This Week in Political Comedy: Glenn Beck, Cartoon Character

Let a public figure talk long enough, and he will bury himself with his own words. Rick Sanchez learned that lesson this week, after saying that Jon Stewart (whose signature comic technique is letting public figures bury themselves with their own words) was a bigot and Jews ran the media.

But the week’s most original use of a cable news personality’s words against himself had nothing to do with Sanchez. In a web video by Jonathan McIntosh that appeared over the weekend, audio clips of Glenn Beck have been edited into old Disney cartoon footage of Donald Duck. In the face of job troubles and foreclosure, Donald finds solace as Beck’s populist conspiracy theories explain how his economic troubles flow from Obama’s perversion of American values.

I wanted to mention Right Wing Radio Duck not just because it’s a good video, but because it’s a well-constructed example of a pattern in Tea Party humor on the internet. This emerging trend juxtaposes insane-sounding quotes of Tea Party members, or their philosophy, with wholesome images of visual Americana, usually cartoons.

Last month the Boston Globe published Ward Sutton‘s Tea Party Comics. This parody reworked newspaper cartoon strips with Tea Party sentiments, out of concern “among a certain segment of the country that the comics page is out of step with mainstream values, if not an outright cesspool of treasonous, pinko propaganda.”

Then there’s the Tea Party Jesus Tumblr, which, simply enough, puts the words of Tea Party leaders like Beck into Jesus’ mouth in traditional Sunday school illustrations of Biblical scenes.

There’s also the Tea Party Coloring Book. I have to admit that, until Colbert did his segment on it earlier this week, I thought was another viral Web parody. Turns out it’s serious.

These parodies show how the return to American values the Tea Party professes is undermined by speech and behavior that doesn’t feel very Norman Rockwell at all. But by focusing on cartoons, their creators hit at a finer point about the Tea Party. It’s not just that the Tea Party is crazy. It’s that they’re childish, and these comics try to say this movement we’re watching is just a tantrum being thrown by overgrown children. The sort children throw when they’ve been asked to share.

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The immaturity of the movement even extends to the alternative etymology of their name, which late night hosts have picked up on before. As Jimmy Kimmel said in September, “I’ve been to a lot of tea parties with my daughter and most of the people there are stuffed animals.”

Donald Duck takes Glenn Beck’s bait and pays to join his Insider Extreme club. In return he gets a loudmouth radio in the mail that fails to give him the solutions to his problems. This is where Right Wing Radio Duck gets interesting, because it takes its attack on Beck further than most criticisms have. McIntosh’s Beck is not just a racist nut. He’s a con artist, a snake oil salesman straight out of the Great Depression days, peddling false answers so he can part credulous ducks of what little money they have left. He’s taking the Tea Party movement for a ride.

Comedians touched on this dark aspect of Glenn Beck’s media empire briefly last year, when he was pushing gold investments on the survivalists in his audience. Colbert did him one better, hiring John Slattery to sell those other post-apocalyptic staples—women and sheep—that any homesteader would need when gold alone is not enough.

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Beck Stand-up
It would only be fair to give Glenn Beck a chance to tell us what he considers good comedy. In his Times Magazine cover profile over the weekend, he and Bill O’Reilly appeared at a Long Island rally together and had a chance to show their stuff:

‘”What are the odds of Hillary Clinton inviting me to her daughter’s wedding?” O’Reilly asked Beck.

“What are the odds we have a Communist revolutionary in the White House?” Beck replied, to loud applause.’

Sounds like the odds are pretty good.

Colossal Donut Index
The CDI this week was 3. Yes, three! Before we credit a surge of restraint in our late night comics, we should consider this is probably so only because the CO’DI (the Christine O’Donnell Index) is still off the friggin’ charts. We’re heading into week four of O’Donnell’s late night dominance. That’s almost one complete lunar cycle. Bill Maher released the witchcraft clip on September 18, and the jokes began to build up throughout the following week, a week that also happened to be a full moon. We will not hit the next full moon until October 23, so hold on for another two weeks of witchcraft in the media.

The question is, will the subject of our CDI just wait out the mid-term election while Christine O’Donnell holds the spotlight? Maybe. But attention is money (somehow), so I’d wager we should brace ourselves for something totally inexplicable and WTF worthy to be coming out of Alaska before Election day.

Very much in the spirit of the CDI, last week Jon Stewart called for a moratorium of sorts on a certain media-savvy former Vice Presidential candidate. On an NPR interview earlier this week, he made a similar caution to Democrats about picking on O’Donnell:

“I feel like again, this woman, Christine O’Donnell, she may be qualified. She may not. I’m not all that impressed with what’s in the Senate right now. But the last thing that I would suggest is that her witchcraft or masturbation stance is what we should be even thinking about or focusing on, and I think that’s an enormous mistake that the Democrats will make. Because we like to sit around the office and try and think – we have a little game called How Will the Democrats Blow It.”

Two days later, David Axelrod went on Letterman and blamed a falling Presidential seal on witchcraft.

Stephen Hoban is a writer living in New York.

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