Halpern: Satire does it best


In my view

by Micah Halpern
Issue of June 18, 2010/ 6 Tammuz 5770
I have been thinking quite a lot about satire lately. I was stimulated by the 9-minute web video lampooning the Turkish humanitarian flotilla called “We Con the World.” This well-done spoof is a play on the Aid to Africa Campaign that a generation ago produced the song “We Are the World.”

Political humor is a very important component of national self-critique — it is also one of my most sought after lecture topics. This satirical piece, produced by Israelis for world consumption, has been seen by about two million people worldwide. It doesn’t matter if viewers laughed, smiled, smirked or were outraged, it was on YouTube and various other media-sharing sites — and they watched. Actually, YouTube dropped it for a short over concerns of copyright infringement with the original song, but the video has been re-instated.

This video moved people, sometimes too much and somewhat inappropriately. One member of the Israeli Government Press Office, a division of the Prime Minister’s office, sent the link to all foreign journalists on his or her list. In other words, “We Con the World” was sent out to just about every commentator and journalist covering the Middle East throughout the world. The press office quickly sent out a correction saying that the video spoof did not represent the government’s point of view. But it does.

Satire is a safe form of political critique. It is poignant but it is harmless. It can be biting and it is most often an exaggeration. It is always a matter of taste and oftentimes it is even tasteless. But it does not promote violence and it does not promote hatred. If it promotes anything it is sarcasm and a biting sense of the holier than thou syndrome that often makes critics intolerable as friends.

The words to “We Con the World” are not profound, but they make a point, much like the original version. The lyrics “The truth will never make it to your TV” and “Hamas would make you think they’re Momma Teresa” are crooned into the microphone by amateurs satirizing the original cast members.

In contrast, the Turks and the Palestinians sent out official broadcasts that were incite-full and vengeful. The official Palestinian TV station broadcast a song and dance about killing Israelis. As Palestinians held their rifles high above their heads they sang: “From my wounds, my weapon has emerged. Oh, our revolution, my weapon has emerged. There is no force in the world that can remove the weapon from my hand. My weapon has emerged. My weapon has emerged.

This revolutionary people has sacrificed and offered in order to live in freedom! My weapon has emerged. My weapon has emerged. He who offers his blood doesn’t care if his blood flows upon the ground.”

The dance was performed at the PLO National Committee for Culture Science and Education. In attendance were the Minister of Culture and the Minister for Women’s Affairs.

The long history of satire dates back to the Greek and Roman period. When Charlie Chaplin released his sensational satirical comedy “The Great Dictator” in 1940 the world laughed — in fear. Hitler demanded a private viewing. While everyone else saw the movie as a source of enormous fun, the true dictator could not understand the humor, the satire, the critique, the analogy, the sarcasm, the parody, the wit, the irony, the mocking.

Hitler walked out in the middle of his screening. And because he walked out, Hitler missed one of the greatest scenes in all of celluloid history. He missed Charlie Chaplin’s portrayal of him dancing with a balloon in the shape of the globe, illustrating Hitler’s attempt to take control of the entire world.

Sometimes Jon Stewart and Comedy Central do a better job conveying the subtext of an event than does The New York Times, USA Today or any news outlet. Sometimes, even Bill O’Reilly reverts to satire to make his point. Sometimes, satire does it best.

The website that produced “We Con the World” is called Latma. Latma is Hebrew slang for a slap in the face. That Israelis were able to produce this video and that other Israelis are able to watch and enjoy it is proof of the health of Israeli society. Israelis can make fun of the deeply pathological hatred that Palestinians, and by extension the rest of the Arab world, feel towards them. They laugh because if they did not laugh they would be forced to cry.

I’ll take parody over a dance of death, anytime.

Micah D. Halpern is a columnist and a social and political commentator. Read his latest book THUGS. He maintains The Micah Report at www.micahhalpern.com.