Is Wit the Same as Parody?

Political discourse has taken an ever greater presence in our social fabric. Of course, discussions of topics such as cultural taboos or controversial legislation have always happened at the dinner table, freely discussed among family, friends or coworkers. However, this century has seen the rise of a more socially aware generation, eager to join the restless political landscape of our society. The accomplishments of previous generations, such as the Civil Rights movement, have cast a shadow of cultural achievement that we are not only eager to escape, but replicate. 

Social media platforms have dominated the current cultural discourse. Accessible, convenient, and easy to digest, social media has become a primary means of nationwide communication, connecting individuals to political and cultural thought throughout this country. But despite the universal and accessible appeal of social media, there is also a significant limitation. 

The social media platform offers only a restrained form of political conversation. For example, it would be difficult for someone to express his full opinion on a legislative bill in a 140-word tweet, or deliver a cultural critique on the transformation of modern art in a single Facebook post. The social media platform was designed for quick dialogues and informal opinions, quickly digested and reposted for others to consume. As a result, one could easily argue that the restrictive aspects of social media limit its impact on our discourse. Today, our culture has remedied this concern by employing an age-old tactic: rhetorical wit. Unlike in centuries past, the modern use of wit has had the opposite effect. Contemporary wit in our culture has led to the cheapening and devaluation of rhetoric in our society.

Wit describes the clever use of words, ideas, and irony to formulate expressions in a creative and oftentimes humorous way.  Michelle O’Callaghan, an English professor at the University of Reading, states that the term held “more specific meaning in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries” within English society. Wit came from the socialite gatherings of urban areas in England, where conversational exchanges were often filled with economic, political, and cultural substance. These “tavern societies” were distinctly attached “to a milieu within early modern London that cultivated a fashionable, urbane reputation.” Against the background of cultural and political events in England, there arose a new social group concerned with public sociability and the direction of political culture. 

This rising social awareness led to a greater desire for individuals to form and express their own opinions on society. Thence rose political satire, where wit was key. Wit has been present in politics and literature since the classical era, but became more defined during England’s early modern period. William Shakespeare was an early notable employer of wit, which heavily influenced the popularity of his plays and prose. Shakespeare scholar Sasha Roberts points to wit as the most highly valued literary faculty of Shakespeare’s time. 

Shakespeare’s use of wit was particularly unique, sharpening his talent for crafting double or triple entendres. Shakespeare used this talent to employ wit as a satirical weapon, often taking aim at hypocrisy in aristocratic society. For example, the fates of Othello and Iago can highlight how suspicion and deceit ruin the honor of noble men. 

The nature of wit started to evolve after the seventeenth century, expanding on the use of double meaning. Wit’s appeal came from the ability to express so much using so few words. Rather than direct debate and solemn discourse, wit was a more pleasant, brief and subtle way of guiding an audience to see a different kind of meaning. Traditional rhetorical wit had substance, and held a fine balance between funny creativity and introspective meaning. Sadly, we seem to have lost this balance.

Strong opinions about Trump’s election flooded national discourse, whereas political grievances seemed to keep our political landscape underwater. Satirical rhetoric, especially on social media, exploded. In response to the national critique surrounding the use of the electoral college, one Twitter user said he “thought the electoral college was the extra classes you took during school.” 

Rhetorical wit must find a balance between creativity and meaning. The tweet, though creative, was insubstantial. Wit has the ability to wrap cleverness around a sincere truth. The purpose of humor in wit is to bring humor to a difficult truth, to make a harsher reality easily digestible to a reluctant audience. However, if that truth is insincere or false, then such a comment simply becomes a parody – the fool’s gold of rhetorical wit. The significance, effectiveness, and historical implications of the electoral college were severely undermined in this tweet, unaddressed and therefore leaving a false sense of meaning. The “witty” tweet held little substance because the meaning behind the comment was merely an exaggeration, primarily intended to broadcast the author’s frustration at the election results rather than highlight a truth about our electoral system. 

Parody tweets are innumerable, but true wit is in short supply. People only seem to care about the creative and humorous side of wit, but pay little regard to the substance. Rather than caring about sincere meanings or truths, our culture seems to value reactionary and provoking discourse. Wit has cheapened, weighed down by the growing demand for provocative cleverness over substantial meaning. 

Ultimately, in order for wit to be properly used in contemporary rhetoric, our cultural must find a balance between creativity and sincerity in our political discourse. In order for wit to be properly employed in our rhetoric, our culture’s tendency to value reactionary dialogue over substance must be discouraged.

Photo By Aaron Burden aaronburden – https://unsplash.com/photos/y02jEX_B0O0archive

Beto Significantly Sweatier, More Generic

Presidential hopeful Robert Francis O’Rourke, colloquially known as ‘Beto’, unveiled a new campaign strategy that he hopes will achieve greater sweatiness and vagueness.

“I say ‘real Americans’ a lot,” said the drenched O’Rourke. “And anytime somebody brings up a political issue, I just mention my son, Ulysses. Isn’t he cute?”

O’Rourke’s campaign personnel cited an experience from a recent town hall as an example for the success of their new strategy. When concerned local citizen Denise Johnson asked a question about taxes, O’Rourke wiped his forehead and started playing the electric guitar. “It’s about time we had an honest presidential candidate,” Johnson said appreciatively.

According to analyst Nathaniel Bronze, O’Rourke’s presidential bid is at least 67% sweatier and 71% more generic than his failed senate run. “We’re seeing the greatest sheer volume of sweat in a presidential candidate since we started taking record in the 1860s,” Bronze said. “It’s astonishing. They’re calling him ‘Sweaty Betty.’ And his genericness is really off the charts.”

The plan is not without its setbacks. According to campaign volunteer Seamus Cavanaugh,, O’Rourke’s sweat has led to certain technological problems. “He kept shorting out the microphones with his moisture, so we had to start waterproofing them,” Cavanaugh said. “At first we tried taping napkins around the handle, but he just soaked right through them. He’s remarkably sweaty–makes me remember why I got into politics.”

Kelly McAwley has a full-time internship placing ‘Wet Floor’ signs for O’Rourke’s campaign. “It was his idea to get the signs that say ‘Piso Mojado.’ He’s so inclusive,” McAwley beamed. “He really hooked me with his plan to make a better America for all Americans, in America. For Americans. I just hadn’t heard that before from another presidential candidate.”

Trump’s Second SOTU Bold but Well-Received

On Tuesday evening, President Donald Trump delivered his State of the Union address, a speech especially anticipated after the end of the longest government shutdown in history. Claims abound over whether Trump’s purpose was to re-energize his base or speak to those in the middle by pivoting his language, however, objective polling indicates that the speech was well received by most viewers.

The speech lasted nearly two hours and covered a multitude of issues at hand. The president began by speaking of the accomplishments of his administration, most notably having to do with the positive elements of the current economy. The recent tax cuts are considered a definitive accomplishment for the president and the Republican party. After claiming that the State of our Union is strong, President Trump made one of many strong calls for unity within the nation and the two parties.

“If there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation. It just doesn’t work that way!” said Trump.

A number of comments were made in an attempt to unify for a number of reasons–border security being one of them. A wall on the southern border has been one of the key components to the Trump presidency, and he attempted to rationalize the need for this in his speech, citing the violent and costly consequences of turning a blind eye to illegal immigration. The issue was framed as one of morality, and President Trump urged Congress to unite for the sake of American citizens.

While many of the issues discussed could be framed as controversial, President Trump didn’t refrain from discussing bipartisan success. Perhaps one of the most powerful moments of the evening was hearing the story of Alice Johnson, a woman sent to life in prison for a nonviolent drug crime. She was one of the many people who will benefit from groundbreaking bipartisan criminal justice reform spearheaded by the president. Alice was in attendance and appeared to be moved to tears. Trump noted that when Democrats and Republicans work together, they can make great strides for the country. He also applauded the large number of women in Congress and mentioned how women have benefitted from his administration’s economic policies.

“No one has benefitted more from our thriving economy than women, who have filled 58 percent of the new jobs created in the last year. All Americans can be proud that we have more women in the workforce than ever before — and exactly one century after the Congress passed the Constitutional amendment giving women the right to vote, we also have more women serving in the Congress than ever before,” Trump said.

Another impactful part of the evening was the call to boost spending to fight childhood cancer, sighting it as a cause that “all Americans can get behind.” This was the first time that childhood cancer was ever addressed in the State of the Union and undoubtedly convinced people of all political backgrounds. First Lady Melania Trump brought Grace Eline, a 10-year-old cancer survivor whose powerful story won the heart of the crowd.

While these topics may have appealed to more moderate voters and Democrats, President Trump didn’t shy away from more controversial issues such as abortion.

The abortion issue has found itself in the news spotlight in the past few weeks, given the recent March for Life in DC, controversial pro-choice comments from Virginia governor Ralph Northam, and arguably extreme laws in being passed in New York state that expand the right to terminate a pregnancy. Thus, many were anticipating the commentary of President Trump on this issue. Some of the most assertive words in his speech were abortion-related:

“To defend the dignity of every person, I am asking the Congress to pass legislation to prohibit the late-term abortion of children who can feel pain in the mother’s womb. Let us work together to build a culture that cherishes innocent life. And let us reaffirm a fundamental truth: all children — born and unborn — are made in the holy image of God,” Trump said.

These views made the president’s position clear and very likely inspired his Christian base. Having the Christian vote in 2016 proved to be helpful and he certainly wants to hold onto that by having an unwavering pro-life view.

While a number of other issues were discussed, the rhetoric of the speech concluded to be consistent with what we’ve seen from President Trump in the past few years. The continuing notion of putting “America first” permeated a multitude of his policies. While this was often seen as divisive, perhaps the unifying aspects of the speech will perpetuate unity in the years leading up to the next election.

Photo courtesy of the US Embassy and Consulate in Korea