Do politics and comedy mix well? I suppose the answer to this question depends mostly if you are a comedian making fun of politicians and their gaffes, or if you are a politician trying to be a comedian. The relationship between Hollywood and politicians has always been love/hate. Many comedians privately acknowledged that having George W. Bush as president has provided a renewable source of fodder for jokes. So far, Obama has not proved to be such a rich source of material.
At the recent White House Correspondents Association Dinner, President Obama attempted to get a few laughs of his own. One joke, which has even some liberal pundits raising their eyebrows, described using predator drones to go after the Jonas Brothers should they get any “ideas” about his teenage daughters. I sort of winced when I heard this as it sounded odd coming from the mouth of the Commander in Chief of the world’s remaining super power. A super power which is currently involved in two controversial wars abroad.
I remember when George W. Bush first started becoming really unpopular, and it was due to goofy and off-the-cuff moments when he appeared less than presidential. Such as when making off-color jokes about WMDs or when appearing not to take press conferences seriously.
There is a reality world inhabited by actors on the big screen that is sometimes a stereotypical version, and sometimes an idealized or fantastical version of our everyday world. Sometimes actors can make the transition from this fantasy world to the political world rather easily. Such as Arnold Schwarzenegger, who became the governor of California. Early on in his political career he was referred to as the “Governator”, and perhaps some of the electorate really wanted to see Hollywood’s Terminator take over the state government in Sacramento and shake things up.
Things didn’t exactly turn out that way though.
While the real world and the world portrayed by Hollywood are easy to separate, one often imitates the other. Especially when one looks at very real and dramatic events. One big Academy Award winner this year, “The Hurt Locker” was a seemingly realistic portrayal of a bomb squad in Iraq. President Obama’s offhanded reference to predator drones had the same tone that someone would make regarding a movie about predator drones.
Only the real world reality is that predator drones are a faceless weapon of war which are used on practically a daily basis to hunt down people perceived as America’s enemies. If President Obama were really weighing the moral issues regarding the use of this relatively new technology would he have used such a joke?
Recently, it was announced that predator drones would be hunting down and killing people who through their actions were believed to be up to no good. Without knowing their names or exactly where they fit in the insurgents hierarchy. How exactly would this be done anyhow? Would a predator drone follow around a terrorist suspect around silently, watching where he lived, which restaurant he ate at, and just to figure out that he was hanging out with a bad crowd?
While the portrayal of war, and its atrocities, can do movie goers good, such as in Schindler’s List, many such cinematic depictions just use the war as a cover to legitimize the violence associated with armed conflicts. Was there anything culturally significant or intellectual about The Hurt Locker? Not really. But if you’re into bombs blowing people up, in addition to getting a feel for the day to day life of a bomb squad in Iraq, then I guess the film provides in that respect.
Continue to blur the line between movies and real life disasters is the fact that many celebrities get caught up in such disasters. Most of these efforts are well intentioned, but one wonders if the desire to “act” in a real world disaster is being satisfied for those who have already acted on the big screen. The humanitarian disaster in Haiti was heavily covered in the news, almost like the release of a major motion picture. And celebrities and political stars flew down to Haiti to get a sense of what was happening. Sean Penn has stayed behind to help in Haiti, but many other celebrities have left. It is as though the world has a standard attention span which is applied to both cinematic releases as well as humanitarian disasters. The sad fact is that there are dozens of humanitarian crisis worldwide which are not getting enough attention.
The jokes about WMDs and predator drones by successive presidents has helped to place the Iraq and Afghanistan wars closer to the simulated reality of the movies. Maybe this is what pundits find so disturbing about these jokes.