Strategy. Innovation. Brand.

humor in politics

90 Days of Anger

What’s wrong with people laughing? The short answer: they just want to go on laughing. That’s good for teaching but not good for politics.

People love to laugh. If you’re trying to persuade an audience to your way of thinking, it’s good to get them to laugh. They’ll trust you more and, more importantly, they’ll think, “Oh good, she’s funny. Maybe she’ll tell some more jokes.” If they’re anticipating more jokes, the audience will pay more attention. You can get your point across more easily because the audience is primed and attentive. (By the way, this doesn’t work if you tell lame jokes. You have to tell funny jokes).

So why is this bad for politics? Because in political speeches, you’re aiming to motivate people and humor doesn’t motivate. People who are laughing just want to go on laughing. They don’t want to canvas neighborhoods, call friends, give money, storm the barricades, or even get off the sofa to vote.

The emotion that motivates is anger. That’s why political speeches and advertisements are so angry. The politicians want you to do something. Making you angry (and scared) is the simplest way to accomplish their objective. Making you laugh is counter-productive.

In rhetorical terms, the simplest way to make an audience angry is a technique known as “attributed belittlement”. You tell the audience that your opponent (or competitor) belittles them. “They don’t respect you. They think they’re superior to you. They think they have the right to tell you what to do, because you’re dumb. They’re elite and you’re not.” Sound familiar? No one likes to be belittled, so this is a very effective technique. (I’ve used it myself in commercial competition and it works).

So what can you expect in the 90 days leading up to the presidential election in the United States? A flood of angry messages and, more specifically, a tidal wave of attributed belittlement. If you’re like me, you’ll just want to tune out the whole mess.

This is a different kind of communication than I normally teach. I usually focus on “deliberative” presentations — you present a logical argument and the audience deliberates on it. A political presentation is usually a “demonstrative” presentation — you’re demonstrating solidarity and group loyalty, partially by demonizing the opposition. There’s no need for logic. You can learn more about deliberative and demonstrative presentations here.

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