Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The Proper Use of Mockery

Jimmie Fallon has done it again, and not, I'm afraid, in a good way.

Fallon has now twice included a Betsy DeVos sketch. His show's version of DeVos is bumbling and clueless, the kind of hapless twit who says, in response to questions about her fitness for the job, replies "I am totally got this."

As regular readers of this blog are well aware, I am not above or beyond mockery of certain subjects (I still kind of miss Arne Duncan). I believe that some well-aimed mockery, some pointed satire, can be just the thing for dealing with difficult individuals, offices, or policies.

But mockery, improperly done, can be dangerous.The dangers are twofold.

First, mockery of little piddly things can take our eyes off the ball. the big, ugly, spikey, dangerous ball that we're not paying attention because we're making fun of someone for tying her shoes badly.

The Trump regime has provided more than ample examples. Quick-- name all the bad policies that came closer to fruition while we were making fun of the Trumpinator's insistence that his crowd was the biggest of them all.

Mind you, little things can matter. I've burned up a lot of internet on little things, because little things are often the key details that tell you what someone really thinks, what they really see, what they're really up to. I have parsed the living daylights out of single sentences because words matter and the ones that people choose matter. But attention to detail is only useful when it helps us see the big picture-- not when it takes our mind off the big picture. For instance, did the fumbling of historic/historical tell us anything important about DeVos (or one of her aides)? I don't think so, nor do I think it was mistake that revealed some unusual confusion; it's a mistake that lots of folks make.

The repeated mistakes with spelling and usage constitute a pattern, showing a carelessness about details or exactitude that is not encouraging. But I'd rather pay close attention to what she has in mind for education policy in this country.

Second, and more importantly, misplaced mockery can make the dangerous seem safe.

This is my complaint about the Fallon DeVos-- she's so hilariously incompetent, unable to form sentences or express an intelligent thought, stupid about the ways of math and words. This mockery can be anchored in her fumbled tweets and her lackluster hearing appearance, but it puts a soft fuzzy gloss on the damage she did to Michigan.

Melissa McCarthy's Sean Spicer is a good piece of mockery because, like the Baldwin version of Trump, it bares the ridiculous qualities of its target without ignoring the aggressive, sharp edges. Baldwin's Trump and McCarthy's Spicer are fools, but they are not harmless.

Fallon's DeVos, and SNL's too, though to a lesser extent, is silly and ignorant, but none of her real power for harm makes it into the portrayal. There's no hint of the billionaire heiress who has run roughshod over the Michigan GOP, who has made elected officials fold out of fear of her opposition, who has taken the position that the public schools of Detroit should just be closed (Damn the poor black kids, full steam ahead).

And really-- we already know better. Fallon and SNL both gave Trump airtime in which he could be presented as a clown, but a harmless one. Pre-election night mockery of Trump focused almost exclusively on his most ridiculous qualities in a message that was one part "Isn't he silly" and one part "There's nothing to fear here." Fallon's patting of Trump's famous hair is like a policeman going before a group of school children to stick his head in a stuffed bear's mouth and say, "See how funny this is? I bet you could do the same thing with a real one."

So as much as I love some mockery, I can't really get excited about or amused by mockery that ignores the real claws and teeth of the bear. Sure, DeVos has earned some mockery from defenders of public education, but it really serves her purposes to be portrayed as a bumbling dope who is so clueless she must be harmless. She is not harmless, and seeing that message put out there is not harmless, either.


  1. Thank you, this is a wonderful analysis. She isn't stupid, so portraying her that way isn't funny.

  2. You are absolutely correct! Thank you. I hope they start to show her for the wolf in sheep's clothing that she truly is. Although she is right about the grizzly bears....except that parents are the bears she really has to worry about. The furry variety choose to stay in the wilderness where they belong (for the most part).

  3. DeVos has beaten the odds and got nominated even after she proved to the nation she is unfit for the job - not even knowing or understanding IDEA and growth vs. proficiency is horrifying. But then again - DeVos is just the face of the USDOE - she is the puppet for Jeb Bush. Bush has been pulling the strings for education for many, many years and has now sold his harmful, digusting policies across the US. The CCSSO and NGA look at Bush like he is an "education god" and do whatever his foundation tells them to do. Time to drain the swamp in FL.