Big Bird belittles big issues

By Troy Doetch

Goofing off is a pillar of my faith.

Often, there is a profound truth in silliness—in running with what makes you laugh. Humor has a way of taking unexpected turns and illuminating in an unpredictable way. But sometimes, it can be volatile, derailing even, as in case of the Big Bird debate.

To brush up: In the most re-watched portion of the Oct. 3 presidential debate, Romney told moderator Jim Lehrer he would cut funding to Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), despite his fondness for Sesame Street’s biggest bird.

“I’m sorry, Jim,” Romney said. “I’m going to stop the subsidy to PBS. I’m going to stop other things. I like PBS. I love Big Bird. I actually like you, too. But I’m not going to—I’m not going to keep on spending money on things to borrow money from China to pay for it. That’s No. 1.”

As the Internet pointed out, this was hilarious. Tweets spiked to 135,322 per minute following the remark. Memes featuring the flightless lark in direct opposition with Romney were shared like they were hot.

In the New York Times column “Don’t Mess With Big Bird,” columnist Charles Blow defended the anthropomorphic fowl, calling him “the man” and praising everything from his height to his dancing.

“Can you do that, Mr. Romney?” Blow said. “I’m not talking about your fox trot away from the facts. I’m talking about real dancing.”

And President Barack Obama, in an attempt to harness the power of the Interwebz and emphasize his highest moment in the debate, released a parody campaign ad on Tuesday. The joke died.

“Big, yellow, a menace to our economy,” said a voice that would be at home in horror movie trailer. “Mitt Romney knows it’s not Wall Street you have to worry about it, it’s Sesame Street.”

The ad failed because, in addition to being a stale addition to the “Romney hates Big Bird” shtick, its hyperbole counterproductively weakened actual criticism of Romney.

For instance, its over-the-top assertion that sees Big Bird as a top enemy only highlights Romney’s actual quote: “I like Big Bird,” and furthermore establishes a distinction between liking a television show and believing the government should sponsor it. Worse, it assumed, without authorization, an endorsement from Sesame Workshop, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization which cannot endorse a political candidate.

Although PBS wrote in a Thursday statement, “Governor Romney does not understand the value the American people place on public broadcasting,” Sesame Workshop is, out of obligation, calling for the ad to be removed, underscoring the ambiguous morality of PBS taking sides.

The joke is getting out of control because it’s establishing a logical argument where there isn’t one. Allow me to get it back on track: When asked how he would balance the budget, Romney said he would cut public broadcasting, which was .00012 percent of the federal budget in 2011. That is hilarious.