Episode 654: He is Very Obvioulsy an Evil Wizard

On the Overthinking It Podcast, we examine the memes that have emerged since Wednesday’s attack on the US Capitol.

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Peter Fenzel, Mark Lee, and Matthew Wrather send Mark Lee off into parental leave with a topic of his choosing: Each podcaster picks a meme that has sprung up in light of Wednesday’s attack on the Electoral College vote certification process for us to overthink. Is it funny? Why is it funny? And is humor a uniquely useful tool with which to address and analyze this particular moment?

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6 Comments on “Episode 654: He is Very Obvioulsy an Evil Wizard”

  1. Mike O #

    Willing to hear all sides, but anything here other than what you’d hear on CNN?


    • Peter Fenzel OTI Staff #

      Hey Mike – we made a pretty solid effort, I think, to make our conversation a bit different and to balance the situation where this is what everybody is thinking about to also providing our listeners with what they like and expect from us. There’s a lot more in this podcast about Groucho Marx, about Star Wars, about French cuisine and foodie virtue signaling than I think is typical in this kind of discussion.

      And we tried pretty hard to make it clear that there are distinctions between various sorts of partisan policy positions, the different reasons different people might align politically in different ways, and to try to avoid painting everything with the same broad brush, while at the same time not hesitating to identify core problems of the moment especially as they regard fomenting and exploiting tribally motivated aggression and violence. We do really need a reckoning in this country about who lives here, and are we seriously committed to living with each other treating each other decently, or are we not (and it can be a harder question that it sounds in a bunch of very difficult areas – though in some areas it is much easier; it is one thing to call for fair and just exercise of power under color of authority to all people of all backgrounds, and it is another to build an entire immigration framework that is less broken for everybody and prone to abuse and exploitation than the one we have right now).

      But we definitely see the Trump-associated violence of the moment as associated with racial violence at least in how it is being organized, which is a pretty unoriginal, even common, thing to conclude over the last four years on the news.

      And that all said, one alternative title of this episode involved “Bathos” – and I’ll say the Bathos of Donald Trump – his veering back and forth between the grave and the absurd – and the meme culture around it, is the major subject of the podcast, and we all condemn what happened at the Capitol on Wednesday in no uncertain terms.

      But I also think we all feel pretty strongly that what happened on Wednesday was very wrong, and if for your own mental well-being you don’t need to hear more people talking about that right now than you already do, I’d encourage you to know yourself and take care of yourself. I’d like to think what we have to say is interesting and useful, but this is by far not our least emotionally motivated episode.


  2. John C Member #

    I think it’s worth pointing out the obvious, regarding humor, here, which is that it is horrifying (“is,” because it’s not over), but…it’s also pretty funny. I mean, if Get Smart had written a two-parter about a coup, back in the 1960s, it’d have KAOS planning the attack outside CONTROL headquarters for weeks without anybody thinking to respond, show them sending the troops with a promise that they’ll have leadership, have someone similar to QAnon Shaman wandering around, have the planned mass murder breaking up because of a curfew, and end with Siegfried suggesting that prosecuting him will only lead to division. (I may have been slowly working my way through the DVD set.) It feels less funny, because it’s happening to us and it’s serious, but the humor is definitely there.

    It’s also fairly funny that we’ve had decades of media (including Get Smart) simultaneously warning us about anti-democratic groups and telling us that they’re a mess…but nobody paid attention, because they haven’t been dressing like Grand Moffs.

    But the thing that helps me realize that things will get better is remembering that democracy has only really been a legitimate concept for about three hundred years. So, while it’s long enough to be obvious that democracies work far better (the exceptions around the world are either propped up with tons of oil money or basically bit-players on the world stage), you’re still going to find conspiracy theorists convinced that they’re being tricked, just like you can still find people who believe in medieval medicine. Every generation, though, they’re fewer and what power they grab is gone faster and faster. (We probably do need to deal with the amount of media that’s basically about how great un-elected families of elites are in leadership roles, not to mention that most companies are basically modeled on absolute dictatorships.)

    I’ll miss hearing Mark’s insights on the podcast for the duration, but congratulations and best wishes!


  3. Three Act Destructure #

    The mythical “Republican who doesn’t want war” is about as real as the Never-Trumper or the centrist or whatever other fantasy creature that the DNC is currently chasing. Literally, the existence of Bigfoot has more supporting evidence.

    Polling is already showing us that Republicans both support the capitol attack and are willing to blame it on Antifa; representing, as usual, some kind of political-quantum superposition which is common in fascism.

    Note that you will never appeal to the Republican fascists through ideas like truth, justice or peace. They have no desire for such things. They have a perspective on life informed entirely by authority; by hierarchy.

    They don’t lie because they’re misinformed. They lie to get away with it. They do it as a challenge because they know that liberals will respond to them with baffled incredulity. It’s the essence of trolling. They believe that it reinforces their position over you and position is all that they care about.

    But if we’re going to talk about self-delusion then let’s not let liberalism/neo-liberalism off the hook either. After all, there’s nothing more befitting of an ideology so intimately tied to the magical thinking of capitalism than a belief that “it can’t happen here”.

    Why? Why would anyone have ever thought that?

    When we already know that fascism itself is just the capitalist form of totalitarianism. This is an economic system that has never been proven to work, has failed spectacularly every several years, requires constant government intervention to keep afloat and claims as a core feature the same kinds of instabilities that collapsed feudalism before it. Of course it will yield to its own worst impulses.

    How could we have ever expected it not to happen here? When the progressivism that we claim defines us is constantly at odds with the very foundations of our country? When, as our narrative about the civil rights movement collapses, we come face-to-face yet again with the undeniable reality that simple reforms will always be undone?

    And how could anyone believe in a country that, in the face of a coup which has been happening for years now — and which has included an incredible amount of violence against not just politicians (remember the kidnapping attempt on a governor? Remember the Biden bus being attacked?) but on the rest of us, daily, through not just actual beatings and murders but a never-ending assault of harassment, plague-spreading and lies — can only offer up Joe Biden claiming that Mitch McConnell is really, truly sorry this time. (Conveniently, allowing Mitch to not have to say so himself. Good looking out, Joe.)

    What panglossian view of the processes of governance, sold to us by hacky TV shows with little patience for protest or calls for change from those outside the vaunted halls, could be more important than the obvious reality that these positions of authority simply don’t work? That representative democracy is nothing more than a failure to achieve direct democracy and that private ownership of industry is the theft of our natural rights to our own labor and the products thereof?

    And how, with these scales removed from our eyes, can we possibly believe that liberalism was ever anything but a purely aesthetic ideology, as hollow and material and base as the fascism that it claims to be against and yet folds to so readily? How could anyone have ever felt a swell of pride in a worldview that claims, as its only benefit, the desire to silence its own adherents in the name of eternal compromise with those who want nothing but to destroy them?

    To be clear, I much prefer a liberal democracy over an out-and-out fascist State. But let’s not go believing that the former has any hope of stopping the rise of the latter. History has already taught us better than that on so many occasions that we can only claim to be poor students if we haven’t learned the lesson by now.

    And in the wake of these failures of America, there is always someone willing to be a class reductionist: to say with far too much certainty that we should give up on progressivism entirely and unite with the fascists against the “common enemy” of the wealthy elites. This is an obvious misunderstanding of both fascism and how class and other social hierarchies actually operate. But shouldn’t it be obvious that liberalism’s proponents would have more allies if they weren’t so willing to just lay down and accept that capitalism’s cruelties, like homelessness and debt and private prisons, are somehow inevitable and not really worth disrupting anyone’s day over?

    How cowed are we that we accept a system based on violence and degradation and only notice that something is wrong when that same bile that we are drowning in happens to splash on the shoes of the privileged? What did we really lose on January 6th that we haven’t already lost in our own lives?

    And what was ever so sacred about a building that made it worthier of peace and dignity than we are?


  4. yellojkt Member #

    There is a meme or running gag in right wing circles that The Empire Is Really Good. It was started back in 2002 by Jonathon V. Last here:

    There have been a lot of expansions and extensions of this concept such as noting the similarities between the Jedi and radical jihadists. Or that Princess Leia wasn’t really on a peaceful diplomatic mission and deserved torture.

    Ironically, Last (or JVL as he is known on the internet) is a founding member of The Bulwark which is a bastion of anti-Trumpers formerly of the Weekly Standard which were fired unceremoniously for being insufficiently loyal to the Trump administration.

    Star Wars fan theories have exploded with such ones as Jar Jar is Really A Sith Lord. Some are tongue in cheek but I suspect more than one conservative truly believes the Emperor Did Not Wrong.


  5. yellojkt Member #

    My favorite version of the champagne joke is:

    Jeff Fecke @jkfecke
    It’s only a coup if it’s from the Coup D’Etat region of France, otherwise it’s a Sparkling Putsch.

    Because “putsch” is a funny word and makes a thinly veiled allusion to the rise of Hitler.

    One problem with Hitler is that he set the bar for unalloyed evil much too high. I have always contended that you don’t have to wait until six million people have died before you make Nazi references. Indeed, the key time to make these comparisons is long before the ovens warm up. Even Mike Godwin has said his eponymous Law doesn’t apply when actual fascists are involved.


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