Now that rapper-singer-activist Michael Steele has been relieved of his quixotic effort to make the Republican Party multicultural and funky, he can return to his regular day job as Humpty Hump in Oakland’s quintessentially nineties hip-hop combo Digital Underground. Still not convinced that Steele and Humpty Hump are the same person, despite the fact that they’ve never been seen in person at the same time? Try listening again to his signature classic “Humpty Dance,” which lays out the platform with some sexy dirty politics Meghan McCain could only dream of:
I look funny
but yo I’m makin’ money see
so yo world I hope you’re ready for me.
But the “Humpty Dance” is also about inclusiveness, not just acquisitiveness. Although Steele/ Humpty may not have been a stellar fund-raiser, he understood clearly that the party of Lincoln could only survive by expanding its constituency beyond whites and even blacks:
Puerto Ricans, do the Humpty Hump, just keep on doin’ the hump
Samoans, do the Humpty Hump, do the Humpty Hump
Let’s get stoopid!
In 2012, neither party will be able to escape the demographic reality that the country of the future will look more like Oakland than Fairfax County. And that means that, regardless of ideology or economic philosophy, we’ll all soon be doing the Humpty Dance. Personally, I’m looking forward to finding out how Mitt Romney will deliver lines like “I’m spunky, I like my oatmeal lumpy.”
At this point, however, Steele/ Humpty is probably relieved to be dancing with himself. That’s because the Tea Party Movement seems to be backfiring in its efforts to reintroduce archly ironic social satire into political theater. After years of halfhearted efforts to educate the masses, this remains the same country that once believed a 1938 radio broadcast of H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds was reporting a real Martian takeover, or that Rob Reiner’s 1984 spoof This is Spinal Tap was an earnest documentary about an obscure metal band.
That tradition of extreme gullibility continued this week. Pundits across the political spectrum, and even CNN, actually took literally arch-ironist Michele Bachmann’s SNL-style spoof of a “rebuttal” to the State of the Union Address. Ignoring even her most heavy-handed satiric elements–the red and blue chart, the vacant gaze, the claim that the Founding Fathers “worked tirelessly” until slavery was gone–some even reported that Bachmann had spoken to the wrong camera by mistake.
But Bachmann’s strategy was clearer to anyone who has obtained an overpriced education in art history or critical theory. In homage to Velazquez’s iconic painting Las Meninas, she was slyly commenting on the skewed self-awareness of the viewer and the viewed in televised political speeches. As Foucault described the role of the artist in Velazquez’s masterpiece, “for the spectator at present observing him he is to the right of his canvas, while the latter, the canvas, takes up the whole of the extreme left.” Same goes for Bachmann’s speech directed away from the spectator, except that nobody is to the right of Michele Bachmann.
Digital Underground, “Humpty Dance”
“War of the Worlds” Radio Documentary, Part 1