[25 October 2006]
Fake journalism has exploded with rampant popularity in the past few years. Men and women alike have made millions by twisting the truth and distorting facts, putting so many slants on our news that their words slide right to the floor. And, to be perfectly honest, the world would not have it any other way.
Andy Borowitz, celebrated humorist, actor, and television personality, takes on a variation of this familiar role in his latest bit of snarky political humor, The Republican Playbook. Comprised solely of ways to undermine the Democrat platform, this slim volume of illogical and hilarious wisdom takes on an original form, mocking the Republicans through the mouth of one least expected: a Republican.
Nearly the closest thing to a media Renaissance man (his projects range from writing for The New Yorker to co-producing the 1998 film Pleasantville), Borowitz is no stranger to writing subjectively. His quirky language fits the nature of the book perfectly, being both mocking and over-enthused while blatantly flaunting any sense of political correctness. Looking at the table of contents, it is obvious that Borowitz is not one for a moderate approach (example: “The War on Terror is Your Friend”).
The Republican Playbook is conveniently broken down into 69 short chapters, none of which are longer than four pages. Each chapter discusses a different mechanism used by Republicans in the past—the “book” was written by Ronald Reagan, after all—and makes suggestions for future Democrat sabotage.
Included among the tried-and-true stratagems are “Paying for Fake Newspaper Stories: A Beginner’s Guide” and the “All-Purpose Folksy Anecdote Template,” complete with margin notes scribbled by George W. Bush himself.
To make it as close to an authentic, Top Secret piece of Republican literature as possible, Borowitz sprinkles The Republican Playbook with life-like details. Stains on the pages, doodles in the margins, a facsimile of a fundraising letter from God—all appropriate for a book that has made its home in the back pocket of President George Bush.
But these touches are only icing on the cake. Once you’ve gotten past the charm of its aesthetic, The Republican Playbook a gold mine for one-liners and clever, if preposterous, life lessons. There are quite a number of unethical bits of advice to be had in these pages, perfect for any scheming politician, cutthroat businessman, or even a conniving would-be prom queen. One introspective message from the Grand Old Party: “lying has always been an important part of a robust democracy, and we’ll go one step further than that: Lying saves lives.”
Borowitz’s remarks, however, are not so flippant that they cannot be taken seriously. Buried deep beneath the piles of John Kerry insults and empty tax cut promises lays a molten core of intelligent observations. The double layer of perspectives—a Democrat making fun of Republicans making fun of Democrats—is an effective tool for conveying one person’s version of the truth without associating the man with the word. It is Borowitz’s adaptation of the age-old beginning to an uncomfortable question: “So I have this friend ...”
But the problem with such a shallow disguise is exactly that—it doesn’t quite hide enough as one would like. The Republican Playbook is already so thinly veiled that one obvious comment seems abrasive. Borowitz’s humor never detracts from the significance of his words; it’s when he is just a touch too mocking that the tone seems to sting.
“The George W. Bush Leadership Series” tends to perch the fence between over-the-top and sarcastic. Its sections address serious, modern issues, but with such ridiculous claims that they almost seem like pure exercises in amusement. “Bush Determined to Plan Next Catastrophe” headlines the chapter on disaster preparedness. I imagine Borowitz having fun with this section, playing around with words and captions, thinking, “What can I make him do next?”
Despite this minor change in subtlety (or decrease in the minimal amount of subtlety that this book possesses), The Republican Playbook is an original work of art, and by that I’m not referring to the convincing-looking Post-It on the back cover. It is not just a single-sided version of a particular president, nor a first-hand account of “the way things are,” critical of one particular thing and partial to another. The Republican Playbook manages to offend just about everyone, from Republicans to the French to Alec Baldwin to the Democrats themselves.
What Borowitz is after is not a condemnation of the Grand Old Party alone (though he does do a pretty good job of it), but one good, hearty laugh at politics as a whole. It is a literary Punch and Judy routine, complete with (figurative) puppets and a receptive audience. What people like to see is the dirty stuff—the naming of names, the pointed fingers, the bloody carcass of a beaten politician—even if it’s not true. It’s all about convincing yourself to look past that silly thing they call “the truth” and going for the real meat between the lines.
Am I convinced? I’m pretty sure that I am. But as the saying goes, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twenty times, I’m a Democrat.”