Wild Horses and Bayonets Couldn’t Drag My Binders Full of Women Away: Political Satire on Web 2.0

Screenshot of the Twitter feed of Invisible Obama, taken 23 January 2013

Image Credit: Screenshot from Twitter

Inauguration officials estimate that about one million people crowded the National Mall this weekend to watch Barack Obama be sworn in as President. While this crowd was smaller than the 1.8 million who attended his first inauguration in 2008, a number of luminaries were present: Beyoncé, Stevie Wonder, and Invisible Obama. Apparently Invisible Obama had a busy day planning his inaugural ball outfit, surprising Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, and acting as a “seat filler.”

Mitt Romney vs. Big Bird: When Enthymemes Attack

Big Bird stands behind Romney at an outdoor microphone

Image Source: Unknown

In last week's debate, one of the more memorable moments was Mitt Romney's vow to cut off government funding to public television despite his appreciation of both Big Bird and Jim Lehrer. Because he would neither raise taxes nor borrow money from China, Romney argued, he would cut programs like PBS. I suppose Romney intended the statement as a bit of red meat for his basethose who would rather their tax monies not go to PBSand perhaps also for the putative independent/undecided voter who also distrusts such government spending. I also suppose that for such audiences the line worked. However, for other audiences, Romney's enthymeme provoked an outcry, because those audiences do not share the unstated premise in his argument that PBS does not merit continued funding. Sesame Street lovers (and Romney haters) across the web responded with a torrent of photoshopped images criticizing Romney's position.

I Made America, You're All Welcome!

The Founding Fathers, as depicted by modern actors.  They are arranged in two rows; standing from left are John Adams, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison; seated in front are George Washington and Benjamin Franklin.  They are posed before a background resembling the red and white stripes of an American flag; all are wearing eighteenth-century costumes.

Image Credit: I Made America

When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for one person to distract herself from work, Facebook provides. Through the The Second City Network I found a video entitled “Founding Fathers History Pick-Up Lines.” Clearly, I couldn’t resist. I was deeply amused to watch Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, George Washington, and John Adams seduce modern women with such lines as “It’s not the Louisiana Purchase, but it will double in size,” “Never leave for tomorrow what you can screw today,” and “I take the virgin out of Virginia.” The full video below features many more salacious lines, some of which might not be SFW:

“If the unemployed are hungry, why don’t they eat themselves?”: Thinking Satire in a Tragi-Comic Age

Video Credit:

John Lloyd, producer of Spitting Image (1984–1996), tells a story of how he was asked to validate the "humor" of the title ('If the unemployed are hungry, why don't they eat themselves') to television executives who missed his allusion to Jonathan Swift’s Modest Proposal (8:08 min). He had given these lines to the puppet of conservative MP Norman Tebbit (with bat above). Lloyd’s story gestures to two limitations to satire on the boob tube:

1. The public's general lack of familiarity with the satirical tradition

2. A pervasive demand for our ‘satirists’ to operate as ‘comedians’

A brief explanation through the lens of satires during Jonathan Swift's era (17th–18th c.) might clearly show that the english language/english-speaking population once possessed:

1. a refined and self-conscious conception of satire

2. a definite distinction between comedy and satire

To begin, if we consider Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary—published in the golden age of British satire—we find a striking differentiation between:

Comedy: [comedia, Lat.] A dramatick representation of the lighter faults of mankind

Comical: [comicus, Lat.] (1.) Raising mirth; merry; diverting

Comedian: A player or actor of comic parts

Satire: [satira, anciently satura, Lat. Not from satyrus, as satyr] A poem in which wickedness or folly is censured.

Satirick: (1.) Belonging to satire; employed in writing of invective; (2.) Censorious; severe in language

Satirist: One who writes satires

Sensual Suicide and Ironic Intent - Florian Jennet and Valentin Beinroth's "Freeze! Revisited"


Image Credit: "Freeze! Revisited" by Florian Jennet and Valentin Beinroth via

H/T to Ben Koch

Since the 1950s, the pop art movement has been challenging our ideas about mass-produced images and objects.  Particularly by manipulating context, pop artists identify and exploit cultural trends.  In a recent exhibition, two German artists explored the intersections of art, violence, and mistaken identities.

Satire Sandwiches: Stephen Colbert's Thought for Food

Image Credit: screen capture from

Food policy can be pretty disheartening stuff: anything that combines environmentalism, worker's rights and public health in a single topic is likely to include bad-to-terrible news pretty much every day. With the Senate underfunding the Child Nutrition Act, bluefin tuna set to go extinct and Dirt! The Movie preparing to air on PBS, even my fairly-high tolerance for crisis fatigue was wearing thin this week. Thankfully, Stephen Colbert was there to talk me off the ledge. As is often the case, Colbert managed to make life livable with his pringle-and-whipped-cream-like blend of irony and humor-- two remarkable human capacities that are often undervalued because they elude satisfactory explanation by rhetorical, literary or philosophical models. While even Jon Stewart's comedic analysis of politicians and pundits can often be as depressing as it is amusing, Colbert's satiric send-ups consistently manage to wink their way through all kinds of maddening news stories and leave me with a crisp, clean finish. His new "Thought for Food" segment lives up to those expectations. Rather than attempting (and almost certainly failing) to explain the jokes, I thought I'd share a few videos and comment as needed. More on Colbert, corn-surpluses, advertising and unholy sandwiches after the break.

Eighteenth-Century Engravings and Magnificent Mezzotints

 A Catalogue of 18th-Century British Mezzotint Satires in North American Collections

Image Credit:  A Catalogue of 18th-Century British Mezzotint Satires in North American Collections

I thought I’d step back from the contemporary pop culture discussions today to look into two archives with a more historical emphasis:  the Lewis Walpole Library Digital Collection and A Catalogue of 18th-Century British Mezzotint Satires in North American Collections.  Both of these collections offer extensive resources for instructors in eighteenth-century literature, politics, art, and culture.

Visual Tweets

Image credit: From YouTube
H/T to A Mutual Respect

Full confession: I just joined Twitter about 30 minutes ago. However, for considerably longer, I've been curious about the significance of Twitter's text-based 140-character format. Although Twitter contains some visuals such as profile pictures and links, it is primarily a print-based medium. The viewer experiences Twitter posts, or tweets, as a wall of sentences. While tweets are themselves primarily textual in nature, two recent videos offer visual interpretations that play with the relationship between image and text.


New Yorker Cover Satirizing Barack and Michelle Obama The recent New Yorker cover depicting Barack and Michelle Obama in radical drag, as it were, hasn't been discussed here on viz. It deserves a mention, since the nature and definition of satire has been discussed on the site before.

In my opinion, it fails utterly as satire. First of all, anytime anything requires extensive explanation AS SATIRE, it probably isn't the most adept or polished attempt. This week's New York Times "Week in Review" piece, written by Lee Siegel, agrees. In it, Siegel concludes that "By presenting a mad or contemptible partisan sentiment as a mainstream one, by accurately reproducing it and by neglecting to position the target of a slur — the Obamas — in relation to the producers of the slur, The New Yorker seems to have unwittingly reiterated the misconception it meant to lampoon."

I agree, and not because I think the Obamas are off-limits as targets for satire, or that they themselves think they are off-limits (a conclusion I've heard on cable news from some on the "lunatic fringe" Siegel mentions). To me, the so-called satire of the piece fails because, rather than seeming to satirize the intellectual laziness, the total divorce from reality, required to hold the views depicted here, it seems to satirize the Obamas themselves for producing those views, instead of those who maintain and perpetuate them. The message is confused, the execution, confusing. Grade: F.

Ordering pizza is not so simple

The ACLU is using this video to promote their campaign to collect signatures for a petition to stop a national ID and database program. The Real ID Act, passed by congress in 2005, would connect all state DMV databases into one interlinked database, “facilitating government tracking of Americans.”

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