Obama's Comedy Problem, Cont'd.

by Noam Scheiber | July 16, 2008

Maureen Dowd raises some similar points about the problem that arises if people aren't comfortable making fun of Obama, then does her best to fashion a comic leitmotif for him. (Somehow I doubt the campaign will be thanking her for it.) Her suggestion: Obama-the-buzz-killer:

If Obama offers only eat-your-arugula chiding and chilly earnestness, he becomes an otherworldly type, not the regular guy he needs to be.

He’s already in danger of seeming too prissy about food — a perception heightened when The Wall Street Journal reported that the planners for Obama’s convention have hired the first-ever Director of Greening, the environmental activist Andrea Robinson. She in turn hired an Official Carbon Adviser to “measure the greenhouse-gas emissions of every placard, every plane trip, every appetizer prepared and every coffee cup tossed.”

The “lean ‘n’ green” catering guidelines, The Journal said, bar fried food and instruct that, “on the theory that nutritious food is more vibrant, each meal should include ‘at least three of the following colors: red, green, yellow, blue/purple, and white.’ (Garnishes don’t count.) At least 70% of the ingredients should be organic or grown locally, to minimize emissions from fuel during transportation.”

Bring it on, Ozone Democrats! Because if Obama gets elected and there is nothing funny about him, it won’t be the economy that’s depressed. It will be the rest of us.

There maybe something to this. No question Obama--and, for that matter, the entire campaign--can be a little self-serious at times. On the other hand, Obama actually has a pretty good sense of humor, and, more importantly, he can be amusingly self-deprecating. If this becomes the frame for him (comic or otherwise), he shouldn't have trouble subverting it.

It's the whiff of the elitist charge that's both less fair, more damaging, and potentially harder to shake. Not eat-your-vegetables chiding, in Dowd's telling, but "eat-your-arugula chiding." I guess Obama did open himself up to this with his famous Whole Foods comment. Still, he's now getting indicted for all sorts of elitist crimes he had nothing to do with. The Wall Street Journal report Dowd cites, for example, says the green convention is the brainchild of Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, who appears to have launched the effort long before Obama became the presumptive nominee.

Depressingly, though, I expect it'll be the elitist charge rather than the overly-earnest charge that carries the day when comics finally get around to mocking him. It's probably easier to illustrate (even if the examples turn out to be bogus). And, if nothing else, it's the one the GOP has traditionally favored.

--Noam Scheiber

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