Now, you know, we’ve had fun all week with the ‘Barack the Magic Negro’ story — particularly with the local TV station in Sacramento, my adopted hometown — and interestingly today there are two pieces on this, and I wanted to bring both of them to your attention. The first by Jon Sanders at Townhall.com, and the title of his piece is: ‘Liberals Don’t Get the Joke, but They’ll Try to Get the One Who Made the Joke — The Roman satirist Juvenal famously quipped ‘Difficile est saturam non scibere’ — it’s difficult not to write satire. It was difficult nearly two millennia ago, and it still is today. What seems even more difficult now, however, is for the perennially offended in the media and academe to understand satire. Just ask Rush Limbaugh and Mike Adams. Limbaugh and Adams have recently weathered ill-conceived attacks on their parodies, Limbaugh’s song ‘Barack, the Magic Negro’ and Adams’ article supposedly advocating terrorism against gay bath houses in San Francisco. Opportunistic critics acted as if Limbaugh and Adams were seriously promoting racism and mass murder, when the truth was, both were turning to satire to denounce racism and mass murder.
‘One wonders, reading the overreactions to and deliberate misreadings of satire in today’s climate, whether Jonathan Swift’s publicist would have just resigned or tried to defend his client from reports that he advocated cooking kids in stews … There is a simple but effective test of satire, one that hails back to Aristotle. ‘Humor is the only test of gravity…’ By the way, folks, when you start talking about humor, it’s not funny. Any comedian will tell you: ‘When you start talking about it, it’s not funny.’ Humor is something to be done, and if you have to explain it, it loses some of its bite, too. Which is why I sort of cringed when I went through the line-by-line translation and representation of ‘Barack the Magic Negro’ the other day but I had no choice because there are people not listening to this program forming all kinds of conclusions about that song without any information whatsoever — and of course it was the first tutorial from the Limbaugh Institute for Advanced Conservative Studies Journalism School. So it was necessary.
Aristotle said, ”Humor is the only test of gravity, and gravity of humor,’ he said, ‘for a subject which will not bear raillery is suspicious, and a jest which will not bear serious examination is false wit.’ Note that the great logician pinpointed a very compelling reason for using humor: it is the best test of ideas. Humor is a challenge to the very core of an idea — its gravity, its seriousness. Laughter demands a response. As Aristotle explains, an idea that cannot withstand mockery is suspicious.’ You go and try making fun of liberalism and see what happens to you. It will not withstand mockery. They won’t put up with it, which means it’s false, which means it has no substance, which means liberals cannot allow for liberalism to be truly exposed and explained. ‘…an idea that cannot withstand mockery is suspicious. You shouldn’t trust it. Those who cannot tolerate jokes cracked at their ideology’s expense betray its weakness.’ I’ll give you an example. Not long ago somebody called this program and asked me if I liked liked Boston Legal. I said, ‘Yeah. It’s one of my favorite shows. I love the William Shatner character.’
He said, ‘You do? All they do is make fun of conservatives!’
I said, ‘Oh, but it’s funny, and Shatner is a buffoon, but I love the character.’
It’s a television show! I can watch it and I can laugh. Now, last night’s was a little bit over the top, but I don’t think that show is gonna persuade anybody. I don’t even want to talk about last night’s show. But the point is, I’m able to laugh at the jokes made about the things I believe all the time. We all are. You know, we’re not sitting around wringing our hands waiting to be offended and then strike out and silence everybody who laughs at us and makes fun of us. We will join in the joke. Liberals will not — and that’s what Jon Sanders’ point here is about Aristotle. ‘[A]n idea that cannot withstand mockery is suspicious. You shouldn’t trust it. Those who cannot tolerate jokes cracked at their ideology’s expense betray its weakness. Weak ideologies require something other than citizens’ shared ideals and support to maintain their power; frequently they resort to the power of the gun. It’s no coincidence that the Khmer Rouge and the Taliban banned laughter, or that citizens of Soviet Russia had to tell each other jokes behind their hands, hiding in bathrooms with the water running,’ because they were afraid of who was going to hear ’em. That reminded me of the story that Natan Sharansky told me, when I interviewed him about his book, about the concept of the yearning spirit of freedom.that’s inside all human beings. I asked him, ‘You were a dissident. You were in a Soviet jail.’
He said, ‘Yeah, but I was free. While I was in jail, I could tell jokes about the Russians and the Soviets. I could tell jokes, and I could laugh at them. The guards couldn’t tell one joke. I was the one free in jail. They weren’t,’ and this is right on the money. Liberals will not laugh at themselves. They have no sense of humor about anything.
‘Also note that Aristotle provided a way to test the humor used to try an idea. It’s not enough that there is a joke. The joke must be defensible; i.e., it must ‘bear serious examination.’ In other words, humor or satire should present a serious challenge to the idea, a challenge that can be investigated in its own right. If the humor fails to have a serious basis, it’s ‘false wit.” That’s why I’ve always said that humor has to have a grain of truth, or it’s not funny. ‘The satirist should therefore be able to defend his jest. Back to Limbaugh and Adams. Controversy was slow in finding Limbaugh’s months-old spoof, but it has been growing recently. On Monday, a TV morning show on KOVR CBS-13 in Sacramento, Calif., suggested that the song was racist and implied that it might even be responsible for putting Obama in mortal danger. On his show that day, Limbaugh proved the parody wasn’t false wit. In a line-by-line defense of the song, Limbaugh showed it spoofs the absurd problems Obama’s candidacy poses to race-obsessed Democrats. Its lyrics make clear that its provocative title and some material hail from David Ehrenstein’s March 19 Los Angeles Times article, ‘Obama, the ‘Magic Negro.’ He showed how other portions were inspired by the Obama/Sharpton feud and the steady drip of media reports doubting whether Obama is ‘black enough.’ In short order, Limbaugh left no room for doubt that the racism his song revealed was racism from the political Left. If media members and liberals truly find it objectionable, as their reaction to Limbaugh’s parody suggests, they know where it originates. Dare they root it out?’
Dare they root it out of themselves?
‘Incidentally, this difficulty with understanding satire isn’t universal.’ The Sacramento TV station ran a poll of its audience ‘to see if they shared their misreadings of the parodies,’ 95% of respondents to the Sacramento TV station ‘poll disagreed that ‘Rush Limbaugh’s song ‘Barack the Magic Negro’ is racist.” So the point is, liberals don’t get the joke, but they’ll try to get the one who made it. Their ideology doesn’t stand the test of examination. Their ideology, you can’t joke about it because when you joke about it you’re telling the truth about it, and that’s what liberals cannot allow, is for the truth about liberalism to be exposed — and, of course, especially in humor, because that is a persuasive way of communicating. The second such article is a stunner today from the Chicago Tribune, Clarence Page. ‘Satire About Obama Isn’t the Same as Imus’ Flub.’ Clarence Page is black, he’s an African-American, and I want to read you portions of this, because it, too, is amazing.