November 12, 2008

Obama's first unforgivable act

He's made progressives desperately unfunny again!

After eight years of the Onion and the Daily Show and Colbert and too many books and blogs to name, the old saw that liberals had no sense of humor had finally been banished. And then today, in the first big humor statement of the Obama era, the Yes Men produce a New York Times parody that actually parodies nothing but — quite unintentionally — dreary socialist agitprop.


The official site is totally bogged down, so I've posted a few samples after the jump, with commentary. Warning: Reading this will make you want invade Iran and drill for oil in the Grand Canyon.

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I'm trying to image the writer's room where would-be humorists crack each other up over stuff like this, from the big lead story, which you figure they'd work the hardest on:

Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom were brought to an unceremonious close today with a quiet announcement by the Department of Defense that troops would be home within weeks.

“This is the best face we can put on the most unfortunate adventure in modern American history,” Defense spokesman Kevin Sites said at a special joint session of Congress. “Today, we can finally enjoy peace — not the peace of the brave, perhaps, but at least peace.”

As U.S. and coalition troops withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan, the United Nations will move in to perform peacekeeping duties and aid in rebuilding. The U.N. will be responsible for keeping the two countries stable; coordinating the rebuilding of hospitals, schools, highways, and other infrastructure; and overseeing upcoming elections.

The Department of the Treasury confirmed that all U.N. dues owed by the U.S. were paid as of this morning, and that moneys previously earmarked for the war would be sent directly to the U.N.’s Iraq Oversight Body.

If you read the whole thing, it doesn't even sound like the New York Times. There's not even an effort to get the tone right. That's true throughout. How do you decide to do a Tom Friedman column and not do Tom Friedman.

Let me explain.

The sudden outbreak of peace in Iraq has made me realize, among other things, one incontestable fact: I have no business holding a pen, at least with intent to write.

I know, you’re thinking I’m going too far. I haven’t always been wrong about everything. I recently made some sense on global warming and what we needed to do about it, for instance.

But to have been so completely and fundamentally wrong about so huge a disaster as what we have done to Iraq — and ourselves — is outrageous enough to prove that people like me have no business posing as wise men, and, more importantly, that The New York Times has no business continuing to provide me with a national platform.

In any case, I have made a decision: as of today, I will no longer write in this or any other newspaper. I will immediately desist from writing any more books about how it’s time for everyone to climb on board the globalization high-speed monorail to the future. I will keep my opinions to myself. (My wife suggested that I try not to even form opinions, but I think she might have another agenda.)

But at least there's a stab at a joke in there. On the the other extreme, this "parody" editorial nails the earnest tone so perfectly that it actually could be a New York Times editorial (in fact, as you'll see, it was).

One of the many terrible consequences of the Iraq war has been the displacement of millions of Iraqis since the Iraq War began in March 2003. According to the most recent statistics from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, more than two million Iraqis have fled to neighboring Syria, Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon, as well as Australia and Europe, and another 2.5 million or more have been displaced within the country, most of them between 2006 and 2008.

These numbers are staggering. If a similar proportion of the U.S. population were displaced, that would mean 30 million refugee Americans.

The Iraqi refugee crisis is the worst in the history of the Middle East. The number of refugees surpasses the number of Palestinians displaced in 1948 by a factor of at least four. And while in 1948 the international community and the United Nations established entities to provide refugees with the bare minimum of education and aid, the response to the Iraqi refugee problem has been seriously inadequate on all levels. Many women have been forced into prostitution, and many children have no educational opportunities.

Among the displaced are most of the doctors, teachers, nurses, and educated professionals who formed the basic fabric of Iraqi society and are an integral building block of any reconstruction effort. Iraq’s recovery, which will take a few decades at best, will be impossible without the return of these citizens.

The Bush administration ignored this disaster, as to acknowledge it would have been an admission of its role in creating it. The number of Iraqis so far granted asylum in the U.S. is still less than that accepted by Sodertalje, a village in Sweden, as reported recently in the Washington Post.

A recent program initiated by the American Embassy in Baghdad offers up to 5,000 U.S. visas per year to Iraqi translators and other occupation collaborators. But high-ranking U.S. officials do not believe that this allowance can cover even direct employees of the American Embassy itself, let alone of other occupation entities such as Halliburton, Bechtel, and the U.S. Armed Forces.

Now that the war is over, no one can afford to neglect Iraqi refugees, and a serious and comprehensive plan to resettle them must be a priority for the new administration. The Evangelicals’ generosity is terrific (see “Evangelical Churches Announce Policy of Sanctuary for Iraqi Refugees,” Page A7), but what is really needed is a major policy change.

For comparison, here is an actual NYT editorial from July 2007.

There are already nearly two million Iraqi refugees, mostly in Syria and Jordan, and nearly two million more Iraqis who have been displaced within their country. Without the active cooperation of all six countries bordering Iraq — Turkey, Iran, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Syria — and the help of other nations, this disaster could get worse. Beyond the suffering, massive flows of refugees — some with ethnic and political resentments — could spread Iraq’s conflict far beyond Iraq’s borders.

Kuwait and Saudi Arabia must share the burden of hosting refugees. Jordan and Syria, now nearly overwhelmed with refugees, need more international help. That, of course, means money. The nations of Europe and Asia have a stake and should contribute. The United States will have to pay a large share of the costs, but should also lead international efforts, perhaps a donors’ conference, to raise money for the refugee crisis.

Washington also has to mend fences with allies. There are new governments in Britain, France and Germany that did not participate in the fight over starting this war and are eager to get beyond it. But that will still require a measure of humility and a commitment to multilateral action that this administration has never shown. And, however angry they were with President Bush for creating this mess, those nations should see that they cannot walk away from the consequences. To put it baldly, terrorism and oil make it impossible to ignore.

The United States has the greatest responsibilities, including the admission of many more refugees for permanent resettlement. The most compelling obligation is to the tens of thousands of Iraqis of courage and good will — translators, embassy employees, reconstruction workers — whose lives will be in danger because they believed the promises and cooperated with the Americans.

Thank you, Yes Men. You've managed to put out a copy of the New York Times from the future that's a year and a half late!

As far as I can tell (and I was not able to access the entire thing), the only genuinely funny bit in the NYT Special Edition, aside from a mildly amusing American Apparel ad, is a comment left by a reader on the web version of the Iraq War Ends article:

"I saw this on someone’s desk today. My heart soared. Then I realized it was a cruel prank. My heart fell. Stop breaking my heart! People are dying. Our hope is for war to end. This does nothing to hasten peace. You are wasting precious time and energy that could be devoted to worthy causes, not sophomoric pranks. Though laughter is good medicine, your brand of “humor” is a poisoned pill."

Be warned, Defenders of the One Liberal Faith, once you plant a flag in the territory of unfunny, a new, even more pure generation will always rise to decide that you yourselves are not unfunny enough.

Posted by Daniel Radosh


Are you sure this actually intended as comedy, and not merely ineffective celebratory propaganda?

Anything in there about who won last week's anti-cap?

@Rubrick. Then it's really funny!

I was disconcerted by the Puppy Extravaganza, complete with "cat for presidential dog" gag w/ "maverick cat" (that John Oliver, to his credit, seemed to think was really really lame while performing it), on the Daily Show the day after the election. Don't think it's a harbinger of things to come, though; they seem to have regained their bearings since mainstream media coverage and pundits haven't miraculously gotten any smarter.

Here is a cut & paste link for a PDF of the entire issue:


There was a parody of the NYT in 1978 when the Pope died 33 days into his new gig. I remember the lead story: "Pope dies yet again..."

There was also a NY Post parody that had a front pg story of a nuclear attack. The headline was something like:

Michael Jackson, Millions of others, killed in blast

Another Post parody had this: "Millions almost killed in near crash!" (The story was about a plane flying over Times Sq. "only minutes" after another plane did so.)

Remember the Not The New York Times parody that came out when the Times was on strike in the late '70s? Damned funny and on-target--I'm assuming it was mostly written by strikers, perhaps with some Lampoon writers. I think there's an old, yellowing copy in my old bedroom at my parents' house.

They used all the wrong fonts. ITC Cheltenham? No, no, no.

@Jim - That's the one with the pope headline Al referred to, edited by Tony Hendra and others. The Post one was done by, I believe, Kurt Andersen.

Maybe I'll dig out and scan the NYT parody I worked on for Spy that we handed out at the 92 Democratic Convention. Show these Marxists how that shit is done.

I'm with Rubrick. It's almost uncomfortable in its earnestness. It's like it was written by Coneheads.

Except for the complete absence of playfulness, I guess it still qualifies as a "prank," although it's a little like removing the Dean's car from his parking space and reassembling it in his garage.

That wouldn't take six months and a large number of private donors, though.

Hmmm... The only way this makes sense is if the writers themselves the tenants of the Democrats are so "out there" and far-fetched, that just repeating them verbatim as having occurred somehow creates parody.

The problem is that it's not. Very unsophisticated overall.

Anything in there about who won last week's anti-cap?

Anon, Radosh is too busy, but with a little searching I located your anti-cap here.

You can't put this one on Obama; the Yes Men have never been funny.

@Capt. Clown. To be fair, these are not tenants of "Democrats." Democrats are trying to bail out the auto industry, not ban cars. Democrats want to recruit from Harvard Business School, not shut it down. As much as I wish Democrats would vote unanimously against the Patriot act, they, well, did not. Maybe this is a parody of the Socialist Worker.

It's interesting to compare this fake 2009 paper (I have to stop calling it a parody, sorry) with Focus on the Family's letter from 2012 in Obama's America. One man's dream is another's nightmare. Neither is anyone's laugh-riot.

Tenets not tenants.

@Pat: I completely agree! Isn't that from Mao's Little Red Book? At least it sounds like the tee shirt for a profoundly theoretical rent strike.

By the way, I'm pretty sure most of the bylines are allusions to lefty intellectual and political heroes. It's like the most boring episode of Lost ever.

It's not supposed to be funny . . . I think it's meant to remind people that all our current problems have solutions -- even if it's difficult to imagine getting there from here.

Emulating the wry, celebrity-mocking/worshipping humor of SPY is not everyone's idea of the pinnacle of satire. Being amusing and clever and Oh-I-hope-Tony-Hendra-digs-this is not the be-all and end-all of cultural commentary.

They printed a million freakin' copies of this thing; it must break their heart to know some of those copies made their way into the hands of media professionals who find it insufficiently ironic.

Then again, maybe media professionals weren't their audience. CAN WE EVER FORGIVE THEM?

it must break their heart to know some of those copies made their way into the hands of media professionals who find it insufficiently ironic.

But.. "the paper itself had been produced by a number of writers from various New York dailies, including a couple from the New York Times itself."

Talk about sufficiently ironic!

And I still contend that a fake NYT op-ed that is virtually identical to a real NYT op-ed that appeared months earlier is a waste of money and effort, regardless of how well it accomplishes its task of not being funny.

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