Humor in Arizona Politics: A Historical Perspective
Arizona, POLITICS, AND HUMOR By Alleen Pace Nilsen And Don L. F. Nilsen 1 We wont define Arizona because you can just look around you. But politics is a more complicated word. It is cognate with such terms as: POLICE
POLITE POLICY METROPOLITAN and even MINNEAPOLIS. It goes back to the 1500s in Latin, Greek, and French, and was soon borrowed into English. Its usage grew along with the growth of cities and the need for groups of people to figure out how to get along with each other. 2 Humor is even more complicated because what brings pleasure to one
person may either irritate, bore, or offend someone else. Common characteristics include: SURPRISE and INCONGRUITY resolution, EXAGGERATION in words and pictures, The unexpected RECYCLING of old symbols, Clever expressions of SUPERIORITY, NOSTALGIA, as in Tragedy + Time = Humor, and IN-BONDING vs. OUT-BONDING 3
In the recent Super Bowl game, spectators both laughed and gasped at the surprise of Jermaine Kearses Amazing Catch. 4 The half-time show was also full of surprises and incongruities. 5
The biggest surprise of all came in the closing seconds. People are still laughing about how the Seahawks decided to pass rather than run from the one-yard line. The pass was intercepted by rookie Malcolm Butler. On his Monday night TV show, Jimmy Kimmel remarked that Coach Pete Carrolls decision Was the worst decision to come out of Arizona since John McCain chose Sarah Palin for his running mate. 6
There were many different kinds of surprises in the Super Bowl Commercials. The Mercedes Benz commercial did a re-telling of the old story of the race between the hare and the tortoise. In this one, the tortoise, of course, started out slow, but then he got a Mercedes Benz and of course won the race. 7
This commercial showed how much people like to recycle well-known symbols. 8 For example, the Wizard of Oz has provided
cartoonists with unlimited possibilities. 9 Rosie the Riveter A restaurant in Scottsdale proudly displays this poster from World War II. Weve seen
women smile as they notice it. 10 In 1966, President Lyndon Johnson surprised a press conference by showing reporters his scar from gall bladder surgery.
Cartoonist David Levine drew the scar in the shape of Vietnam as a subtle way to say that President Johnsons lasting scar would be the Vietnam war. 11 These visual comparisons amused not only
Arizonans but everyone. 12 The humor comes from how quickly our minds spot the similarities 13 14
15 Frontier Exaggeration is part of our Arizona heritage : 16 SOME ACTUAL FACTS ARE STRANGER THAN FICTION. FACT Phoenixs first paved road
was made from upside-down beer bottles set in sand. In 1857-58, a hump-dinger idea, brought camels to haul freight across Arizona deserts. In 1857, stagecoach passengers on The Jackass Mail had to get off and ride mules for part of the wayand sometimes even push the coach.
FICTION Cowboy Pecos Bill and Slue-Foot Sue are Southwest folk heroes. Mark Twain described our Dry Heat as a constant 120 degrees in the shade except when it varies and goes higher. Kit Carson testified in Congress that parts of Arizona are so dry that even a wolf cant survive.
17 Once a place or a person gets a reputation, journalists work hard to build on it. 18 Grumpy Cat (John Boehner) is Arizonas contribution to this photo-shopped image. 19
These examples of Arizona history are now viewed nostalgicallyalmost as humor. In 1886, one-fifth of the entire U. S. Army was in Arizona Territory rounding up Geronimo and his Apache fighters. Today, Geronimos name is recognized around the world as a cry of bravery. The mayor of Jerome sadly observed that his town was A City on the MoveBut Always Downhill. People in Tucson claim their citizens are basically smarter because they chose to come to Tucson, while people in the Phoenix Valley were on their
way to California, but when their cars broke down, they had to stay. 20 Frontier life forced creativity as shown in stories we collected from Arizona teachers in 1985. 21 THE TEACHERS HAD TO BE CREATIVE Ann Nolan Clark and Three Little Sheeps.
Their school houses were unusual, e.g. the jail in Yuma and the slanted auditorium in St. Johns. Joel Benedict and his outdoor movies run from his cars generator. Four years for the price of two in Mayer. 22 People on their way to California gave named such places as Booze Crossing, Hookers Hot Springs, Skull Valley, Boneyard, and Del Muerto. In contrast, settlers chose such place names as Paradise Valley, Carefree, Phoenix, Sun City, and Inspiration.
23 Arizonas first humor paper (1917) was a mimeographed freebie given to travelers. 24 Hall used self-deprecating humor, increasing competition between Arizona and California. For example, he told about a girl who ran out of
money so she traded her wig for gas because she would rather be bald in California than have enough hair to stuff a mattress in Arizona. He also explained that our rivers were just like anybody elses except they were upside downsand on the top, water underneathprobably to keep from getting sunburned. 25 Minor hostilities were often expressed through barbs, so barbed wire is both a real and a joking
kind of western protection. 26 AN EXAMPLE OF TWO CURRENT BARBS WITH HISTORICAL ROOTS: One of our students worked in a tourist shop and when the employees were discussing how they should dress for Halloween, a man jokingly suggested to a Native American woman that she could stick a feather in her hair and come as an Indian.
She retorted: And you could stick a feather in your ass and come as a turkey! Such playfulness was acceptable because everyone knew they were friends; it would have been very uncomfortable if people thought the hostility was real. 27 Nevertheless, we often use group identification for humor as in this sign grouping Senators with Nascar drivers.
28 A sign posted outside the ASU Honors College was meant to encourage students to join fraternities. However, our smart students rejected the
idea by pointing out that they wouldnt want to be part of something with only an 18% approval rating. 29 Even before statehood, arizonas women played a role. In 1907, the U. S. Senate was going to admit New Mexico (with Arizona included) as one state.
Sharlot Hall, an educated young woman from Prescott, protested with an eight-stanza poem published in the Arizona Republic and delivered to every member of Congress. She also wrote a 64-page article, published in Out West, explaining why Arizona deserved to be its own state. Not everyone approved of such a politically involved, unmarried woman. A newspaper in Agua Fria referred to her as Miss Harlot Shawl, and then blamed it on a typo. 30 In honor of her help in the campaign to keep Arizona a
separate state, she was asked to be Arizonas representative at President Clevelands inauguration. She was also appointed our first State Historian. 31 Carl Hayden, born in 1877 at Haydens Ferry (see the painting which used to hang in Montis Tempe restaurant) spent 56 consecutive years representing Arizona in Congress.
He was known as the Silent Senator, but he had a wry sense of humor. Before being elected to Congress, Hayden served as Maricopa County Sheriff, and used his gun only once. 32
Hayden Knew When to Keep Still He has told about his experience as Sheriff, when he had a run-in with a local Indian Chief who had four wives. One of Haydens favorite stories was about an old Chief who came to see him in Washington, and as he was leaving, warned Be careful about your immigration policies. We werent! When campaigning, Hayden never mentioned a competitors name. However, in 1912 he used California newspaper headlines complaining about his dirty tricks re. the California/Arizona fight over Colorado River water to make his campaign posters.
33 Four Students from Carl Hayden Community High School 34 Barry Goldwater was Arizonas Senator from 1953-65 and again in 1969-87 Goldwater was never as funny as was his contemporary, Morris
Udall, but he had a dignified way of telling stories, e.g. the one about his brother at an eastern golf club. Goldwater and Udall cooperated on a joke saying that Only in Arizona have mothers stopped telling their sons that they can grow up to be president. In 2008, Governor Napolitano extended the joke by saying, Barry Goldwater ran for president and lost, Morris Udall ran for president and lost, now John McCain is running for president and I hope he keeps this great Arizona tradition going.
35 Prize-Winning Cartoonist Reg Manning was nationally syndicated between 1948-71 Manning worked for the AZ. Republic FROM 1926 until 1986. He treated both local and national political issues. He signed his drawings
with a stubby, smiling cactus next to his name. His most famous character was Uno Who, representing each one of us. He helped bring Arizona onto the national stage. 36 In his 1988 Too Funny To be President, Udall defended
humor as necessary to the health of our political discourse and our private lives because it: Leavens the public dialogue. Invigorates the body politic. Uplifts the national spirit. Works as a bridge in
bringing a diverse society closer together. Helps individuals roll with the punches. Is an antidote to selfimportance. 37 Erma Bombeck (who moved to Arizona in the early 1970s) wrote the preface to Udalls book Too Funny to Be President.
She complained about the night she had to follow Udall and Goldwater when speaking at a banquet. . I told myself that night that politicians had access to all the funny material: failing economy, nuclear waste dumps, vanishing natural resources . . . . My God, if you couldnt get a laugh out of all that, you werent even trying. . . . I even rationalized that the audience was just being respectful to two politicians with handicaps: A congressman with one eye and a senator with one point of view.
38 Such nationally known figures as Morris Udall, Reg Manning, and Erma Bombeck gave the world a positive view of Arizona and its political humor, but then in the 1980s, the mood changed when the world joined Arizonans in ridiculing our newly elected Governor, Evan Mecham. (See the printed examples.) 39 Contributing Factors to the Mecham Jokes
1. Mecham was elected in a three-way split so he did not get a majority of the vote. 2. Political Correctness had just become fashionable and people were relieved to have an acceptable targeta rich, white manfor their jokes. 3. Arizona has a law that elected officials cant be impeached until six months have passed. 40
The MICH Theory of Humor Moderate Intergroup Conflict Humor The idea of this theory is that people feel inspired to make jokes only when they feel tension. However if the tension is really high, people would rather fight than joke. Also, it doesnt take long for listeners to recognize hate speech even if it is disguised as a clever riddle or a pun.
41 A change today is that more women are getting into politics and they tend to be more gentle as with Laurie Roberts campaign to De-Kook the capitol. In the 1980s, feminists developed the concept of Humane Humor Rules. One is that you dont make fun of things that people cannot change.
Another is that you build on peoples successes rather than their failures. 42 Additional Humane Humor Rules 1. Some scholars praise humor as a great social corrective. But its best to target yourself and your own ethnic group or gender because this is where you have some power to bring about change.
2. Never target someone who is already a victim. 3. Also, its good to target a strength so that it empowers rather than humiliates whoever you are joking about. 4. And if you are going to joke about a tragedy, be sure there is spatial, temporal, and psychological distance so that you are not sending up a red flag message. 43 As shown by this quilt-covered military tank, women are also creating a different kind of humor called yarn bombing.
44 Here is a local example of yarn bombing from April of 2012. A womens knitting group created homemade uteruses and sent one to each GOP lawmaker with a message to the effect that Here is a uterus for you to play with. Now
keep your hands off mine. 45 In conclusion, here is the Valley of the Suns most famous icon: 46
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