Open Letter to Bill O’Reilly Regarding President Obama on “Between Two Ferns”
Dear Bill O’Reilly,
Hi! Thanks for reading this! Long time super-irritated-listener, first time open-letter responder!
Alright, let’s get to it. So you said Abraham Lincoln would not have gone on a comedy show like President Obama recently did on Between Two Ferns to promote the US Healthcare website.
There are so many things I want to say to you, but the world and internet being what they are, I have to say them quickly (I only have 30 minutes for lunch and then back to work. How long is your lunch break? I’m guessing from the amount of time you seem to have to research things for your show, it must be pretty brief, huh? Sucks, doesn’t it?! Whatever happened to a full honest-American hour for lunch, amirite?).
I thought your assessment of Lincoln’s sense of humor was kind of strange. I won’t rewrite Robert Mankoff’s 2012 New Yorker article (http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/cartoonists/2012/11/lincolns-smile.html), but I will borrow from it for the following: “A journalist covering the Lincoln-Douglas debates commented that ‘I could not take a real personal liking to the man, owing to an inborn weakness for which he was even then notorious and so remained during his great public career, he was inordinately fond of jokes, anecdotes, and stories.’”
And here, I’ll let Lincoln say a few things on the matter of his sense of humor:
"It’s not me who can’t keep a secret. It’s the people I tell that can’t"
"If this is coffee, please bring me some tea; but if this is tea, please bring me some coffee"
“Honestly, if I were two-faced, would I be wearing this one?”
-Abraham Lincoln (he said this one during a debate with Stephen Douglas, right there, during a political discussion)
But, ok, Mr. O’Reilly, let me give you the benefit of the doubt. Maybe you weren’t doubting Lincoln’s sense of humor, but making a broader point that humor has no place in subjects of gravitas, that comedy is not an effective tool of communication for serious matters?
While the internet is all about trying to reinvent the wheel, I’m going to skip that, since, seriously, my boss is staring at the clock. So let me just direct you to Chris Bliss’ lovely Ted Talk on the matter: http://www.ted.com/talks/chris_bliss_comedy_is_translation
And because I don’t expect you sit and watch someone talk and talk for 15 whole minutes (who has that kind of attention span?!), let me sum up: good comedy has the ability to break down the natural defensive barriers that we often put up when hearing points that do not interest us or differ from our own beliefs.
Alright, perhaps you don’t really care to debate the value of humor as a tool of communication. Perhaps you just hate that Obama, knowing that it is critical that young, healthy Americans sign up for Healthcare, went on a platform that specifically appeals to young Americans, his target audience? Perhaps you feel that they should have come to him? Was your argument that Lincoln would never have gone to where the people already were and addressed them in a way that appealed to them to make his point? Now, like I said, I know NEITHER of us have a lot of research time here, but, well, not to throw it in your face but I am a little bit younger than you, Bill. I mean, don’t get me wrong, you look GREAT, truly, I’m just trying to point out that maybe I remember my elementary school history a tad clearer since I’m not (quite) as removed from it as you are? I don’t know, I guess we could both just go ask a 9 year old because as I recall, Lincoln was actually one of the most noted stump-speakers. You know, that thing where politicians traveled around to local populations and spoke to them casually, in language they were familiar with? It was kind of one of the things he was known for.
Ok, Mr. O’Reilly, I really do have to go, I didn’t even get a chance to eat my sandwich! And you have every right to criticize the President all you like. In fact, this kind of reminded me of you: “The cheek of every American must tingle with shame as he reads the silly, flat and dishwatery utterances of the man who has to be pointed out to intelligent foreigners as the President of the United States” (the Chicago Times response to the Gettysburg Address.)
Hope you have a super-great day!