The underappreciated power of ridicule |

The underappreciated power of ridicule

Kirk Caraway
Internet Editor

“During his speech at Columbia University, [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad said his country ‘doesn’t have problems with gay people because they don’t have homosexuals in Iran.’ Which finally explains why Ahmadinejad gets away with wearing a windbreaker from 1983.” – Conan O’Brien

Those in attendance for Ahmadinejad’s speech couldn’t help roaring in laughter at the ridiculous statement that his country has no homosexuals, and the bombastic leader from Iran has become the butt of jokes the world over. No gay people in Iran? Right. Hey, the anti-gay Republican Party can’t even keep their closeted-gay elected ranks from chasing teenage boys and hanging out in airport men’s rooms.

All the tough talk about how Ahmadinejad is the next Hitler didn’t have near the effect that being ridiculed for his buffoonery did. Makes you wonder why we didn’t just crack jokes about his visit the whole time.

Think about how ridicule has changed this country’s politics. Picture Gerald Ford falling down the stairs, or Michael Dukakis riding in a tank. Think about Howard Dean’s infamous scream. All became prime material for comedians, and all lost their next elections.

As the jokes about President George W. Bush become more numerous and pointed, his poll numbers keep dropping. His critics have tried beating him on the issues since Day One, but it wasn’t until his foibles became so obvious and ridicule-worthy that his popularity diminished.

Demonizing enemies is an ancient practice that perhaps we should update to something more suitable for this century. It’s great for starting wars and all, but it can be argued that it doesn’t really help the situation.

Ahmadinejad’s power comes from his demonization by the west, and particularly by the U.S. The more we criticize him and rattle the sabers of war, the stronger he gets.

But laugh at him and the Iranian people start figuring out what a moron they have for a president.

So many of America’s opponents in the world are pumped up by the harsh words from the White House. Fidel Castro is a two-bit dictator of a third-world country, yet our attempts to portray him as a monster have given him far more standing in the world than he ever deserved. He would have been gone long ago if we had made him the butt of jokes instead of the great pariah of the Western Hemisphere.

Wouldn’t it have been better to just make fun of him, to treat him as insignificant as he really is?

Leaders like Kim Jong-Il, Hugo Chavez, even Osama Bin Laden thrive on our demonization. It makes them look more important than they really are. When President Bush starts talking about what an evil threat Osama is, it’s like a recruiting commercial for al-Qaida.

Instead of building up our enemies, shouldn’t we be cutting them down, at least in the comedic sense?

How do you deal with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il? Tell him you can’t take anyone seriously who has such a bad haircut, then send him some coupons for Supercuts.

Want to get Ahmadinejad’s goat? Invite him to dinner with a bunch of drag queens. But don’t tell him they are drag queens. Make sure to take plenty of photos.

Osama? Promise to send him a lifetime supply of Just for Men hair color, if he’ll tell you where to deliver it.

We might find that laughter works better than bullets.

I keep hearing about an effort to create a Department of Peace as a way to end wars. I think a Department of Comedic Intervention might be more effective. Get Jon Stewart to run it.

And the next time the president addresses the United Nations, have him take Jay Leno along to get in some good shots while they have everyone in the same room.

And most of all, we need to try to put these antagonists in perspective. We don’t have to treat every big-talking dictator like he’s the next Hitler. It just inflates their egos. Stop giving them what they want, and instead give them some laughs, at their expense.

• Kirk Caraway is editor of and also writes a blog on national issues at