Levine: The 60-second smile

vector illustration/Pop art style comics panel mouth of man laughing out loud

I'm addicted to watching TV news shows, especially "This Morning's Eye Opener: Your World in 60 seconds." It's everything I need to know in just one minute. We ran out of names for hurricanes predicted to decimate coastal lives and Trump's EPA prevents legal suits against polluters and allows drilling for oil in Alaska. The CDC warns us not to travel on Thanksgiving and the White House encourages rebellion against state-mandated masks. Trump plans to pull down troops from Afghanistan and may be bombing Iran. Defense experts freak out.

Now for the fun part. Sometimes the 60 seconds ends in a comedy shtick. It's no accident that the popularity of political satire goes back to the ancient Greeks. Scholars describe the power of satire as a way to express truths in ways that are blunt, digestible and even enjoyable. George Bernard Shaw said it more succinctly, "If you want to tell people the truth, make them laugh, otherwise they'll kill you."

But some scholars say that TV satirists alienate folks from any political involvement: David Letterman, Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Sarah Cooper, Dave Chappelle, and the list goes on. They echo the general disgust that Mark Twain voiced, "Reader, suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself."

Yet given the record-breaking vote counts of the 2020 election, we're more political than ever. And everyone's a comedian, too. Go on Twitter and you'll see what I mean. Better yet, go see Pinterest and check out how satire and cartoons have blended into a hypnotic flow of irony, puns, goofy images, and a bit of fantasy. One of the cartoons that combines all of the above got stuck in my mind. A mermaid, unicorn, and leprechaun walk into a bar and sit down in a circle. The mermaid points to an empty chair and says, "I'd like everyone to welcome out newest member to the group, Ethical Capitalism."

Some are over the top like, "Breaking: Dr. Fauci discusses new life-saving face mask." The cartoon pictures Dr. Fauci and behind him is President Trump with masking tape over his mouth. Then there's the meme caption, "FBI uncovers Al-Qaeda Plot to just sit back and enjoy collapse of United States. They're funny, horrible, and mind-blowing all at once.

For better or worse, research shows that while satire may educate and entertain us, it doesn't change how people vote. The politics remain nerve-racking. But it does give us comic relief and disrupts the anxiety of our COVID-19 era. We can sure use some relief these days.

So let's give a shout out to all the comics out there. Thank you for your satire and periodic goofiness. The laughter that you generate is healing and inspiring.

Now I gotta try some humor myself. A liberal politician, a conservative politician, and a turkey walk into the bar. The bartender says, "What'll you have?" The liberal votes for a turkey sandwich and seltzer water. The conservative votes for a turkey sandwich and a beer. When it's the turkey's turn, he gives them the stink-eye and says, "I want a recount." The politicians stare at him as he gobbles out the door. They nod to each other and call over the bartender, "Make that whisky instead. We're gonna get basted."

OK, so I'm a lousy comic, but I had to at least try to make you smile. Now it's your turn. Go out and make someone smile. Bring on that comic relief and knock the stuffing out of us!

Contact Deborah Levine, an author, trainer/coach and editor of the American Diversity Report, at deborah @diversityreport.com.