DON'T LAUGH, YOU'RE NEXT. The whole ridiculous beef over The Onion's Congressional hostage joke is about this: the Internet is overstocked with miserable people whose miserable mission in life is to turn everything into the lowest kind of politics -- not the kind we have fun with here, but what the serious people call retail politics -- which is a great term for it, if you imagine these guys as telemarketers whose bosses have drilled them to never promise anything, to never take no for an answer, and to never go off script.
These people are as carefully trained as guard dogs, and they don't take well to humor. For one thing, it interferes with the sales pitch. They have their time-tested script, and they've learned how to react to every possible response -- but then some joker makes fun of it, and suddenly their logic is uprooted. Some of them may have the wit to roll with it, but generally the kind of person who gets hired for these gigs doesn't. (Maybe they had it coming in, but a few years of following the script will take it out of you.)
When they see a joke that rouses some political controversy, they're more comfortable. Because that's not this messy ha-ha stuff that interferes with business -- this is something that can be turned to their advantage, like a recent news item about some poor girl who would be alive now if only she'd had their product.
This kind of joke has a place in their decision tree. Does it make fun of the competition? That's good for business, and if someone squawks about it he's just being [see card G] politically correct. Does it make fun of the product? Then leverage the controversy. There are other emotional cues they can work -- outrage, sensitivity, concern. Are they fake? Hey, buddy, they just work here -- if the suckers buy it, it's as real as a paycheck.
Look, you know what kind of people these are. They have websites all about how Hollywood is trying to destroy America. They're constantly telling each other that the people on the TV are trying to sap their moral will. They read about street crime in a distant city, shiver in their Barcaloungers, and think: Obama is rousing the blacks against us! When they talk about their children, their homes, their encounters with friends or strangers, or anything at all, even something as simple as a joke, they're still giving you the pitch.
Because the pitch is all they know. Everything they see, whether it's from the front page or the gossip column or the street, they turn to their purpose. For them nothing in this world is merely what it is; everything is, must be part of the pitch.
And you? To them you can be someone they're trying to sell, or someone they're trying to recruit. But make no mistake: to them, that's all you are.