Not funny, dammit!


It looks as if a number of prominent Republicans are headed off to prison for various corrupt activities, and more are likely on the way, for corruption, election fraud, and outing Valerie Plame Wilson as a CIA officer.

No doubt they deserve it, and no doubt having them go away will encourage others to clean up their acts. It’s hard not to feel a certain amount of unholy glee about this. That’s especially true for those, such as Duke Cunningham, who as public officials worked hard to make prisons even more horrible places than they already were. The Nixon wave of incarcerations spaked conservative interest in prison reform, and there’s every reason to hope that the Bush wave will have a similar effect.

But being glad that criminals in high places are going to be convicted and imprisoned is one thing. Glorying in, or even joking about, the fact that their incarceration will expose them to physical and sexual assault is quite another. Prison rape is a national disgrace, not something to laugh at, though the current conventions of movie and TV comedy make it a stock joke.

So “Grover Norquist would look cute in an orange jumpsuit” is just fair snark. “Grover’s gonna be somebody’s prison b*tch sooner than I thought” is grossly over the line.

I’ve noticed that a number of commenters on my posts at HuffingtonPost and on other people’s posts elsewhere seem to have lost sight of that distinction.

Why shouldn’t we just take advantage of the conventions of comedy as they are to joke about our opponents in a way that humiliates them and treats them as less than human? Because we’re supposed to be the good guys.



Update: Jose Marquez said it earlier, with less pomposity and more analysis.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: