For such a small state, Rhode Island has a plethora of parody political accounts on Twitter. There’s Fake Anthony Gemma, Fake Brendan Doherty, Fake Gina Raimondo, Fake Ted Nesi, Fake RI GOP, Fake Angel Taveras, Fake Lincoln Chafee, and Rep. Scott Guthrie’s mustache. And those are the ones I could find in two minutes. Thankfully, a great many are defunct, or inactive, especially since their respective actuals have been ushered from spotlight or the account owner grew tired of maintaining the damn thing.
Satire is one of the Internet’s most popular forms of comedy, partly thanks to the Onion, which has hit its stride in recent years. And its popular for political purposes, because its an easy way to make your opponents seem ridiculous to your supporters. It’s a simple way to appeal to an audience you know.
However, most of the parody Twitter accounts I’m seeing aren’t very good. Take the three for the three possible contenders for Democratic nominee for governor. They’re all pretty much there to insult each respective candidates. I’m pretty sure they were set up by the same person; someone who’s confused “being an asshat” for “wit.”
See, satire isn’t effective if it’s simply putting the words of an idiot and jerk in someone’s mouth and then slapping the word “fake” in front of it to shield you from a response. Great political satire works by building a persona that’s based around exaggerated aspects of a person; to the point of absurdism. Saturday Night Live has been doing this well for ages, whether it’s Chevy Chase’s bumbling Gerald Ford, Will Ferrell’s dimwitted George W. Bush, or Fred Armisen/Dwayne Johnson’s Barack Obama. Another example is the Onion’s take on Joe Biden as a Trans-Am driving ladies’ man.
Good satire doesn’t even have to use a real person. Dr. Strangelove utilizes characters like Gen. Jack Ripper and the titular doctor to lambast recognizable figures within the U.S. defense establishment. If those characters had been named Curtis LeMay and Werner von Braun, would the film have been as good? Not likely.
If you’re looking for an example of Twitter parody done right, the one that ran alongside Rahm Emanuel’s campaign for mayor was well done; it featured an over-the-top foul-mouthed Emanuel in a world populated by odd characters and an absurdist story arc that ended with him being sucked into a time vortex.
For something a bit closer to home, I personally recommend @GuthriesStache, the one based around Rep. Guthrie’s mustache. While not incredibly active, it’s a good-natured account that mainly keeps updates on where Guthrie’s (glorious) mustache is and what it’s doing, the state of other political facial hair, and revels in its own existence without attempting to insult the representative. What’s more absurd than a mustache with a Twitter account?
Political comedy can be good a release for people, allowing them to vent the anger they might otherwise feel when the government does something they don’t agree with. But that venting can be an issue as well; people nod sagely that a policy is stupid, but do nothing to resist it. For all the satire of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, they’ve helped make precious little change in America.
They remind me of a politician in pre-revolutionary Mexico, who perennially challenged Mexico’s dictator Porfirio Díaz. Nicolás Zúñiga y Miranda was an eccentric who belongs to a sort of Mexican clown tradition, after every election (which he lost handily), he proclaimed voter fraud and declared himself president. After locking him up the first time, the Díaz regime eventually realized he was harmless and ignored him. Voting for Zúñiga became a great way for Mexicans to defy the regime without risking their lives. Zúñiga’s value instead was in getting Díaz’s and his successors to fail to recognize serious political challenges until they arrived in the form of Francisco Madero and the eventual Mexican Revolution.