Watch where you aim that rhetoric, someone might get shot

Much has been made of this map from Sarah Palin’s PAC in light of the January 8th shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ).


And rightfully so.

#4 on Palin’s target list is the now actually assassinated Giffords who said herself that such rhetorical visuals were dangerous.

The funny thing about words is, they persuade people to do things. Whether you actually wanted them to or not. On Sunday, Salon Re-Tweeted this post from a person named Digby. Writing on “Rhetorical Excess” Digby compares statements made Saturday by Arizona Representative Trent Franks with ones he himself made about Obama. Here’s a sampling of his interview over the weekend with CNN’s Candy Crowley:

Franks: Even in these circumstance, first of all I think our focus should be upon the tragedy that occurred here and I think it’s unfortunate to inject the comments that the Sheriff did in this case because he has been heavily involved in the whole immigration issue and he found himself in this case at ends even different than Miss Giffords. And I think that he’s carrying on that debate even in this tragic moment and I think it’s unfortunate.

Crowley: Probably should say that you all have been personally affected by this and that sometimes you say things you might not want to. The point being that there is now going to be this conversation about “why?” And right now we are seeing “the political conversation is terrible, it is heated rhetoric, we are seeing unhinged people to do things.” Do you see a link between increased sharp rhetoric, sometimes aggressive rhetoric, violent rhetoric, whatever you want to call it, in the political forum and this type of heinous activity.

Frank: Sometimes in any human dynamic there are so many factors that it becomes difficult to really analyze it. But sometimes you can see a central element, and that central element is this unhinged lunatic that had no respect for human life was willing to make some grand statement, I don’t know if he even knows what grand statement he was willing to make to take the lives of his fellow human lives to do it. And there is the problem, a lack of respect for innocent human life. It’s a lack of respect for the constitution, for freedom.

Frank is right, there are a myriad of factors that go into determining motive behind heinous actions like this. He is also right that “sometimes you can see a central element.” Only his element doesn’t seem to explain it as well rhetorically as does Frank’s own statement at last year’s unfortunately named How To Take Back America Conference:

Obama’s first act as president of any consequence, in the middle of a financial meltdown, was to send taxpayers’ money overseas to pay for the killing of unborn children in other countries…there’s almost nothing that you should be surprised at after that. We shouldn’t be shocked that he does all these other insane things. A president that has lost his way that badly, that has no ability to see the image of God in these little fellow human beings, if he can’t do that right, then he has no place in any station of government and we need to realize that he is an enemy of humanity

Not necessarily a direct correlation between words and actions. Yet. Look one more time to comments made by classmates of Jared Loughner highlighting some troubling parallels:

Don Coorough, 58, who sat two desks in front of Mr. Loughner in a poetry class last semester, described him as a “troubled young man” and “emotionally underdeveloped.” After another student read a poem about getting an abortion, Mr. Loughner compared the young woman to a “terrorist for killing the baby.”

So on one hand we have words from a reputable elected official, and on the other we have almost the exact same words used by a “crazed madman” who shot 20 people in a supermarket parking lot in Tucson. The former takes no responsibility for any potential consequences of his language while the latter is a lunatic acting alone. This is straight up what Kenneth Burke would have called “scapegoating” and “language as symbolic action.” And as Saturday’s events have indicated, the symbolic sometimes translates into the material.

Did Palin’s rhetoric, and those that align themselves with it (*cough* Tea Party*cough*) cause Congresswoman Giffords to be shot through the head or Judge Roll to lose his life? No. There is not a direct relationship to those, nor could one probably ever be asserted. But neither could a direct linkage ever be made between the rhetorical choices of Osama Bin Laden and the Taliban and those 19 individuals who flew airliners into two New York City skyscrapers nearly 10 years ago. Only with them the peculiar similarities in language choices were more than enough to declare a war on almost anyone who remotely looked like them.

If dangerous rhetoric does not have unintended consequences then why else would Palin’s camp work so hard to remove Giffords from the list? Well, other than one her “Targets” has been hit.

Dead on.

Ballin’ It Up: Ironic Intellectualism of Stewart Colbert and “Advocacy Satire”

With the recent crediting of Jon Stewart as helping to move along the 9/11 First Responders bill by dedicating an entire show to its passage, he may have made important strides beyond “advocacy satire” and into a realm some journalists have rightly, and often wrongly, traversed: advocacy journalism.

I like the first term because it gives satire its due credence that is often discounted as non-serious or not to be taken as such. Much of this blog is reflective of my academic interests, most of which have sought to figure humor and satire’s current place in our culture. In the last few months I finally feel like im getting close. I recently received my first revise and resubmit notice from the journal of Journalism: Theory and Practice on an essay I wrote last spring on Stewart and Colbert as public journalists that tried to tackle this idea. They want me to go further.

Which is what Stewart and Colbert are doing. A major component to public journalism as outlined by Jay Rosen and Davis “Buzz” Merritt is that taking matters of public importance into account is a much needed journalistic practice. But they are also quick to warn that it is not the same as journalists advocating for specific positions, a consideration I went to great lengths to illustrate Stewart and Colbert were taking.

All of that seems to have been thrown out the window in the past few months. The much hyped and misunderstood, rallies to restore both sanity and/or fear were met with much criticism in the mainstream press for the two comedians overstepping their bounds and creating their own spectacle. Colbert’s testimony in front of Congress on the plight of migrant workers in light of a recent farm bill was soundly discarded.

But lo did Stewart bounce back with an actual legislative win! The 9/11 First responders bill special marked a significant point where Stewart was rightly credited and praised for raising a significant issue, in his own way, while acknowledging that he was right in skewering those he thought were responsible for its blockage. Republicans. Allowing NY firefighters and police to come on the show and state their case, while hearing their voices shaken by the ravages of cancer from Ground Zero, became un-debatable. And as the NY Times pointed out Stewart may be actually moving into the role of satire advocate journalist with this episode, comparing him to Edward R. Murrow in the process. Take that Keith Olbermann!

In light of this, I do not feel that Stewart and Colbert have wholly abandoned the notion of public journalism in the sense laid out by either Rosen or Merritt. In order to understand the influence of Stewart and Colbert I think it is helpful to create an ironic understanding of their intellectual and journalistic posturing. That is, they are “Ironic Intellectuals”: their authority stems from the very disavowal of any serious authority. Their humor and absurdity are precisely what give them a sobering sincerity so badly needed.

It is also what enables us to understand their straddling of journalist/comedian. They can be both and we can understand them as both. I’ll be playing with this idea more in the coming months as comprehensive exams and dissertations loom on the horizon. In the meantime watch Stewart’s speech and offer some thoughts on the matter.

“Home” for the Holidays

Just do it right, make it perfect and real.

I’ve been getting a lot of giftcards as Christmas presents. Not that I mind, beats the awkwardness of telling family members they really have no idea anymore. iTunes has become a recent favorite as I am more prone to buying full albums this way. Channelling my inner ( or outer) Austin hipster/music snob I bought the latest LCD Soundsystem album This is Happening. That’s when I came across this video.

In case you can’t tell, that robot is me. Holiday Traditions are weird and hard to come by in my family. Usually they involve a lot of me driving around LA to visit the few good friends who still live there.

In the past few years I’ve grown accustomed to having a Christmas experience that is almost completely different from the previous years, save for the driving. I’ve come to realize that perhaps my best Christmas tradition is the interesting and random places I find myself.

Because it’s everything, though everything was never the deal.

One constant the last few years is my friend Max’s Christmas night party in West Hollywood. He has been throwing it the last few years precisely for this kind of thing. Feeling displaced and visiting old friends from junior college at a party designed for the diaspora of friend families that is major cities is a nice tradition to have. And I hope to continue it.

This is the trick, forget a terrible year.

I remember having this conversation two years ago at a similar Christmas gathering in Morristown Tennessee. After much young people party partaking (use your imagination) I remarked that I always seemed to find myself in these situations. At the time I was sincere in saying that I kind of liked how it worked out that way, that Christmas need not be this “traditional” thing. As my Twitter feed indicated over the last few days, the “traditional” thing is bullshit anyway. People who not only have, but thoroughly enjoy, annoyance free family time at Christmas I generally avoid. Or have something even more wrong with them. Either way.

Forget your past, this is your last chance now
And we can break the rules like nothing will last

For me Christmas time is usually an occasion for self-reflection not only of the year, but of life choices I’ve made. Usually those life choices are placed in stark contrast with the families I have come “home” to visit. So while I may not be able to talk to them about anything that I “do” at all with any sense of them getting it, I am reminded of exactly why I like doing what I do and how I have probably made a lot more right choices than not since leaving home.

Because night has such a local ring, and love and rock are bigger things
And you know it

As I returned home to Austin, and to prepare for an epic New Year’s Eve party at my house a new family member had given me the unexpected gift of LCD Soundsystem and this song. And while corks were sabered off of numerous champagne bottles that night with some of the greatest people I’ve ever met, I thought of a band that I was introduced to, here, at Austin City Limits.

And remembered that
A few make sure that you get home, and you stay home.

Happy New Year everyone. I think 2011 is going to be good to a lot of us.

Merry Christmas!

I was looking for something witty and profound to put up for the Holidays, and to address why I haven’t been posting lately (short answer: Grad School). Instead I figure I’ll just put up this video of Stephen Colbert singing about Christmas and Hope and Murika!

Yes, I know that is THE Toby Keith looking all bored and Toby Keith-y. But that is also Willie Nelson in there which I think balances out. Even if they did do this video . There is a certain ironic distance viewers can take in enjoying the video while still recognizing the douchiness of Toby Keith, even at Christmas. For now, get out your ugly sweaters and brandy snifters and throw hubris to the wind.

I’ll probably have some more fun tales in the coming days of crazy family times, drunken neighbors, and Angry Birds high scores as I sit around on this “vacation”.

I mean after all it IS Christmas.

Memories of the Third New York

I was in New York this past weekend delivering a paper at conference at Fordham University in midtown Manhattan. Over the last five years I’d been to the city more times than I can count but never for work. I was there to see friends too, but the fact that I had justified a trip along these lines for the first time was pause for reflection. Taking the train from the airport to a friend’s Harlem apartment, and then from there to the university, without getting lost once, served as a stark reminder to a passed, all encompassing ambition. To be one of them. Because to me I already was. Once.

E. B. White once claimed there are three New York’s. The first is filled with people who were born and raised there. They define a significant portion of the allure of the city, but are ultimately limited in fully understanding the scope of their hometown origin mentality.

The second type are the throngs of people commuting daily into the city to work. Each morning millions of hardworking men and women rush into the city on trains and through bridges and tunnels, the population swelling beyond what already seemed like capacity. They too are what make New York what it is, but again only partially. For their purpose in the city is one primarily of economics. It provides ample opportunity to make a living to take back home to their families.

Then there is the third type of New York, the one that draws people from all over the country and world, and for no other reason than to simply be there. They fall in love with the city, and if they are lucky, with some of it’s inhabitants, with the hopes of making it their new home. For them, just making it to New York is making it enough.

I read these words well after my time as a pseudo New Yorker had come to an end. I had spent three years of my life with someone who lived in the city and decided to remain. In the aftermath of the realization that despite all the time and effort spent preparing to become one the third type of New Yorkers, I would not be making it after all, I have come to miss the city, and those who live there, terribly.

One thing has remained constant. Everytime I have returned “home” from New York it was always accompanied by a feeling of loneliness, usually due to the people I was leaving behind. Suffice it to say I am struck by a similar feeling this time. Only now it feels like something more. It is probably time to leave that part of me there. He doesn’t really exist in the same way anymore. I’m just hoping that part of him finally wants to come home with me.

Before I left I had brunch with the close friend who introduced me to New York over five years ago. She’s right, it does feel like my adopted city. There have been many highs and lows since then, and not much in between. And as we stood together in Union Square Park, sharing what would seem like a mutual final goodbye in a place that has determined so much of who I am and who we are, I couldn’t help but just stand there in silence a bit longer. In my favorite part of one of my favorite places.

When “Celebrities” Find Twitter


I’m presenting at a media studies conference next month in the University of Texas Radio-Television-Film department. Since I try to put digested versions of academic things I write here I thought I’d post some of what I’ll offer at the conference:

With the recent addition of Kanye West to its ranks, the social media site Twitter seems to have found its poster child. Garnering more than 400,000 followers in his first week, West’s incessant posts about every absurdly mundane aspect of his rather extravagant public lifestyle seems indicative of the narcissistic potential of social networking. West’s Twitter followers, of which I am admittedly among, are privy to an excess of celebrity on a scale previously unimagined.

Neal Gabler reminds us that “celebrity” in the United States developed as technological innovations in media created an insatiable cultural desire for public recognition. Which means that like it or not, we all aspire to be Kanye West. Predicated on the idea of instant publicity, Twitter enables a constant search for recognition by one’s “followers,” likening them to the fanbase enjoyed by traditional celebrities. Much like with Reality television and YouTube, Twitter may be fundamentally changing the ways in which we configure celebrity status. In other words “celebrity” is the guiding ideology of Twitter, with the desire to address and be addressed by one’s “followers” serving to create a hyper-public media environment that blurs the public and private lives of celebrities as well as the distinction between celebrity and non-celebrity. With Twitter everyone strives for recognition.

My position is anchored in what communication scholar Jodi Dean, in her book Publicity’s Secret terms “technoculture.” Essentially publicity and technoculture go together like liberalism and capitalism. This is significant because it implies that our actions not only confine publicity to the online world, but that the online world is synonymous with all others. Just like our systems of currency increasingly organize our economic systems around elements whose intrinsic worth is self-perpetuating so our notion of publicity similarly functions in contemporary technoculture.

With Twitter celebrity and publicity go hand in hand. The primary path to participation in the technocultural sphere is through recognition. Tweeting in the hopes of gaining a cult of “followers” we align ourselves with publicity as the underlying ideological construct of the Internet. The desire to be known is more than one of vanity however. It has also become a simulacrum of political participation. Dean explains, “for the victim to matter politically, it has to become public, to be made visible, accessible. It has to be known. Those who aren’t known are not victims.” So while Wyclef Jean’s campaign for President of Haiti may be nothing more than a publicity stunt, in late capitalist society this visibility is key and nowhere is this more tantamount that online. As the Internet potentially permeates more and more of our lives, as globalization of capital is sure to continue, this will serve to become the reality in every sense of the word. In this regard Jean’s political stunt may also indicate legitimate political action.

If visibility through achievement of celebrity is what counts as political participation then those who are unable to achieve such visibility will be literally unknown. In a mediated world failure to achieve publicity and recognition is a failure to participate politically. As Twitter continues the complication of online and offline, the drive for recognition in one becomes a necessity for relevance in another. In other words Twitter indicates that being a celebrity really is most important.

A recent New York Times piece I Tweet Therefore I Am provides a nice hashtags for what I’m going for here. Now more than ever it has become the presentation of self. Instead of self reflection and internal development of identity, we are increasingly more aware of our public perception. We now spend more of our time on outward appearance, not that we didn’t before. In other words, everyone is marketing themselves. On Twitter, everyone is a celebrity.

Dazed and Confused: Housesitting with a College Professor’s Wife

Everyone I know is moving this summer, myself included. I’m finally settled in at my new place, which is great, but it has killed my productivity the past week, which is not so great.

I’ve been housesitting in Hyde Park all summer for a professor in my department, where all the houses look like this. Living rent free in one of the best neighborhoods in Austin has definitely been a lifesaver and somewhat of a Summer routine for myself. For the most part it’s been good, if a little solitary at times. Like having your own ranch. People have been asking me what it was like living by myself on nearly an acre of land in Hyde Park. I’ve decided to give you all my Top 5 “Highlights” of my summer Housesitting with the College Professor’s Wife (more on that soon).

1. Battling Raccoons

The most important part of housesitting usually involves making sure any pets stay alive. This was no different. The two cats placed in my care, Bella and Jasper, were pretty easy going if a little needy at times. Like a typical male cat Jasper loved hanging out with me, while Bella had the look of “who the hell are you” etched into her face for nearly two months.

What was different was the third “houseguest” to come through the cat door at night. On the list of things I didn’t think I’d ever cross off a list, coming face to face with a raccoon in a kitchen, on multiple occasions, is definitely near the top. It was like camping in the backwoods, only it was inside a house, in a major U.S. city.

2. Healing Sessions

Usually, when you housesit for people they tend to not be there. Such is not the case in Hyde Park Hollow, where I essentially had a roommate on the other end of the house for the first two weeks. Vickie is really sweet, really nice, and really interesting. Also she is Dr. Browning’s wife. Here is an email I got from my roommate regarding her spiritual prowess.

Hi Joe,

I will be doing an energy healing at the house today from 4:40 – 6:40PM, and Friday from 4-6PM. I have decided not to use the regular healing room, which is on my side of the house – the sun porch room, because it is too hot, and the air conditioning doesn’t reach it.

I will be using the living room. I will leave the back door unlocked, so you could enter through the kitchen. There might be the sounds of drumming and gongs and rattles during the session. Thank you so much in advance for being flexible!!!!

I think this can stand alone.

3. Becoming one with ALL of Austin’s Bugs

Welcome to the Jungle

The benefit of having such a rainy summer was that watering the thick forrest the house was essentially carved out of was a breeze. The drawback is that such an eco-friendly set up was especially beneficial to the eco-friendly bugs that were everywhere. After a few weeks I didn’t get out of bed for anything less than 3 cockroaches on the counter. And I’ve got so many mosquito bites it looks like my ankles have track marks. So much for the starving raccoon.

4. Playing landlord

Needless to say the Professor and his wife are very smart financially, owning and renting out several properties all over Austin. But someone’s gotta deposit those rent checks on the first of the month and that person was me. It was quite the experience to take a half-dozen checks from strangers each month and deposit them into another stranger’s checking account. No Questions Asked. And they say we are in a financial crisis!

5. Not having a single party (in case anyone of note is reading this).

Let me just say again, I did not have any parties at the house. I also did not tell anyone I was going to have a party, nor did I brag about how epic a party would have been. There was NO secret Evite or Facebook event that went out and that tree falling through the roof of the side room was definitely not caused by anything no one at the house was not doing during this party I did not have. Not really.

Note to everyone: Always take the opportunity to house sit for a professor. Their houses are usually baller, and this was no exception. They really hooked me up this summer.

Joan Rivers is My Grandmother

The first time I ever did stand up comedy was also the first time I ever wore drag. Dressed in streetwalker makeup and leopard print everything, I took the stage at Moorpark College’s Improv Comedy Showcase and delivered my monologue about all the cats I owned, their crazy names, and how I could not live without Siegfried and Roy.

I was 18.

I was playing my Grandmother. She was in the audience that night and thought the show was “fabulous!” (Her words, not mine).**

She came to LA in the early 1950s from Wheeling, WV, a town that I’m pretty sure just installed their 4th traffic light.

My grandmother always knew she was obsessed with show business and has done everything she can to stay on top… the gossip. The only person I’ve ever met who has an actual subscription to the National Enquirer, she still knows more about what’s going on with Lindsay Lohan than you. Yes you. Also she just purchased an iPad. What other family you know where the grandmother is the tech savvy person?

My Grandmother and and Uncle. Notice the couture.

And she likes cats, lots of them, and Las Vegas. Due to health problems she was unable to make her annual pilgrimage to the Mecca of Vegas-obsessed cat ladies: Siegfried and Roy at the Mirage. Roy was then mauled by a Tiger. She has never lived it down. We went to console her in the hospital but she wouldn’t let us see her without makeup.

So imagine my surprise when I went to my local arthouse (read: on campus) theater the other day to watch Joan Rivers swear. Alot.

Joan Rivers won’t let anyone see her until she’s put her face on. She doesn’t want to see HERSELF before putting her makeup on. She wears a lot of gawdy clothes. She is completely obsessed with celebrities. She sounds like she uses the word “fabulous” alot. And most importantly she lives how she wants.

Joan Rivers always knew she would be in show business and has done everything she can to stay on top and relevant.

You guys. Joan Rivers is my Grandmother.

Both have taught me important lessons in comedy. Sometimes your best bet is to be outrageous and not give a shit what others think. Wear what you want. Say what you want. And whatever you do, do NOT leave the house without first putting on your face.

**Yes, I am aware of what rumors this undoubtedly brings. Story of my life.

Poor Kids Can’t Get Into Ivy League Schools? Get Outta Here!

Earlier this week The New York Times did something today that you don’t often see: An Op-Ed piece agreeing with Pat Buchanan.

Writing about underserved white kids in ivy league schools columnist Ross Douthat points out that, SURPRISE!, poor people have a hard time getting in to Ivy League schools. And it’s apparently even worse when those poor people are white. The crux of the argument is quoted below

Last year, two Princeton sociologists, Thomas Espenshade and Alexandria Walton Radford, published a book-length study of admissions and affirmative action at eight highly selective colleges and universities. Unsurprisingly, they found that the admissions process seemed to favor black and Hispanic applicants, while whites and Asians needed higher grades and SAT scores to get in. But what was striking, as Russell K. Nieli pointed out last week on the conservative Web site Minding the Campus, was which whites were most disadvantaged by the process: the downscale, the rural and the working-class.

Ok so that is less of a surprise. But what remains surprising is why we still judge the quality of our admissions processes as a whole by who is getting in to Ivy League schools. Rich people still have no trouble getting in. Underserved minorities have benefitted from significant efforts to open more educational doors to those who are more likely to have not come from wealthy backgrounds. But to say now that the fact that working class white kids are not being given the same opportunities to attend Ivy League schools presupposes one major argument:

That it should be cheaper and easier to attend HARVARD.

This is where Douthat’s analysis starts to go a little off the rails. Here is his response to the aforementioned study

This provides statistical confirmation for what alumni of highly selective universities already know. The most underrepresented groups on elite campuses often aren’t racial minorities; they’re working-class whites (and white Christians in particular) from conservative states and regions. Inevitably, the same underrepresentation persists in the elite professional ranks these campuses feed into: in law and philanthropy, finance and academia, the media and the arts.

This breeds paranoia, among elite and non-elites alike.

Right, THAT’S why there are so many “liberal elites” in our universities! Poorer, conservative kids want to be college professors, charity workers, community organizers and performing artists but are not given the chance to do so. Quick, someone alert David Horowitz!

I think what is really at play here is a bunch of people complaining about having to go to a safety school.

Newsflash: Not everyone gets to go to private school!

Second Newsflash: those aren’t the only good schools in the country!

Sure, it is probably true that due to increased focus on expanding access to America’s most elite universites some people are feeling left out of the conversation. But why do we still insist on judging the relative health of our access to higher education on how many white people are being excluded from Ivy Leagues on the (false) premise that those spots are now going to minorities who weren’t as deserving? Why does that have to be the argument? Why do you HAVE to go to Harvard? Shit, I went to community college for 2 years out of high school and, last I checked, am currently working on a PhD from the University of Texas, regarded as a “public Ivy.” Which means that I am receiving largely the same education as my friends at Columbia for a lot less of the cost. Also, did you know that there are schools like this all over the country, not just in New England? I know, I was shocked too. We never really mention these things when highlighting the elite status of America’s universities.

Am I extremely lucky to even be in my position? Duh! But as someone who was made to feel less than adequate by my fellow AP classmates in highschool because I couldn’t afford to go to UCLA I don’t really think my white working class parents have hindered my educational success. Though I imagine constantly whining about not getting in to Harvard might.

Bottom line: access to colleges and universities should be made available to all who want the opportunity. But that opportunity does not reside squarely on the shoulders of Harvard administrators. Besides all those movies about Ivy League schools are filmed at UCLA anyway.

Ballin’ It Up: Old Spice Wins the Internet

The Internet has been all a twitter (and YouTube-er) about this new Old Spice marketing campaign. And I can’t say I blame them. As members of the advertising community have pointed out Old Spice is playing online advertising perfectly.

The genius of the campaign stems not just from the humor of the ad, or even the viral nature of the videos. The campaign has also started responding to viewers’ questions. On Old Spice’s Twitter page fans can ask actor, former NFL player and resident Old Spice hunk Isaiah Mustafa questions and in turn receive a video response. The idea seems to have caught on as several high profile people have joined in.

The Old Spice Guy has answered queries by Ellen Degeneres

GQ Magazine

And a marriage proposal

Obviously social media business community is all about the interactive nature of the ads. The blog Bizcommunity dubbed it a “brilliant synergy of comedy, creative genius and an innate understanding of internet culture.” Sadly, this synergy was shortlived as the team of writers it took to respond so quickly and effectively to viewers’ queries could only keep up for so long. By the end of the day, July 14 the last message was rolled out.

Normally I’m not one to go on and on about intelligent marketing campaigns. My fascination with brilliant advertising is usually confined to epic monologues delivered by Mad Men’s Don Draper (Season 4 premiere this Sunday!) To tell you the truth I don’t really care that Old Spice’s number of twitter followers more than doubled as a result of the campaign. This being a vaguely humorous blog I’m way more interested in the use of humor as a technological response. As I’ve previously written the sticking power of humor is due to the fact that it is an everyday method of sensemaking. Joking around has always been a way for people to respond to the world around them, especially in periods of change.

The brilliance of the Old Spice ads lies in the ways that the humor is the primary way in which the technological possibilities of the Internet are realized. Without the social media conditioning to which we have rapidly grown accustomed, the jokes would not work. In “getting the joke” advertisers, marketers and viewers can participate in fulfilling the potential of Internet to change social relations. And this only happens with humor.

Am I crazy? Sure, but this is not necessarily the reason why. One day I’ll teach a class on this, but for right now I’m throwing this idea out there: humor has always been one of the primary ways in which we have articulated social, political, and technological changes. This is not about Old Spice. I am not saying that this campaign is an important historical moment. I mean I probably could, I am getting a PhD in Rhetoric after all, but I won’t. What I am saying is it is indicative of how humor has always been at the forefront of responding to social changes. I haven’t quite figured it out but I’m willing to bet one could trace developments throughout Western History by tracking changes in how comedy, humor, and satire are implemented. Ok so maybe I am saying that my dissertation will kinda be about Old Spice. I bet I could make it work.

In the meantime I think I am satisfied in claiming that this past week, Old Spice Balled Up the Internet.