenses--such as displacement or passive aggression-- can produce a warped type of humor that is decidedly inferior and far less effective at discharging aggression and anger in socially acceptable ways that give pleasure to everyone. Not all humor is created equal when it comes to being healthy and psychologically mature.

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