Political Humor and Parodies

by Scott Culpepper

Dordt College

Political humor and satire rose to new prominence during the 2004 presidential campaign season. From television stalwarts like Saturday Night Live, to feature-length films focusing on international intrigue to digital shorts that lampooned the candidates, creative satirists highlighted the lighter side of the issues and the candidates. Both new players and past favorites injected a dose of humor into the politics of 2004. Both campaigns obliged by giving them plenty of material with which to work.

The California digital studio Jib Jab created a new presence in the ranks of political humorists in 2004. The company was founded in 1999 by Greg and Evan Spiridellis. They produce digital shorts, interactive digital greeting cards, and videos that allow customers to place their personal images into humorous scenes. Jib Jab first lampooned the presidential race with the release of the digital short “This Land is Your Land.”1 The parody featured George W. Bush and John Kerry singing a parody version of “This Land is Your Land” which emphasized campaign issues and crucial differences between the two candidates. The Bush impersonator referred to Kerry as a “liberal wiener” while Kerry’s avatar labeled Bush “a right wing nut job.” Running gags in the song included shots at Bush’s intelligence, Kerry’s incessant boasts about winning three purple hearts, and reinforcement of the image of Bush as a reckless warmonger riding a missile through the sky like Dr. Strangelove’s Major T. J. “King Kong.”2 Kerry got his own pop culture reference when Bush compared him to “a Herman Munster.” This comment was a reference to Kerry’s physical appearance and to rumors that Kerry had used cosmetic techniques such as botox to maintain a youthful appearance.3 Never ones to languish in obsessive subtlety, the Spiridellis brothers later mentioned the alleged botox treatments specifically.4

One good laugh deserved another. In October 2004, Jib Jab released “Good to Be in D. C.,” another parody featuring Bush and Kerry; this time singing to the tune of “Dixie.”5   Once again, everyone and everything connected with the campaign or America politics was fair game. From the sometimes awkward public displays of affection between John Kerry and his Vice-Presidential running mate, John Edwards, to the Bush campaign’s dependence on financial contributions from the Haliburton Corporation, Jib Jab scored comic hits once again. Some of the supporting characters were as amusing as the parodies of the candidates themselves. Bill Clinton made a cameo appearance in both this clip and “This Land.” Both times he is sharing the screen with beautiful women, nurses following his heart attack in “Good to be in D. C,” when Hillary Clinton comes onscreen to give him a firm slap in the face. Both times Clinton responds with his most innocent, “What did I do?”6 Liberal activist filmmaker Michael Moore and conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh proclaim that some guys take sides just before Senator John McCain (R-AZ) proclaims, “I go both ways in D. C.!”7

Another animated commentary on the Bush era and the political tensions of the campaign was released on October 15, 2004. Team America: World Police came from the mischievous minds behind the South Park television series, Matt Stone and Trey Parker.8 Team America was a feature-length satirical commentary on the difficult issues surrounding America’s role on the international stage in a post 9-11 world. The premise of the film concerned an American task force charged with stopping terrorist plots and maintaining global peace. They operate from a base located inside Mount Rushmore. The team recruits a Broadway actor, Gary Johnston, to help them infiltrate a terrorist plot that is ultimately revealed to be the brain child of North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-Il. Stone and Parker spared no one or either side of the left-right political spectrum. Team America engages in the task of protecting the world in a clumsy manner guaranteed to cause the most collateral damage possible. The viewer sees this carelessness from the beginning as the team destroys a large section of the historic district of Paris, including the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre, to secure a handful of terrorists with a WMD (Weapon of Mass Destruction). They not only face the wrath of Kim Jong-Il, but also domestic opposition from the Film Actors Guild (F.A.G.) headed by Actor Alex Baldwin. The membership of F.A.G. is a veritable Who’s Who of activist A-list Hollywood actors. In addition to Baldwin, Susan Sarandon, Helen Hunt, Sean Penn, Matt Damon, Janeane Garofalo, and Tim Robbins belong to the actors’ guild.  The actors eventually become deadly assistants to Kim Jong-Il. The team dispatches the actors in an orgy of gratuitous violence that was primed to delight every conservative frustrated with Hollywood criticisms.9

Just four days after the release of Team America, director and producer David Zucker of “Airplane” and “The Naked Gun” fame produced a humorous commercial skewering Kerry for his alleged “Flip-Flops.”10 The announcer on the video assures viewers that it is okay to make a decision and then change one’s mind, but doing so chronically can be disastrous. The image of a groom passing his bride to place the penultimate kiss on the lips of her maid of honor instead underscored Kerry’s lack of commitment. Over the image of an indecisive explosives expert waffling over which wire to cut, the narrator intoned, “Now there’s nothing wrong with a little indecision as long as your job doesn’t involve any responsibility.”

The 2004 campaign was a fruitful source for comic relief. Creative personalities from across the political spectrum attempted to bring relief to a public confronted with very real and sometimes frightening issues. They also often sought to demonstrate the fallacies in opposing viewpoints by subjecting their adversaries to comedic parody. Through the use of humor, brilliant satirists subverted mental defenses to gain a hearing for their own perspectives.Their work continues to entertain and provoke reflection.

1 Greg and Evan Spiridellis, “This Land is Your Land,” Jib Jab, July, 9, 2004, http://www.jibjab.com/originals/this_land, (Accessed May 21, 2004).

2 Ibid.

3 Ibid, 1:01-1:05.

4 Ibid, 0:28-0:31; 1:34-1:38.

5 Greg and Evan Spiridellis, “Good to Be in D. C.” Jib Jab, October 8, 2004, http://www.jibjab.com/originals/good_to_be_in_dc, (Accessed May 21, 2014).

6 Ibid, 1:05-1:10.

7 Ibid, 1:10-1:15.

8 Trey Parker and Matt Stone, Team America: World Police, Paramount Pictures, October 15, 2004.

9 Ibid.

10 David Zucker, “John Kerry Flip Flop Ad,” October, 19, 2004, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oThH-MNCsYw, (Accessed May 21, 2014).