Sunday, October 28, 2007

Giuliani, Colbert, and Archie Bunker

The other day Steve M. puzzled over a poll suggesting that in a three-way matchup, Stephen Colbert would take away more votes from Giuliani than from Clinton--his puzzlement summed up in the post title ("EITHER THEY THINK GIULIANI'S WHOLE ACT IS A JOKE OR THEY THINK COLBERT'S ISN'T"). And yeah, given that Colbert's whole schtick is a reductio ad absurdem skewering of conservatives and conservatism, you do have to wonder what kind of voter would go for Giuliani or Colbert.

My initial response was that it probably wasn't about Colbert:

I have a feeling you could run a bowl of lime Jell-O as a third-party candidate and it would get upwards of 5%, coming disproportionately from Republicans....Polling three-ways at this stage of the game tells us much less about the appeal of the third candidate than it does about the level of disaffection with the other two (which in this case looks like it's higher among Republicans).
And I still think this is mostly right...but I think there's a secondary phenomenon at work here. Short version: I blame Archie Bunker.

Archie Bunker was, of course, the not-so-bright conservative foil for Norman Lear's liberal zingers on All in the Family. What I've come to understand since then is that Archie Bunker became immensely popular...among conservatives. It wasn't that they didn't understand that he was the butt of all the jokes; they understood, and they didn't care. They liked Archie Bunker because he said things they weren't 'allowed' to say. They took a fictitious character created to mock them and made him their own.

Which, I think, is happening (to a lesser degree) with Colbert. There are a fair number of conservatives who get that his act is a joke and that the joke is supposed to be on them, and they embrace him anyway--because they like his attitude.

The problem, I think (since I'm already working in vast and insupportable generalizations) is that conservatives are simply less likely to consider the possibility that they're wrong. Because they're so convinced of the fundamental rightness of their beliefs, even recognizably absurd or stupid expressions of those beliefs are appealing to them.

It's deeply frustrating, of course. Write this in stone: mockery of conservatives will never be effective beyond people who aren't predisposed to think them mockable in the first place.

It can still be lots of fun, though.