Monday, January 19, 2009

Satire is not just for Sarah
In a recent interview, Sarah Palin credits the loss of the 2008 presidential election in part to Tina Fey’s Saturday Night Live sketches and her interview with Katie Curric.  This idea is debatable in its own right, but begs the question, how much does satire and "electoral guerilla theatre" play into the public’s opinion?  Does satire really work to mold the public's opinion of a person?  Personally I find this to be a bit far fetched, but to Palin's credit, precedent does exist. One such example is the October 1989 election for Austrialian Parliament. 

In 1996 a lower working class woman from a small town in Queensland by the name of Pauline Hanson was elected to represent the Oxley seat. Despite being expelled from her party shortly before the election due to some anti-Aboriginal comments quoted in a local paper, she won the seat, and quickly gained support as a leader for the far right. Her anti-Asian and anti-Aboriginal views resulted in the creation of her own party known as the “One Nation Party,” which quickly gained followers.

As Hanson's support grew, her values were thoroughly questioned, including many allegations of racism and xenophobia. While she insists that she is not racist, her views take the form of “cultural racism”, and while these setiments gave her followers, they also created enemies

One such person was a man by the name of Simon Hunt.   When Hanson was up for reelection, Hunt legally changed his name to Pauline Pantsdown and got himself on the ballot.  Besides wearing Hanson’s clothing and taking on her accent, Pantdown used political satire to attack Hanson.  His first attack took the form of a song known as “I’m a Backdoor Man,” which, once released, soared to the top of charts.  It was being played all over the nation, and because Hanson was such a well-known figure, the nation quickly learned of Pantsdown’s cause.
“Instead of dealing directly with Hanson’s white supremacism, he [Hunt] used her argumentative methods and her actual (digitized and rearranged) voice to make Hanson’s unwilling mouth advocate gay supremacy.”
In retaliation, Hanson and her party filed a defamation suit, and despite public requests, no radio stations would pick up the song.

Unfortunately for Hanson, the Party hurt themselves when they sued Pantsdown, as they demonstrated to the country that they were only supporters of free speech in certain cases. Knowing that he was supported, Pantsdown launched another attack, using Hanson’s own words to create a new song, entitled “I Don’t Like It.”
“While its satirical method is simpler, “I Don’t Like It” is more technically complicated than “Backdoor Man.” It actually creates new words from different Hanson syllables; for example, “San Francisco” was pieced together from four different words.”
Because the song was not using analogy, and therefore was less obviously damaging to her campaign, the One Nation Party largely ignored the attack, and the song was able to play on the radio. In fact, it because so popular and because One Nation did not sue, Pantdown’s friends and supporters banned together, and created a music video, allowing for a new dimension to the song.

After a long campaign from both Hanson and Pantsdown, the election came, and Hanson was defeated. She had spent so long fighting against Pantsdown’s attacks, that she was not able to focus on her campaign, a mistake that eventually lead to her downfall. Of the other candidates, some felt that the parodies were a good campaign tool, while others were frustrated because Pantsdown made the election into something of a joke. Nevertheless, most agreed that it was because of Hunt that Hanson lost the election.

I do not know if the Palin and McCain campaign was adversely affected by Fey or Curric, but the introduction of satire into the public political domain will certainly grow, and only time will tell where it takes us.

You can download the full article written by UC Davis Professor Lawrence M. Bogad here.

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