- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 25, 2009

Wise guise

The “illegal alien” theme did not make it this Halloween. Target, Walmart and other stores dutifully pulled costume kits from their shelves that provided revelers with an extraterrestrial alien mask and an orange prison jumpsuit.

But “Barakula” can stay.

“The full over-the-head latex mask has a striking resemblance to a cross between President Barack Obama and a vampire,” says Curtis Sigretto, president of the seasonal retail chain Halloween Express, who adds that political personalities continue to drive our disguises.

“I’ve been in the Halloween business for over 20 years and I can’t recall a time when the level of interest in these political masks has been higher. We can’t keep them in stock. It looks like this new ‘Barakula’ mask will be more popular than all of them — easily surpassing the demand we saw for the Clinton masks in the ‘90s. It’s amazing.”

Amazing and curious, too, that Americans like to masquerade as politicians, whether they have fangs, flagging public opinion numbers or murky pasts. Is this instinct for partisan costuming empowering, cheeky, shocking, hilarious? Well, let’s not overthink it.

Mr. Sigretto adds, “Of course there are masks and costumes on the other side of the political aisle, too. This year it appears the Governor Sarah Palin costume kit is a popular choice. So too is the Bush mask.”

Offensive linemen

Politics has traditionally been a swashbuckling thing full of oratory and posturing, done in broad strokes and on a grand scale. In these hair-splitting days, politics often comes down to a whole bunch of little things. They can be gaudy. Willy-nilly. There are researchers who track how many jokes Jay Leno tells about President Obama versus how many he tells about Newt Gingrich. Analysts rate political hairstyles, vocal inflections, choice of churches. And there is now an ideological “mock” factor.

Conservatives have the edge in surviving public shaming, according to New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, who suggests that journalists get uneasy when those of the conservative persuasion are held up for ridicule.

“Annoying conservatives is dangerous,” Mr. Krugman says. “They take names, hold grudges, and all too often find ways to take people who annoy them down.”

The press tends to “tread very carefully when people on the right are concerned — and they snub anyone who breaks the unwritten rule and mocks those who must not be offended,” he adds.

Dangerous conservatives? Perhaps they boast a new variety of street smarts, born of Tea Parties, a clear set of values and old-fashioned pride in country. It is the conservative, perhaps, who ponders an insult and simply concludes, “Why, them thar are fightin’ words.” Yowsuh. Well, look out.

“Annoying liberals, on the other hand, feels transgressive but has historically been safe,” Mr. Krugman points out, and wonders if the rules are changing.

“Once you get beyond those for whom the decision about whom to laugh at is a career move, people don’t, in fact, seem to find mocking liberals funnier than mocking conservatives. Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are barreling along, while right-wing attempts to produce counterpart shows have bombed,” he adds.

We suggest Mr. Krugman take a peak at the Media Research Center’s new daily video feature, “Newsbusted,” a sassy, snarky dispatch modeled after Saturday Night Live’s parody news reports, complete with audience laugh track. It cites media bias and liberal high jinks, and can be seen at www.news busters.org — possibly demonstrating that indeed, the rules are changing.

Days of yore

It was the romance that launched a thousand PBS specials. On this day in 1764, future President John Adams married Abigail Smith; their considerable personal correspondence provided insight into Colonial life and marital mores of the era.

It’s a red-letter day, too. The Bolsheviks under Vladimir Ilyich Lenin seized power in Russia 92 years ago today.

Not a good day for Albert B. Fall, secretary of the interior during the Warren G. Harding administration. He was found guilty of accepting a bribe while in office — the first Cabinet member to be convicted of a crime. Annoyance was plenty for an Englishman as well. John Lennon filed suit against the U.S. government on this day in 1977, claiming that his fight against deportation was prejudiced by U.S. officials.

Last but not least, today marks the 26th anniversary of the Grenada invasion by U.S. troops and soldiers from seven Caribbean nations after a coup within Grenada’s pro-Cuban government.

Poll du jour

39 percent of Americans have seen a ghost.

36 percent wish Bigfoot was real.

35 percent say they believe in extraterrestrials.

21 percent say they have been visited by a deceased friend or relative.

20 percent would least like to meet a werewolf in a dark alley.

13 percent would least like to meet a vampire, 12 percent a zombie.

Source: An Animal Planet/Zogby poll of 2,713 adults conducted Oct. 13.

Quotes of note

“We’re not in a race with the newspapers. We’re not in a race with anything in particular.” — Eric Hippeau, CEO of the Huffington Post, to PaidContent.

Sarah Palin wants to be the next Paris Hilton.” — CNN’s Joy Behar.

“You need to go sit on a fire hydrant and improve your day.” — Rush Limbaugh to CNN’s Carol Costello.

“Our veterans’ unwavering belief in this country is what inspired them to serve in the first place. They deserve our unwavering support in return. — Michelle Obama to Veterans Affairs employees.

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