I Don’t Get the Joke

 

CloudWilliamPledgeCirculating on Facebook is this apparently long-running joke on Slate “in which American events are described using the tropes and tone normally employed by the American media to describe events in other countries.” In this world, America’s midterms would be covered thus:

WASHINGTON, United States—On Tuesday, voters in this country of 300 million, the world’s second-largest democracy and most populous Christian nation, will head to the polls for elections that will determine control of the upper house of the legislature and serve as a referendum on the country’s embattled ruling regime. While international monitors expect a mostly free and fair contest, questions have been raised about why the equivalent of the GDP of Montenegro is being spent on a contest to determine the membership of a body expected to accomplish little over the next two years. Human rights observers have also noted a troubling rise in anti-immigrant rhetoric stoked by far-right nationalist candidates.

President Barack Obama’s ruling party will almost certainly lose seats, but whether or not the opposition is able to take over the upper house will be determined by closely fought races in the nation’s torrid southeastern swamps, central agricultural region, and even frigid Arctic villages thousands of miles from the capital…

The vast fortunes spent and passions aroused are particularly noteworthy given that few expect the legislature to pass much in the way of meaningful legislation. America is still governed under an unwieldy 18th-century model employed by few other functioning democracies. With the executive mansion and legislature controlled by two different parties, there’s little hope of large-scale reforms.

While 2014 has seen a rash of military coups and America boasts both a staggering level of income inequality and the world’s most heavily armed populace, political forecasters say a violent uprising is still unlikely. While few are satisfied with the political process as it exists, most Americans are either apathetic about the state of affairs or deeply invested in the current system. Most are already gearing up for the all-important presidential election coming in two years. Not surprisingly, many expect it to be another brutal contest between the country’s two top political dynasties.

Read the whole thing, then tell me. The part that’s supposed to make us laugh — right? —  is the comparison between the tone and tropes of this piece, supposedly a parody, and the tone and tropes of the real coverage of the elections. But are they that different? The parody sounds pretty much like a normal pre-election piece, to me.

What am I missing?

Image Credit: Memory Alpha.

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  1. Tom Meyer Contributor
    Tom Meyer
    @tommeyer

    I think the gag — such as it is — is how offensive it would be to have our government described as so Other and worthy of dropping travelogue-like factoids at random.

    That said, I don’t really see what’s so hilarious or insightful about it.

    • #1
  2. user_1050 Member
    user_1050
    @MattBartle

    I read that the other day and just shrugged. Didn’t seem to be much to it. Solid “meh”.

    • #2
  3. x Inactive
    x
    @CatoRand

    Agreed.  I think it’s well enough done, but I wouldn’t call it “funny.”

    • #3
  4. Z in MT Member
    Z in MT
    @ZinMT

    I agree with Cato Rand good piece, but not really laugh out loud funny.

    • #4
  5. gts109 Inactive
    gts109
    @gts109

    Tom is right. It’s a very distant analysis, mocking the “tropes and tone” used by the American media to describe foreign elections. Part of the “joke” too is that America has become a banana republic because campaign ads, the Koch brothers, the tea party, and divided government. There is a compulsion on the left to describe as farce elections in which Republicans prevail. I’m sure they didn’t write this about the 2008 or 2012 election cycle.

    I agree that it’s not funny. There’s no parody. It’s just describing the election in the highly unfunny tone that some American journalists (uniformly Democrats) would use to describe an election in a little known African country. It’d have to be sillier and more absurd to be funny, ala the Onion. Right now, it reads as bitterness over the election.

    And, in defense of the journalistic trope that’s being mocked, it’s impossible to write a specific, 1,000 word piece that describes a complex election cycle with hundreds or thousands of candidates in weird places, all of which is unknown to your readership. If the analysis is not broad-strokes, the article would be unintelligible to your readership or it’d be 15 pages, neither of which is acceptable. Read a French or German article about the American election, and I’m sure you’d find the same style of reporting.

    I suppose it’s unfortunate that we don’t have more reporting about foreign elections, but most people cannot keep track of their own local, state, and national elections, let alone what’s happening in an African country they couldn’t locate on a map. I don’t think that makes Americans insular, arrogant, or racist. It makes them human. They’re caught up in their own daily lives trying to keep 10 balls in the air, rather than pondering foreign affairs.

    • #5
  6. Max Knots Member
    Max Knots
    @MaxKnots

    One aspect is what it reveals about the reporter; the assumptions and expectations.  This piece seems to have been written with European-style democracies as the baseline.

    The exercise may also demonstrate how difficult it is to understand a country from the outside.  It is hard enough when you’re inside the borders.  Look at the massive ignorance of the electorate and the media elites (not to mention many sitting Senators) regarding the proper function and processes of the Senate.

    Taken to its logical argument, how much trust can we place in the reporting from hot spots around the world?  The picture is inevitably more complex than reported and the line between the good/bad guys not as well defined.

    Is this an argument in favor of isolationism?  No – merely one in favor of recognizing the limitations when analyzing what we see abroad.  Watch for the unintended consequences and be ready to mitigate them.  It Would seem to argue against a complete reliance on electronic intelligence instead of human-intelligence (HUMINT).

    • #6
  7. user_357321 Inactive
    user_357321
    @Jordan

    As fair as I’d love to be to these people, they’re really just crybabies.  Their low-information voting bloc simply does not turn out for mid-terms because they do not care.  They don’t vote for good government on the issues; they vote to feel better about themselves for being on the winning team.

    This is some Poe’s Law satire right here.  And it’s not well written; it’s nonsense which illustrates a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of American Government.  There is also a deep contradiction within the piece.  If government is so important, why not spend all the money in the world to secure an election?  Of course the American people would spend anything they could muster.

    And the contempt for the people of the flyover states is palpable.  How dare these rubes appeal to local voters!  It’s as if they are incredulous that Idaho has two whole senators!

    You don’t get the joke because it is not funny.  The only joke liberals know is “Hey look at how stupid that Republican is!”  And this piece is variations on that theme with some logical fallacies, and contempt thrown in.

    • #7
  8. Mike H Coolidge
    Mike H
    @MikeH

    Some parts were good, some could have been much better.

    I do think there could be something of value with looking at ourselves from 30,000 feet to remind us that politics are really kind of silly in the grand scheme of things.

    • #8
  9. Wineguy13 Thatcher
    Wineguy13
    @Wineguy13

    One can be absolved of the sin of being a capitalist American, if one mocks their country and makes everyone understand they know how bad things are.  I think of the word smarmy when I see things like this.  I would post this on my Facebook timeline if I were the kind of person who keeps an old copy of Architectural Digest on my front room coffee table.

    • #9
  10. user_6236 Member
    user_6236
    @JimChase

    Appears to be standard fare for Slate.

    Beware the Kohms masquerading as Yangs. They are everywhere.  You can tell the difference by their sneering.

    • #10
  11. Paul A. Rahe Contributor
    Paul A. Rahe
    @PaulARahe

    For left-liberals, sneering has replaced argument.

    • #11
  12. Tom Meyer Contributor
    Tom Meyer
    @tommeyer

    Jim Chase: Beware the Kohms masquerading as Yangs. They are everywhere.  You can tell the difference by their sneering.

    Finally, somebody caught that. ;)

    • #12
  13. Pilli Inactive
    Pilli
    @Pilli

    Jim Chase:Appears to be standard fare for Slate.

    Beware the Kohms masquerading as Yangs. They are everywhere. You can tell the difference by their sneering.

    Bravo for recognizing the origin of the picture attached to the article.  “Ee pleg alnista…”

    • #13
  14. user_966256 Member
    user_966256
    @BobThompson

    Max Knots: The exercise may also demonstrate how difficult it is to understand a country from the outside.  It is hard enough when you’re inside the borders.  Look at the massive ignorance of the electorate and the media elites (not to mention many sitting Senators) regarding the proper function and processes of the Senate.

    How about from one section of the USA to another or from one state in the USA to another. Mary Landrieu’s comments to Chuck Todd regarding attitudes toward race and gender in Louisiana are shown to be completely ‘off the wall’ by results in South Carolina, (where James Clyburn displays similar views to Landrieu’s),  illustrated by the electorate’s treatment of Nikki Haley and Tim Scott. Most published works of ‘journalists’ and other writers must be viewed with a filter for likely political agendas.

    • #14
  15. user_124695 Inactive
    user_124695
    @DavidWilliamson

    It’s only funny if you are a leftist (I prefer not to use the word liberal).

    I have this problem all the time at work, where most of my colleagues are laughing at things I don’t find funny (e.g. Steven Colbert – I just don’t get him at all). They do make allowances for me, though (possibly because I am the boss ;-). It is partly a cultural thing, with my British background – or indeed anyone who has lived outside of the US, where such “humorous” commentary is meant in all seriousness. I see it on the BBC all the time (by far the best news programs, once you take their leftist leanings into account).

    • #15
  16. user_1030767 Inactive
    user_1030767
    @TheQuestion

    I’ve come to the point where I can’t read the words “income inequality” without getting angry.  I get angry because I know that that rhetoric worked on me when I was younger, and I see how it works on many people of good will today.  I care about poverty, because I’m a Christian and I’m supposed to care about poverty.  That’s an entirely different issue than income inequality, but it’s easy to pass them off as the same thing.

    Somewhere, sometime, someone on the left figured out that poverty wasn’t really a problem the left was suited to solve, so they decided to start talking about income inequality instead.  That’s just evil.

    The ironic thing is that poverty is actually a solvable problem.  If the economy is productive enough, even the people on the bottom can live well.  We’re approaching that now, thanks to free markets.  Income inequality, which isn’t really a problem anyway unless you make envy a virtue, is not something you can end, apart from just burning everything down so that no one has anything.

    • #16
  17. Gödel's Ghost Inactive
    Gödel's Ghost
    @GreatGhostofGodel

    If you take it at face value, I can see it as a rather indirect indictment of international journalism generally, the point being that the journalist has no real understanding of the underlying issues inherent in the politics of the nation being reported on. This might be incisive to someone not already inclined to think journalists are generally full of high-grade male bovine excrement.

    Taken as an actual critique of the US political process from a conservative/libertarian perspective, it fails for the obvious reasons: assuming that power should be centralized in the nation’s capitol; treating the lack of passed legislation as a bug rather than a feature; complaining about “income inequality” without examining economic mobility (which I believe is also a problem, but one that has remedies that aren’t excuses for forced wealth redistribution), etc.

    As a previous poster said, it appears to be written from the standard European democratic socialism slant—but IMHO that’s the basis on which it succeeds, because most international journalism is written from that slant. So I agree it’s not funny in the sense that it didn’t make me laugh. But I’m not entirely convinced that’s what it was going for.

    • #17
  18. Ryan M Member
    Ryan M
    @RyanM

    Paul A. Rahe:For left-liberals, sneering has replaced argument.

    Was about to say, I don’t lack for a sense of humor, but this piece simply isn’t funny.  It is dripping with contempt, and will elicit laughs from people who feel the same way, but there isn’t anything objectively humorous about it.

    It is also unbelievably bitter.  Voters are stupid, and republicans only win because of money.  Notice how they only ever point out that republicans spend money; they never say “outspent democrats.”  Democrats are just doing what they have to do to keep up, right?

    • #18
  19. Marion Evans Inactive
    Marion Evans
    @MarionEvans

    It is a bit like writing about your own kids in the same way a detached schoolmaster might do: clinical, fact oriented, passionless, reluctantly complimentary, sternly critical. As such, it is also a clear attack on and subversion of the idea of American exceptionalism. And morally treasonous if I wanted to stretch a bit.

    • #19
  20. Tom Meyer Contributor
    Tom Meyer
    @tommeyer

    Michael Sanregret: I’ve come to the point where I can’t read the words “income inequality” without getting angry.

    Me too.

    • #20
  21. user_517406 Inactive
    user_517406
    @MerinaSmith

    An election was held Tuesday in The United States of America, a wealthy country south of Canada,  in which the conservative party triumphed over the leftist party.  Conservatives already held one house of the bicameral legislature, but captured the other, rendering the leftist executive, one Barack Hussein Obama, a “lame duck.” It is not clear why a term evoking wounded waterfowl is used locally to describe political operatives who have lost support.

    The results of the election are not entirely surprising because the executive, there called the President, has been very corrupt and ineffective.  Pre-election polling, however, was deeply biased toward the President’s party.  Though the nation has historically been known for its free and independent press, throughout his tenure Mr. Obama has been aided and abetted by a biased media that has refused to investigate scandals or call him to account for weak leadership. With their help, he has engaged in extensive demagoguery, aimed at minority populations and the poor, to overcome doubts about his leadership. Many local residents are astounded that this was confounded in the current election.

    Though there was some suspicion of voter fraud on the part of the leftist party, which, by all accounts, is highly focused on ends with little regard for means, the races were not close enough for fraud to bridge the difference.  Some leftists have complained that excessive amounts of money–$4 billion in local currency– were spent to sway the election, but since residents of the nation, called Americans, routinely spend this amount on candy to distribute to children in a bizarre and macabre local celebration called “Halloween”, more sensible Americans do not regard the expenditure as excessive.  In addition, the leftist party routinely collects more money than the conservative party because labor unions donate exclusively to the left, and in order to be hired, workers must join unions in most trades and many professions.

    It remains to be seen if the conservative party can curtail the corruption of the executive branch, which has spread deeply throughout the government by bureaucratic means,  in this once-great nation.  Especially worrisome is the corruption of the tax-collecting arm of the government and the courts, both overwhelmingly staffed by leftists.  The conservative party has just two years to right the ship of state in a deeply indebted nation before the next presidential election in 2016.  If they can quell corruption and reduce the fiscal crisis, a result of entitlement spending and a very large government, perhaps they can elect a conservative president who will be able to restore the United States to its former glory.  Its constitution has been copied by many nations for their own governance and has long been admired the world over.  Now that conservatives, known as champions of the Constitution, are back in power, there is some hope that the nation can return to the constitutional roots that once made it a great nation.

    • #21
  22. Carey J. Inactive
    Carey J.
    @CareyJ

    Tom Meyer, Ed.:

    Jim Chase: Beware the Kohms masquerading as Yangs. They are everywhere. You can tell the difference by their sneering.

    Finally, somebody caught that. ;)

    Here’s the clip.

    • #22
  23. user_645 Editor
    user_645
    @Claire

    Ryan M:

    Paul A. Rahe:For left-liberals, sneering has replaced argument.

    Was about to say, I don’t lack for a sense of humor, but this piece simply isn’t funny.

    Just didn’t make me laugh–but also didn’t achieve its goal, at least, as stated, which was to cover US news in “the way foreign news is covered.” This is pretty much the way US news is covered in the US, by a lot of outlets. Same cliches. If you’d told me it was for real, just a dumb American election piece amid a sea of dumb American election pieces, I wouldn’t have known it was supposed to be a parody. Certainly not that it was supposed to be a parody of foreign news coverage.

    I lack a sense of humor entirely, though. Perhaps that’s the problem.

    • #23
  24. Ryan M Member
    Ryan M
    @RyanM

    Claire Berlinski:

    Ryan M:

    Paul A. Rahe:For left-liberals, sneering has replaced argument.

    Was about to say, I don’t lack for a sense of humor, but this piece simply isn’t funny.

    Just didn’t make me laugh–but also didn’t achieve its goal, at least, as stated, which was to cover US news in “the way foreign news is covered.” This is pretty much the way US news is covered in the US, by a lot of outlets. Same cliches. If you’d told me it was for real, just a dumb American election piece amid a sea of dumb American election pieces, I wouldn’t have known it was supposed to be a parody. Certainly not that it was supposed to be a parody of foreign news coverage.

    I lack a sense of humor entirely, though. Perhaps that’s the problem.

    agreed.  In order to be satirical, it needs to seem a bit outrageous.  Someone posted “statements” from Obama on the member feed a few days ago, which I think was intended to be satire, but it was too believable and most of the comments were “wait, is this real?  because it could be real.”  I suppose the comedians are correct in that regard.  It is hard to satire things that are already parodies of themselves.

    • #24
  25. user_517406 Inactive
    user_517406
    @MerinaSmith

    Claire Berlinski:

    Ryan M:

    Paul A. Rahe:For left-liberals, sneering has replaced argument.

    Was about to say, I don’t lack for a sense of humor, but this piece simply isn’t funny.

    Just didn’t make me laugh–but also didn’t achieve its goal, at least, as stated, which was to cover US news in “the way foreign news is covered.” This is pretty much the way US news is covered in the US, by a lot of outlets. Same cliches. If you’d told me it was for real, just a dumb American election piece amid a sea of dumb American election pieces, I wouldn’t have known it was supposed to be a parody. Certainly not that it was supposed to be a parody of foreign news coverage.

    I lack a sense of humor entirely, though. Perhaps that’s the problem.

    You have a sense of humor, Claire.  It’s there in your writing and I greatly appreciate it.  The piece isn’t funny because, aside from the form, which is a little bit entertaining, it isn’t parody.  It’s exactly what Obama and supporters think.

    • #25
  26. CPTdave504 Member
    CPTdave504
    @CPTdave504

    It’s “John Stewart” funny, therefore…not really funny. It’s what passes for intellectualism on Comedy Central and MSNBC (but I repeat myself).

    • #26
  27. Betty Inactive
    Betty
    @BettyW

    I didn’t think it was funny, but now I will think of it whenever I read a news blip about goings on in a foreign country.  I probably need foreign news presented like that, more that a European would need such a presentation about the USA.  Maybe it wasn’t a joke at all, but a “Marxist Progressive” trying a different way to get Americans’ to think of themselves as “citizens of the world” instead of USA citizens.

    • #27
  28. Gödel's Ghost Inactive
    Gödel's Ghost
    @GreatGhostofGodel

    Claire Berlinski:I lack a sense of humor entirely, though.

    Assumes facts not in evidence.

    • #28
  29. Gödel's Ghost Inactive
    Gödel's Ghost
    @GreatGhostofGodel

    CPTdave504:It’s “John Stewart” funny, therefore…not really funny. It’s what passes for intellectualism on Comedy Central and MSNBC (but I repeat myself).

    I’ve lost count of the number of conversations I’ve had where I’ve pointed out that 90% of what passes for “comedy” today—and the entirety of it on shows like “The Colbert Report” and “The Daily Show”—consists of vacuous wordsmithing: a one-liner is offered whose humor depends entirely upon a shared set of assumptions that, being assumptions, are taken to be self-evident. It’s literally the diametric opposite of critical thinking, and all the more shocking for its utter transparency to anyone who isn’t a fish in that water. And this is indeed what passes for intellectualism. A process that never manages to rise above the merely occasionally-clever.

    • #29
  30. TeeGee Inactive
    TeeGee
    @TeeGee

    I don’t think the piece is funny.

    Having said that, as somebody who has lived in small towns, or cities, most of his life I have never read an article, written in a major city newspaper, or national newsmagazine which did not approach small town politics with the same air of arrogant ignorance.

    • #30
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