“Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon,” says the fifth rule of Rules for Radicals: A Pragmatic Primer for Realistic Radicals, Saul Alinsky’s classic 1971 activist handbook. That’s because, “It is almost impossible to counterattack ridicule,” as Michael “tank moment” Dukakis so painfully knows.
Since the publication of Alinsky’s Rules, activists across the political spectrum have tried to adapt those rules to their own purposes, with varying degrees of success. Now a recent paper from the Institute of World Politics argues for ridicule as a weapon to fight terrorists. The author, J. Michael Waller, makes a compelling argument for the effectiveness of ridicule, citing historical examples, including from America’s Revolutionary War, the French Revolution, and World War II.
Waller argues that, just as in these conflicts the side that emerged victorious used ridicule effectively, America today can use it against terrorists. In Iraq, since the publication of Waller’s paper, the American military took advantage of a great opportunity to do just that, releasing video footage showing Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi fumbling with a rifle. (Zarqawi is now, to the world’s benefit, dead — it’s doubtful the rifle fumbling video helped much, but it certainly didn’t hurt, either.)p>Waller cites Team America: World Police , an all-marionette-cast war-on-terror movie comedy by South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, as a good example of effective contemporary anti-anti-American ridicule: br> /p>
Team America is a brilliant work that plays on the obvious faults of an insecure and lonely Kim, the absurdity of United Nations diplomacy in the person of weapons inspector Hans Blix, and on popular stereotypes about Islamist terrorists and Hollywood anti-war personalities… Team America limits its effectiveness, as well as the size of its audience, with extremely crude adolescent (some might call it “adult”) humor. Nevertheless, it is a masterpiece of over-the-top ridicule that could be to the current young generation what the irreverent Monty Python and the Holy Grail was to young people thirty years ago. Team America puts the bad guys in their place and shows that, as clumsy and arrogant as Americans might be to many people, they are still the good guys.br> It is that obnoxious — and at times offensive — up-yours irreverence that makes Team America so effective. Yet that raises an issue Waller doesn’t address: That presumption of irreverence limits the professional war fighters’ ability to seize on more Zarqawi-with-rifle moments.
Waller argues that, “The United States must take advantage of [ridicule] against terrorists, proliferators, and other threats.” Yet as his example of Team America shows, the United States is already doing that the way America does things best — privately.
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