FUNNY UNTIL IT'S NOT
It's really treacherous trying to be funny in an impromptu way in this new, YouTube age.
The latest victim in this context seems to be John McCain, who as NPR explains, was making some comments at a fund-raising event in front of a group of veterans:
"McCain was asked by an audience member about possible U.S. military action in Iran.
"How many times do we have to prove that these people are blowing up people now, never mind if they get a nuclear weapon. When do we send them an airmail message to Tehran?" a man in the crowd asked.
In response, McCain said, "That old, eh, that old Beach Boys song, Bomb Iran" — which elicited laughter from the crowd. McCain then chuckled before briefly singing — to the tune of the chorus of the Beach Boys' classic "Barbara Ann" — "Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, anyway, ah ...."
This blog piece from USA Today then provides McCain's reaction when questioned about his choice of political humor:
"The AP reports that McCain was asked Thursday about this and the attention it's getting and had this to say:
"Please, I was talking to some of my old veterans friends," he told reporters. "My response is, Lighten up and get a life."
When reporters asked if the joke was insensitive, McCain said: "Insensitive to what? The Iranians?"
For McCain, this innocent attempt at humor in front of a friendly crowd, is not unlike what Don Imus was attempting to do in front of his constituency, or George Allen was trying to do in front of his, when he had his "Macaca" YouTube moment.
But one can see McCain's original attempt at humor and the subsequent response being particularly perplexing to many in today's political context.
At the same time, one can almost understand this joke being somewhat funny to Americans, veterans or otherwise, who have been frustrated with our relationship with Iran's revolutionary government since 1979.
But from the perspective of many Iranians looking at their relationship with the US government's policies and actions vis a vis Iran since 1953, one can barely begin to understand their frustration as well.
(For those not familiar with the history, the CIA helped topple the democratically elected Iranian Mossadegh government deemed not sympathetic to US interests, and install the Shah dynasty that then ruled Iran for the next 25 years.)
So I can totally see how these McCain comments could be seen as particularly insensitive at a time where much of the world thinks we're totally inclined to bomb first and ask questions later, whenever we're looking to solve our problems around the world. What's the old adage, to a hammer, everything looks like a nail?
But taking a BIG step back, after a series of these "YouTube" moments, I am given to wonder if too much of a good thing is not bad in the long run.
There's a lot to be said for public people being held for most of their public actions in front of ALL their public.
But there's also something to be said for public people being given some privacy and latitude amongst a sub-set of their publics, so they can carry on the complex task of bringing many constituencies to a common ground over the long haul.
Imagine if you will if we had an YouTube world while Lyndon Johnson was trying to negotiate the momentous Civil Rights Act of 1964, with his many constituencies. He needed to be a part of each of the constituencies to bring change to the whole.
Same thing for sure, when Nixon had to explain his going to China to his core constituencies.
I'm not saying that all the afore-mentioned "YouTube" moments are a part of some thing that was being negotiated for a greater good.
But I'd like to think, wishfully perhaps, that this McCain "YouTube" moment, is but one brief clip of a complex public and private path he's trying to negotiate at this particularly difficult moment in American history.
A difficult task made more so, for anyone in the public eye, in this new "YouTube" age.