You Must Be Joking, Mr President
“I haven’t seen “The Hunger Games”. Not enough class warfare for me”
President Barack Obama
While you patiently wait for the evolution to make you LOL, go ahead and share a few laughs with our dear leader, if you dare.
See it embedded here, where further down the page you’ll also find court jester Jimmy Kimmel making the audience laugh by poking fun at the king sitting right next to him, which he does with moments of courage and great humor. Definitely worth watching, especially his closing “non-joke”.
The White House Press Correspondents Dinner ritual is a fascinating case study of the power of humor and why we should take it much more seriously. You will hear more truths from the president in his 15 minute routine than in his past 4 years in office. He will make you laugh (admit it, the Morgan Freeman joke IS funny), the script is most professional and his delivery is well rehearsed, but is he really joking? And why does his laugh make me cringe?
First, we must look at the context. Rituals are used to create (mental and physical) social spaces in which the usual rules are turned upside down. This is the case of the Brazilian carnaval, for example, in which for 9 days the poorest inhabitants of the shantytowns become the “kings of samba” and the temporal aristocracy of the country. After the frenzy of dancing, costumes, drinking and celebrating is over, it’s back to the favelas, and only 356 days left until next year’s carnaval….
If human society is like a pressure cooker, such rituals are the escape valves that keep the top from blowing off explosively. An illusion is created, and everyone knows it’s just an illusion, but nevertheless it works to blow off steam before getting back to the “serious” slog. But the illusion is not really as illusory as it may seem at first, and always rests upon a grain of truth. When you see the samba schools marching down the Sambodromo in Rio de Janeiro, in perfect synchrony dancing and drumming by the thousands, you ARE looking at the folks who make the country run… just not the ones who run it.
Which brings us back to the Press Correspondents Dinner, a wink-wink nudge-nudge ritual space created to turn the usual rules of political discourse upside down. If the normal rule is to tell lies with a straight face, during the Dinner the rule is to tell truths while laughing. In fact, just before the end of the president’s routine, we can witness him slip back into serious mode and almost immediately start lying, saying how he respected the work of the “free, brave press” (none in the audience felt alluded to) and bloggers (?? I guess he meant the ones working the color revolutions in third countries). And what are Clooney and Spielberg doing at the White House press corps dinner…? Don’t point that wand at me!
Funny thing is that there’s not much difference between this routine and a “serious” press conference, except for the yucks, which actually helps it go down smooth. Imagine listening to the president talking about serious stuff for 15 minutes straight… just the thought makes my brain step out for a cigarette break. This quarter of an hour, however, goes by fast, and the guy actually seems more presidential than when he’s humming and hawing about serious stuff.
So what pearls did the President cast before the swine of public opinion at this year’s Dinner? Well, surely more than we know, a lot of insider jokes went down but here a few that even an outsider yob like myself can catch as the intended target of these words. It was the comment that opens this post about the Hollywood blockbuster (9:44 on the video linked above), with the accompanying delivery and body language (which is more than 90% of the message) that made my hackles rise somewhere deep inside. Anybody who thinks that was a joke needs a head check… he doesn’t even smile after saying it!
Then there’s the “unleashing some secret agenda in my second term” joke (12:45), punchline “you’re absolutely right!” Big yucks there, although item number two “I will win the war on Christmas!” got more puzzled silence than laughs. Since it isn’t funny and since nothing in politics is casual, the question of what it means remains TBD. Is it a veiled reference to his supposed muslim whatever or a wink at the conspiracy theories that he is, indeed, spawn of the Scaly One?
But the real 1M$ question is: why bother? Why go through this whole elaborate kabuki routine in which glimmers of the truth are displayed under the guise of humor, instead of either just saying it already or shutting the fck up? Well, I think the elite would like nothing better than to tell it to our faces, because what’s the point of being a powermonger if you can’t rub it in, but at the same time they know this can only be done within a ritual space with “I was only joking” deniability. Can’t be having folks taking that sort of straight talk serious, or they might start losing their sense of humor.
So let it never be said that there’s no room for humor in the serious game of world domination. But the way they use it should send shivers down our spine. It may not be the amateur crap we used to get, but it’s the same old joke… and it is most definitely on us.