Humour is a basic element of the human experience, few of us can go through a day without laughing at least once. According to Ron A. Martin’s The Psychology of Humor, certain apes, including chimpanzees and bonobos, have been observed to laugh in situations analogous to those of infants and toddlers; these include playing and even tickling. Albeit the simian laugh sounds considerably different from a human’s, it serves a comparable social function. This phenomenon was observed as early as 1872 by Charles Darwin. With humanity’s advanced abilities of language, this social phenomenon developed further into what we consider “humour”. One form of literature and media which uses humour, farce, and outlandish situations in order to make a statement about society or politics is the genre of satire. For much of modern history, satire has been the realm of those on the political Left. Why are conservatives so terrible at satire and political humour? The answer to this question is tied to a post on this blog, as well as the nature and history of political satire itself.
Largely, the sole exception to this rule has been the creators of South Park, Matt Stone & Trey Parker, who are Left-leaning Libertarians. Despite their jabs at certain Leftist positions, such as environmentalism and anti-smoking campaigns, many members of the Right-wing media machine do not seem to realize South Park is in fact on their side, and will lambast them for using perceived immature toilet humour at every chance they get. Certain Right-wing pundits went so far as to blame South Park for the Columbine High School Massacre. A 20th century literary critic once disparagingly compared the satirical playwright George Bernard Shaw to a demolitions expert, one who merely destroys rather than creates. Right-wing media empire Fox News made several attempts at creating satirical news programmes, all of which failed quickly. It would seem that conservatives tend to be averse to satire by definition, even if it agrees with their political opinions. This conservative opposition to satire runs rather deep, as is tied to their worldview structured in hierarchy, faith, and order, and furthermore, goes back much further than Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert.
Conservatives have a worldview shaped by faith, hierarchy, and order, not exactly the ingredients of humour. One who is exceptionally religious is unlikely to see any humour inherent in their belief system. One who strongly believes in hierarchy will be naturally deferential to authority, and will thus not find jabs at power humourous, or believe it to be morally wrong. One with an ardent belief in order will likely be somewhat stayed and thus uncomfortable with ideas which are disconnected from their vision of reality; whereas humour thrives on the unpredictable, a punchline is funny because one did not see it coming. Arguably the only “conservative” artistic and literary movement in history were the Romantics of the late 18th and early 19th century. Notwithstanding their respect for nature and opposition to industrialism, now hallmarks of the Left, the Romantics were opposed to the new Enlightenment forces of reason and empirical evidence, believing emotion was a truer reflection of reality, and believed in the maintenance of the Feudal Agrarian order found during the Middle Ages. The Romantics believed satire, such as Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal, an early critique of capitalism, would have a corrosive effect on society. This visceral conservative opposition to satire runs right through to the current day.
Why are conservatives so bad at political humour and satire? This is a result of the conservative worldview based primarily on faith, hierarchy, and order. Perhaps satire is a corrosive force, it dislodges misconceptions and destroys fears, if one can laugh at something it is no longer frightening. Make a (non-Islamophobic) joke about ISIS and often only conservatives are offended. Why? Because it makes them feel silly, their fears of the lurking Saracen menace are rendered simplistically childish; while conservatives often label those on the Left as weak-willed and lacking in spine, they become the ones checking for monsters in the closet. A disgust for what is unexpected and new are not the hallmarks of biting satire or erudite comedy; many conservative attempts at comedy require an apology, as often they target the weak and helpless. Stretching back to Romantic opposition to satire, contending it to be a corrosive effect on society, those on the Right have a near inability to produce, or even understand, high-quality political satire. Corrosion isn’t necessarily bad, it removes rust and dirt from a surface, making what was obscured clear.