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The Ethics of Political Humor. by Brenna Hindman and Carly Diaz. History of Political Humor. The Renaissance. History of Political Humor. The Protestant Revolution. History of Political Humor. The American Revolution. History of Political Humor. The Nineteenth Century. “Let Us Prey”.

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The Ethics of Political Humor

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The Ethics of Political Humor

by Brenna Hindman

and Carly Diaz

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History of Political Humor

The Renaissance

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History of Political Humor

The Protestant Revolution

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History of Political Humor

The American Revolution

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History of Political Humor

The Nineteenth Century

“Let Us Prey”

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History of Political Humor


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Ethical Questions

  • Is it ethical to discuss subjects considered inappropriate?

  • Is it ethical to satirically approach serious matters?

  • Is it ethical to highlight issues that are not considered pertinent to the subject at hand?

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Techniques of Political Humor

  • Satirizing a familiar situation

  • Exaggerating and juxtaposing for emphasis

  • Drawing on shared knowledge/assuming familiarity

  • Implying and alluding to a standard/judgment

  • Making implicit visual comparisons

  • Stereotyping through caricatures

  • Reiterating stereotypes for emphasis

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Uses of Political Humor

  • Criticize a situation, event, or person

  • “Means to process events and issues that cause discomfort or discontent”

  • Used to reference unimportant things and delegitimize

  • Humor can state the unimportant/unfactual/unpertinent to sway one’s opinion

  • Can approach inappropriate/taboo topics without the need/concern for credibility

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Why is Political Humor effective?

  • It is funny

  • It simplifies complex situations/information

  • It reinforces familiar topics/situations

  • It reinforces stereotypes/preconceptions

  • Allows the audience to make a quick judgment

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– “Lesser of two evils”

– simplification of election process

– negative portrayal of both choices

– criticizes the candidates,but implies the cartoonist’s bias

– exaggerated appearance for humorous recognition

– appearance as a basis for judgment

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– cartoonist assumes audience familiarity with the situation

– implicit judgment of Bush

– critiquing situation by implying a questionable relationship

– commentators question the legitimacy of political traditions

– political corruption makes the process a façade

– size of characters a visual implication of power

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– cartoonist questioning actions and policies of Bush administration

– stereotypes Bush as a war monger

– satirically presents an evaluation of the “success” of Iraq

– judgment: mistakes as irreversible and damaging to the country

– Bush is ignorant of the simplified facts of the situation

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– Caricature of Bush compared to the peaceful Mr. Rogers

– Bush implied as ignorant of the facts

– presents fact and fiction in opposition

– simplifies the war and creates an easy judgment for the audience

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So…is political humor ethical?

  • No, in its purest form, rhetoric should move someone to action or decision. Language is used to communicate ideas and should bring people to a better understanding of an issue. Political cartoons, however, divert from this epistemic responsibility with its goal to convey an opinion humorously. Political humor does not engage the audience toward understanding, nor does it allow room for rebuttal. Political humor often reduces its opponent to a mere joke.

  • Political humor seems to elevate itself above ethics. By questioning the ethics of others, it takes the spotlight off its own techniques, making itself the judicator of other’s actions.

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  • However, just because it is not ethical does not mean it is bad or irresponsible rhetoric. There are two responsibilities within political humor:

    • Cartoonist: express opinion and convey in manner in which they consider the means or techniques they have chosen

    • Audience: responsibility to understand the medium and distinguish it from other forms of rhetoric…it is not presenting itself as knowledge, but rather as an expression of opinion.

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