Bush’s Own Version of the Bush Joke

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This week at the G8 summit in Japan, George W. Bush wrapped up a meeting on climate change with the words: “Goodbye from the world’s biggest polluter.”

“He then punched the air while grinning widely,” the Telegraph reports, “as the rest of those present including Gordon Brown and Nicholas Sarkozy looked on in shock.”

Bush’s Napoleon Dynamite moment might have been an effort to laugh off an earlier gaffe: A White House press packet at the G8 had described Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi as one of “the most controversial leaders in the history of a country known for government corruption and vice.” After furor erupted in Rome (Corriere Della Sera called it “a faux pas of unprecedented proportions”), the White House explained, candidly, that an official had simply lifted the passage from the Internet without reading it.

What to make of Bush’s humor? Separating out the gaffes and the Bush Jokes, it seems divided between an ascendant strain of ironic-self-mockery and a still-going-strong Wayne & Garth aesthetic. From a recent event with German Chancellor Angela Merkel:

So Bush is a doofus, but why?

One explanation might come from the “incongruity theory” of joking. According to Mary Beard’s recent New York Review of Books article on humor studies, the incongruity theory “sees humor and laughter stemming from the inappropriate mixing of categories or registers of meaning.” Of course, the theory can’t explain why Bush finds the incongruous mix of the German and English “hamburger” funny while most people over the age of 13 don’t. But that might be where Freud’s “relief theory” of humor can help, drawing a connection between “the bodily release of laughter and the release, by the joke, of inhibited thoughts and feelings.” In other words, Bush goes to Europe, feels inhibited (or beset by gaffes), and releases the tension by laughing at anything he can. Hamburger!

Perhaps we should cut the Jester in Chief a break. “Like sex and eating, [laughter] is an absolutely universal human phenomenon, and at the same time something that is highly culturally specific,” Beard notes. “It is often hard for the English to share a joke with their neighbors across the Channel.” Then again, in Bush’s case the whole world chuckled. Just not for the same reason.

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SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

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