Two recent reads reflect the role of satire and humor in trying to get across political ideas.
Steven Hanley’s The Legend of Bushistotle: History’s Greatest Philosopher-Warrior-King is satire told in the first person. Hanley takes a job with the Vatican to translate ancient Greek manuscripts that may shed light on the true story of Bushistotle. Hanley doesn’t actually know how to translate ancient Greek so that means neither he nor the reader of this book really knows if what he is translating is what the original text really says. Yet this actually aids Hanley with his biggest problem. The Vatican does not want a true translation. Instead, to advance interests that quite frankly don’t make a great deal of sense, the Vatican wants to revise any translation so as to not only elevate Bushistotle’s status but to show him as related to Jesus and, in fact, have him replace Christ as the true Messiah.
While not the finest example of satiric form, the book lands some well-aimed shots. Bushistotle is the king of Athens and is surrounded by a core of key advisors — Cheneyon, Rumsfeldiavelli, Powellonius, Constantina, and Ashcroftus. When Bushistotle is told that Spartan terrorists have attacked the Athenian colony at Syracuse he is reading a book, “Dudley the Donkey Learns a Lesson,” to his advisors. When the advisors insist he take action instead of just sitting there, Bushistotle announces that “if Spartan terrorists have attacked us in Sicily, we must declare war on Persia.” Thus is born the “Doctrine of Preemptive Retaliation” with a rationale manufactured of whole cloth. Of course, things go from bad to worse once the invasion occurs.
The book is strained at times and has some problems with flow. Still, it is generally a fun look at modern events through the perspective of ancient “history,” a look likely to find wider acceptance today than a year or so ago.
More traditional in approach is Al Franken’s latest missive, The Truth (with jokes). Franken aims to explore and debunk what he terms the “fear, smear and queers” used to defeat Democrat presidential nominee John Kerry. The fear, according to Franken, was the Bush campaign exploiting the fear created in the aftermath of 9/11. The smear was the distortion of Kerry’s record and positions, both by the GOP and outside groups, just as the “Swift Boat Veterans” Queers is almost self-explanatory but Franken goes beyond the issue of gay marriage to the general belief that “family values” voters swung the election.
The book is actually stronger when it moves past the presidential campaign and looks at such things as Congress in the Terri Schiavo controversy, reconciling Tom DeLay’s public positions with his actions regarding sweatshops in Saipan, Bush’s Social Security reform and the marketing and planning of the Iraq War debacle. That may be be due in part to the fact that many reasonably well informed readers who paid attention during the presidential campaign are already aware of many of the facts of the campaign Franken discusses. This is not necessarily true of the other issues. Of course, Franken incorporates his usual humor, which comes off on the written page as almost deadpan. The humor, though, comes in less quantity than basically straightforward narrative seeking to refute Bush and GOP spin.
This may not be as strong an effort as Franken’s Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them. Still, it appears to be well-researched (with 20 pages of sources and notes) and sometimes people need a little bit of humor to think about reality and truth.
“But Byzantium is in a Muslim country today! Would any Christian actually be so stupid as to attack a Muslim country for no reason? They’d think it was a new crusade!””Somebody who thinks he’s God would.”
Steven Hanley, The Legend of Bushistotle
In politics, you can never turn the other cheek. Especially when you’re fighting the Christian right.
Al Franken, The Truth (with jokes)