The Snark Gap

From Salon, a story about attempts to rebrand the Republican party, without actually changing anything:

“How do you make abortion funny?” That was a key question mulled at a major conservative gathering Friday on how to make social conservatism appealing to young people, after an election where Republicans got trounced in the battle for millennial voters (who are are moving even further and further away from the Christian-right on marriage and other issues).

Abortion has to be made funny, the thinking goes, because funny sells on social media, and that’s where one goes to court young people. “You can engage with sarcasm, it’s hard with the abortion issue, but you have to,” said Students for Life president Kristan Hawkins at a breakout panel at the Faith and Freedom Coalition Conference in Washington today on how to win millennial voters. “Unfortunately we have to, because this is the generation that we’ve been dealt.”

The old guard, including the religious right, is not going to budge on the main planks of the party platform: no abortion, no gay marriage, no health care. But those policies are exactly the thing that would need to be nuanced if the GOP has any hope of attracting large numbers of young voters.

Since I’ve been politically aware, the Republicans have simply avoided dealing with this issue. When I was in college, a Republican recruiter basically told me that they had to wait for young adults to graduate and get their first paycheck. Once they saw the withholdings, they’d run to the party that promised lower taxes. This strategy has apparently not worked.

Now the solution is snark. If you can get Republicans on twitter and let them tell jokes, then you can bring in the young folk. Will it work? More fundamentally, can the party of unacknowledged irony be funny?

Travis Korson, the grass-roots director of the Virginia chapter, suggested framing marriage as an economic issue. “Gay marriage undermines that basic family unit,” he said, and that, in turn, hurts the economy.”

That’s funny, in a car wreck sort of way. It’s the same blinkered approach that the GOP has been taking towards gay marriage since the beginning. But the idea that a gay family will somehow not be an economic unit the way that a heterosexual couple will doesn’t make sense. Korson here cannot get beyond his own prejudices to frame an actual argument.

Maybe the old adage is right: only the truth is funny. But the GOP can’t acknowledge the truth.

  • Machintelligence

    Oddly enough I have just finished a new book on the theory of humor.
    Inside Jokes: Using Humor to Reverse-Engineer the Mind by Matthew M. Hurley, Daniel C. Dennett and Reginald B. Adams Jr.
    Their hypothesis is that humor is the reward we get for “debugging” our thought process. A typical joke heads you in one direction, then forces you to revise your thinking, Example: Two fish are in a tank. One says “I’ll drive, you load.”
    If you never revise your thinking, either because you unwilling to acknowledge a mistake, or because you are tolerant of cognitive dissonance, you will never experience mirth. This could be the reason conservatives seem to lack a sense of humor.
    .
    Abortion “joke” ahead — not for the easily offended.
    .
    .
    .
    I have a pretty good memory for jokes, but I can only dredge up one that involves abortion. It is only funny in the sense that it is something that you would never expect to hear. Answering machine greeting: “Springfield Municipal Abortion Clinic ‘You rape em, we scrape em, no fetus can beat us’.”
    I doubt that one would help their cause.

    • Ryan Jean

      “I doubt that one would help their cause.”

      Depends on how they use it, and with what audience they say it.

      For us, the (fairly morbid) humor of it is that we know abortion providers are not callous like that about the emotional aspects of abortion. It’s funny in the sense that we know not only that it’s not representative of the main, but also that it’s not even likely to be a close match to any one abortion provider either.

      For them, well, many right-wingers actually do believe that nearly all abortion providers are exactly that callous, if not worse. They see it as a joke that exposes a hidden truth, and it reinforces their view all the more. That it isn’t actually true isn’t allowed to be a consideration of the worldview.

      So no, it probably wouldn’t be all that detrimental to the cause if used at an anti-choice rally, but in all likelihood it would only be a matter of time before some dim-witted congress-critter muttered it on the floor of the House/Senate and made a fool out of themselves again…

  • http://accidental-historian.typepad.com/ Geds

    Travis Korson, the grass-roots director of the Virginia chapter,
    suggested framing marriage as an economic issue. “Gay marriage
    undermines that basic family unit,” he said, and that, in turn, hurts
    the economy.”

    Ahahahahahhahahahaha! Oh, man, that’s the funniest thing I’ve run into all day.

    Wait, they want us to laugh at them, right? Then again, if that was the goal they wouldn’t be trying to re-brand to make themselves funny.

  • Fred

    They are going at it backwards. It’s not, “How do you make abortion funny?”

    It’s how do we make slavery and forced birth without any health care funny?

  • JohnMWhite

    Out of the goodness of my liberal bleeding heart, here’s a free tip to the GOP in their quest to attract young voters. Don’t say stuff like this: “Unfortunately we have to, because this is the generation that we’ve been dealt.” Despite your best efforts at wrecking public education, the generation you have been dealt still knows how to read and still won’t be best pleased to be greeted with grudging acceptance by people who can’t even make the effort to disguise the fact they despise them and only want their votes.

    It might also help to have not dealt that generation a shitty hand by wrecking the economy and doing nothing to encourage jobs. All this generation can see of the Republicans is their constant efforts to try to rob them of the health care the other side let them have (at least to age 26, if their parents are lucky enough), and a consistent lack of effort to do anything to stop climate change. Jokes about abortion on Twitter won’t make these betrayals go away.

  • kessy_athena

    The GOP’s fundamental problem is that they’ve simply lost touch with reality. They’ve gone from being the stupid party to the crazy party. On another site I’m talking to a libertarian who is, in all seriousness, saying that the US economy didn’t see a drastic reduction in recessions after WWII compared to before the Depression, the Long Depression of the 1870′s didn’t happen, deflation is good for the economy, the Great Depression got worse over 1933 – 37, and that fiscal stimulus hurts the economy.

    Until the GOP stops letting the economic equivalent of Holocaust deniers make policy, no amount of re-branding is going to help them.

  • baal

    Poe’s Law was created for a reason. Too many of the (R) party’s positions are more or less not subject-able to humor since you can’t do irony or parody of them. The prime example of this was Tina Fey’s Palin where the joke was that Tina didn’t do more than plain mimicry and almost verbatim repetition of Palin’s words.

  • ORAXX

    “Wait for young adults to graduate and get their first paycheck”……fostering the notion that people don’t owe their country anything.

    • Mogg

      The wealthiest person I know quite publicly declares that he loves paying taxes, because he considers it part of the social contract.

    • Reginald Selkirk

      Many of those young adults will have to spend a big chunk of their paycheck on paying back extravagant college loans, thanks to Republicans.

    • JohnMWhite

      The only things young people owe their country, according to Republicans, are blood and silence.

  • Keulan

    The Republicans are good at being unintentionally funny, but not so good at being funny deliberately. Trying to be intentionally funny isn’t enough. If they want more young people on their side, the Republicans are going to have to moderate their positions, not stick to the same bigoted, pro-forced birth, anti-science views.

    With regard to what Travis Korson said, I think he’s got it backwards. More people being legally able to marry means more business for companies that sell wedding dresses and tuxes, wedding cakes, flowers, wedding photographs, etc. I’m convinced that gay marriage helps the economy, and has no effect on straight marriages whatsoever.


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