Wrestling with the Problem.Posted: July 10, 2008
Jesse Ventura is considering getting in the ring with Al Franken and Norm Coleman as a candidate in Minnesota’s U.S. Senate race.
Conventional wisdom is that this will hurt Franken, in that Ventura, like Franken, opposes the Iraq War and will siphon off some of the anti-war vote that might have gone into Franken’s tank.
I see it differently. I think Ventura in the race helps Franken’s chances.
There are two kinds of people in Minnesota, as elsewhere. Dumb people, and not-dumb people. Some of Franken’s opposition has come from the not-dumb who don’t like his politics, but a considerable portion has come from people who don’t get that his humorous writings over the years have been satirical.
Satire is criticism. It is often, going back to Jonathan Swift and his Modest Proposal, the most potent form of criticism, succeeding in directing people’s attention to social and political ills in need of correction far better than straightforward harangues have done. Its method has often been (again, going all the way back to Swift) to posit a point of view exactly opposite to the one held by the writer, in order to hold that position up to ridicule.
The problem Franken now faces is that a (classic) satirical tool he has often employed, and brilliantly, is to play the fool. People who have some ability to pick up on nuance have had no problem realizing that the sensibility that drove Franken’s satire (both on the printed page and in performance) was the opposite of the one on the foolish surface. He has portrayed a vain, blinkered narcissist in order to hold up for examination, and criticize, the narcissism in all of us. He has written as if he were a sexist pig in order to put us in touch with, and cause us to examine, our sexual attitudes (and to make us wonder whether limitless pornography, viewable by youngsters, is really a thing we ought to be tolerating). There is no doubt that there is narcissism and sexual-objectification in Franken; he has never said, “I am better than you.” He has said, “I am you. Let’s face it, we’re human. If we have a hope of making this world a better place, the first thing we have to do is admit who and what we are to have made the world the way it is.”
But a lot of people (apparently) just don’t get it. They’ve been swayed by Franken-haters that he sincerely supports the positions that he has held up to ridicule. They don’t realize that his core beliefs are the same as theirs. In short, they are dumb. Since they oppose Franken, they are a natural part of Norm Coleman’s constituency, absent a Jesse Ventura in the race. But since I think they are also exactly the kind of people who would vote for a professional wrestler, Coleman stands to lose more voters to Ventura than Franken does.
Ventura also presents Franken with a whole different opportunity. I have written that Franken would be much better off being funny in this race—being who he is—than hiding his wit under a bushel. Apologizing for his wit, which he has tried to do to win the dumb people back, obviously hasn’t worked—they still don’t like him. His wit is a powerful tool for point-making. Trying to win this Senate race without it will be like trying to wrestle with both hands tied behind his back. The eminently ridiculous Ventura provides him a juicy target for his humor.
Run, Jesse, run.