Laugh to win: manipulative humor in presidential race

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Hillary trump meme

Have you ever thought why Donald Trump likes provocative jokes and statements? Or why he, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are meeting with Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Fallon and Jimmy Kimmel so often? If you think that the reason for that is just drawing public attention, then you need this article.

You are going to find out why humor is used in politics, what aims do politicians have and what are their specific technics of manipulative dodges.

Candidate’s role in the race is truly profitable. Being a potential president has a power to speak for the governmental structures. That makes a candidate an “important person”. But what’s more powerful – is that s/he plays a role of “one of us”. In this way, a candidate is a medium between people and government. It makes them available, s/he can be asked and demanded.

Take, for example, Hillary Clinton. Being a secretary of State and a candidate at the same time easily plays these two roles in the debates with other democrats. The same thing with her opponent Bernie Sanders, senator of Vermont, and so on.  

Now, here are 4 reasons why humor is used in presidential race in general.

The first one is probably the most obvious: humor awakes public’s interest to a specific candidate. In this way, we have people, who want to watch the debates at least for fun. They get attached to one of them, they get interested.

The second one lies in defensive function: it allows to criticize without receiving actions of low. It even appears in a light version like when Hillary Clinton nicely answered “no” to the question “Do you think Donald Trump knows who the prime Minister of Canada is?”

By the way, here is some interesting facts about Justin Trudeau, that you may not know:

The following reason is one of the most tough ones when a candidate torches the opponent. This Barack Obama’s joke was addressed to Trump, too:

“They say Donald lacks the foreign policy experience to be president. But in fairness he has spent years meeting with leaders from around the world: Miss Sweden, Miss Argentina, Miss Azerbaijan,” the president said to howls of laughter, referring to contestants on the Miss Universe pageant that Trump formerly co-owned.”

And the last point is connected with the first one, it states: humor rises attendance in elections. It comes from: “humor awakes public’s interest to a specific candidate”.

To conclude:

  1. Adds interest from public to a candidate
  2. Allows to criticize without receiving actions of low
  3. Effects negatively on the opponent’s campaign by provoking it
  4. Rises attendance on elections

As long, as these reasons are clear – let’s add to those another three goals, which a candidate tries to reach using humor. Let’s crack them!

  1. Russian’s researchers Grachev and Melnik came to conclusion that defensive reactions of a person abruptly come down with a help of the comic form, where critics and negative affection are helpless. Therefore, politicians try to clear up the strengths and weaknesses of the opponent.

It’s seen in this video, where Trump and Sen. Marco Rubio were put on the test each other.

  1. Prompt a possible solution for the conflict if needed.

This technic is a special one as it’s very hard to identify. Especially while the candidate’s debates on. The thing is that when the presidential race is on fire, a candidate is interested only in placing oneself in a good light. In this way they don’t want to “prompt a possible solution”, they try to place oneself as heroes.

  1. Next function is a universal one – use humor as a removal of stress. After such a joke everyone laughs, experiencing catharsis. It’s like they’re refined and ready for new information. They even look at it differently after a good laugh.

Here comes 2 examples:

  1. When Sen. Marco Rubio on one of the republican’s debates made a yoga-joke
  2. “Sen. Bernie Sanders declared that as president, he would invest more money into mental health. “And when you watch these Republican debates,” he added, “you know why we need to invest in mental health.”

A little summing-up

Why politician use humor against an opponent?

  1. To find his strengths and weaknesses,
  2. To prompt a possible solution for the conflict if needed,
  3. To allay tension

In the end, let me introduce you 3 techniques of political humor by V.V. Rasuvaev

  1. False force
  2. Absurd
  3. Irony

The most understandable example of applying all of them at once was a Mark Twain’s quote. You agree with the opponent in the first place and then lead it to absurd:

“Giving up smoking is the easiest thing in the world. I know because I’ve done it thousands of times.”

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Berezhnaya Anna
Berezhnaya Anna is a student of journalism at the Higher School of Economics, National Research University, Moscow.