Colin Kaepernick, Gonzo The Great, and Things Trump Voters Find Funny. Apparently. Somehow.
Colin Kaepernick became a household name this year when he staged a one-man protest against police brutality and racism by refusing to stand up for the National Anthem. Soon, other players joined him in taking a knee— not just his teammates on the San Fransisco 49ers, but players across the NFL. As protests go, it was fairly low-key . No property was damaged, no traffic was held up, and the game started on time. It was a series of small gestures that just sort of… happened. Thing is, it was incredibly powerful and effective.
Or, at least, it would have been powerful and effective, if only the people who needed to hear Kaepernick’s message were actually listening. Alas, they had already made up their stubborn little minds and decided that, if people were kneeling during “The Star Spangled Banner,” it must mean that those people hated America, the troops, Jesus, and so on. Kaepernick happened to be calling attention to the many (usually unarmed) black men shot and killed by the police in recent years, but that somehow failed to register with Trump voters, who were appalled that Kaepernick could possibly disrespect our brave men and women in uniform who had fought and died for his freedom. (Presumably, this would include his “freedom” to protest, though this seems to have failed to register as well.)
Regardless, GQ Magazine named Kaepernick 2017’s Citizen Of The Year. Now, from where I’m standing, it’s a fine choice: he’s a brave, outspoken guy who used his privilege and platform to call attention to a systemic problem, inspired others to do the same, and gives a lot of money to charities that help underprivileged kids.
This, of course, made the Trumpies even more angry, because if there’s one thing they hate, it’s… well, it’s Mexicans. But if there’s two things they hate… ok, it’s Mexicans and feminists. But if there’s three things they hate… it’s Mexicans, feminists, and… when reality interferes with their cozily black-and-white perception of the world reinforced every morning by Fox and Friends… Ok, four things…
Point is, they hate a lot of things. And somewhere on that list you’ll find “when undeserving, impolite black men get nice things,” and “people who point out that cops aren’t always good people, because of COURSE they’re good people! ALL of them! ALWAYS! YOU’RE the violent one! YOU’RE the criminals! RESPECT THE COPS! RESPECT THEM! AMURICA! AMURRRICA! Daddy protect meeeee…” etc.
Anyway, that’s what led some anonymous yukkster to compose this piece of photoshopped beauty…
Now, let’s be honest: it’s barely even worth getting worked up about this. It’s a pretty basic example of conservative humor. There’s no actual punchline, nor any connection with anything tangible. It reveals no hidden truths, addresses no uncomfortable topics, and deflates neither an existing power structure or our fears of the unknown. It “punches down” a little, but very weakly. It can be interpreted as “punching up,” a little, maybe, from a “Kaepernick’s a rich pro athlete and I’m just a schlub in my underwear,” perspective, but it still swings and misses on that front. There’s nothing particularly funny about it except perhaps the surprise of seeing a Muppet with an afro on the cover of GQ. But Trump supporters think it’s hilarious anyway, because it’s The Kind Of Thing Trump Supporters Find Hilarious.
No, seriously. That’s it. Conservative humor — with the exception of, like, P.J. O’Rourke (who, let’s be honest, could probably run for Congress as a Democrat these days and win,) — is basically just stuff like this. No skewed observations from an outsider’s perspective: it’s just a bunch of inside jokes that fluff up pre-conceived notions. “We All” think Kaepernick is crazy, so here he is with Gonzo’s face. Haw haw. Get it? It’s not wit, it’s code.
Just to throw another example out there: remember when they all thought Obama/teleprompter jokes were hilarious? Maybe you remember wondering why those jokes were supposed to be so funny, seeing as how every President since the invention of the teleprompter has used a teleprompter. Heck, the teleprompter was a great invention, and if your job had you making a lot of speeches every day, you’d probably use a teleprompter also! What’s so bad about using a teleprompter?
Well, if you asked an Obama hater, they’d probably say something like “Sure, other Presidents used a teleprompter, but… uh, Obama’s supposed to be this great public speaker, so why does he need a teleprompter?” And then you’d remind them that their hero Ronald Reagan, who was a great public speaker in his own right, also used a teleprompter, and they’d reply with “But that’s different, because… um… WHAT ABOUT BENGHAZI!”
The teleprompter thing — and, I guess, this ridiculous photoshopped GQ cover — is the kind of thing that’s funny to Trump supporters because… well, because it’s funny to Trump supporters. People like them — the “good” people, the “hard working patriotic” people — find it funny, and so do they, end of story. They are literally that tribal, and — what’s more — they’re so terrified of being kicked out of the tribe that it’s impossible to change their mind. Most humor works because of surprise, juxtaposition, or irony. On the other hand, conservative humor is mostly just references to stuff “We All” believe already.
And — honestly, this is something I kind of understand. I am what is commonly known as a “total dorkass,” and part of my dorkassitude means that I frequently attend Doctor Who conventions. And sometimes, when you’re on a panel or performing at a show, a well-placed reference to a particularly obscure monster from an old episode can totally bring the house down. (“HAH! That guy mentioned Alpha Centauri!”) Having said that, usually there’s some kind of vaguely tangible reason why those monsters, in that context, are conceptually, objectively funny. (“HAH! Alpha Centauri looks like a giant green penis!” — an observation which is totally funny because Alpha Centauri kind of does.)
That’s why — if I really squint and think super hard — I can kind of see why conservatives found the teleprompter thing funny. If Trump voters are told over and over that the “liberal media” is bad, and the “liberal media” says Obama’s a great public speaker, then calling out the teleprompter probably feels like they’re speaking truth to power. In their heads, it’s like the Emperor’s New Clothes — if he’s so smart, why does he need to cheat? The only problem is, of course, that every President since Eisenhower has used a teleprompter, including such great public speakers as Kennedy and Reagan. It’s like shouting “the emperor has no clothes!” at a nudist colony.
But at least with the teleprompter thing, I can kind of see how they got there. This Photoshopped magazine cover, on the other hand, is just baffling. There’s no wit, no double-meaning, no script-flipping. Replacing Colin Kaepernick with Gonzo is funny simply because conservatives do not like Colin Kaepernick, and haw haw he’s GONZO, get it?
Except, of course, they forgot about one important thing: people love the Muppets. By using a well-known character, they have already clouded the joke with the possibility of unintentional interpretations. That’s Gonzo. Why Gonzo, of all things? Is there something about Colin Kaepernick that’s similar to Gonzo? Is he dating a chicken named Camilla? Does he shoot himself out of a cannon during half-time? No? Oh, then… well, let’s see. He doesn’t *look* like Gonzo. Maybe his nose is a little crooked, but there’s not much else that would connect him physically to a strange blue muppet.
So I guess the whole joke is “he’s Gonzo, haw haw! Get it? GONZO!”
Hmm. Well, it’s possible they’re saying he reminds them of Hunter S. Thompson, in that Kaepernick’s professional approach involves diving headfirst into his subject and commenting on it from the outside in. Which is, I guess, basically what Kaepernick is doing through his protests — revealing the hidden truth underlying a game where rich white guys pay young black guys a lot of money to bash their skulls into each other every Sunday, in a country where all the money in the world can’t save you from the cops shooting you simply because your skin pigmentation made them nervous. And, if you take a step back, that’s honestly a much more surreal situation than the 1972 Presidential Campaign ever was, so — yes — in that respect, Colin Kaepernick is Gonzo.
Oh, wait. I think I get it now. By using an image of a character named Gonzo, they mean “Kaepernick is gonzo, aka crazy, for calling attention to a systemic problem in American society in a way that made me uncomfortable, and for thinking that every American’s fundamental right to protest and express themselves actually applied to him, when we’d much prefer it to be the sole property of ‘real’ Americans like Tim Tebow. Oh, and also because not standing for the anthem must mean you hate America, because if I actually thought about it for a split second, I might have to start questioning the authoritarian nature of my unquestioning love for the police, the military, and Donald Trump, and how I may or may not be perpetuating a cycle of violence against non-white people simply by voting for the supposedly moral, God-fearing, flag-loving people I vote for, and my entire sense of self might start to crumble, along with my friends, family, and support system, because everyone I know finds it inexplicably funny that Colin Kaepernick’s face has been switched with Gonzo the Muppet, which is kind of a lame joke once I think about it, so I *won’t* think about it, I’ll just say he’s crazy and laugh about it because change is scary.”
I could be wrong, though.