Courtesy of Creative Commons

February 7, 2024

O.J. Simpson, the Iraq War and the Day Satire Died

Print More

Henry Kissinger died and thus a spotlight shone on imperialist absurdity. A Tom Lehrer quote has re-emerged in the American zeitgeist: “Political satire became obsolete when Henry Kissinger was awarded the Nobel peace prize.” Indeed, it is no secret that Kissinger killed millions. It is also no secret that O.J. Simpson very likely killed his wife. Yet, Simpson jests in a recent viral TikTok that he is a “slayer of the women.” In this way, Simpson reclaims the narrative — such blatant irony could only come from a subject wholly unaffected by his guilt. Any further condemnation of his moral corruption is futile; the comment section is only full of jokes because what is there to gain from saying, “Hey! You’re a murderer!” at that point? 

I am reminded of that Black Mirror episode, “The Waldo Moment.” A struggling actor Jamie plays a cartoon character named Waldo, who stumbles into popularity by humiliating a conservative politician. The character accrues political clout and runs for office as a populist outsider. Waldo’s significance outgrows Jamie’s control and becomes a figure of political unrest. Being a cartoon grants him immunity from serious criticism; when that conservative opponent points out the fact that he is a joke, not a genuine candidate, it only provokes the public into a greater, violent mistrust of career politics.

An unserious candidate has become the most imponent. To be satirical is to be poignant, discerning. This is the politics of Donald Trump. His significance, like Waldo’s, transcends his personal agency. He is a joke to the media, to career politics, and thus he is immensely popular with disillusioned voters against those candidates that lack self-awareness (i.e. Hillary Clinton). This means that Trump cannot afford to act in any rational, traditional fashion — he must play into the part, making unsavory jokes and disturbing the status quo. Otherwise, he loses his political claim, his outsider appeal that relates him to alienated voters.  You will occasionally find other outsider wannabes, like Andrew Yang; but the moment that Yang unwittingly became the butt of the joke, his campaign devolved to irrelevancy. 

What do we make of George Bush’s redemption? He has resigned to a tranquil life of painting and fundraising, we think. But let’s recall when he mistakenly condemned “the decision of one man to launch a wholly unjustified and brutal invasion of Iraq.” Of course, he meant Ukraine, but was able to quickly recover to a roar of laughter: “Iraq too.” Bush is responsible for a brutal Iraq war that took hundreds of thousands of lives. Yet we allow him to participate in the joke. He compels us to laugh with him, not at him. 

Theodor Adorno had already discovered the death of satire after the Second World War. He wrote, “Irony used to say: such it claims to be, but such it is; today, however, the world, even in its most radical lie, falls back on the argument that things are like this, a simple finding which coincides, for it, with the good.” The capitalist’s cultural hegemony preserves simple truths that adhere to his universalized ideology. You cannot make ironic comparisons between reality and what actually is. You cannot joke that O.J. Simpson is a murderous lunatic if he beats you to the punch. You cannot joke that the capitalist is willing to sacrifice thousands of Iraqi lives for his cause if the capitalist jokes the same. 

That leaves the Left in a precarious position. Jakob Norberg cites Marxist critic Georg Lukács here: “The politically oriented satirist, he claims, discerns the unsustainable character of society with perfect clarity and detects its corruption through the medium of a hatred that nobody and nothing can mitigate.” Satire is a critical tool for demonstration. Maybe that’s why leftists are so notoriously unfunny — we have been robbed of our jokes. 

It might be fitting to leave you with another heinous TikTok: Martin Skhreli, convicted not for gouging the price of a life-saving medication by 55 times but rather securities fraud, jokes that he can’t come over to a woman’s place because he is on house arrest. Society’s greatest shitbags seem to have found their escape in satire — a tool once necessary for the liberation of oppressed peoples, transformed to maintain cultural dominance. Some will tell you that satire died when Kissinger was awarded for his “peace efforts.” We know that it died long before then. 

Eric Han is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected].