The banks are unbowed. The government is unmoved. Wealth distribution remains unchanged. Debts remain on the books. Weeks after protesters first began camping out in New York City’s Zuccotti Park, Occupy Wall Street has yet to force compliance with its “demands” — but by one indicator of contemporary cultural relevance, the nascent movement already has made an impact.
People are making fun of it.
On late night television, comedian Bill Maher lamented the movement’s “bongo drums,” lack of focus and occasional public nudity, while talk show host Jimmy Kimmel quipped that the protests were “also known as the largest homeless-persons slumber party in the world.”
In print, a satirical Occupy Wall Street manifesto demands that “a master of fine arts in musical theater writing, with a minor in German, become an immutable human right,” while an editorial cartoon depicts the Occupiers as a child sitting at a lemonade stand, surrounded by untouched lemons, with an empty pitcher labeled “tips” and a sign reading “Gimme.”
Online, the mockery ranges from apolitical parody — see the “Occupy Sesame Street” meme, which includes Twitter jokes and digitally doctored news photos of Elmo, Bert and company being arrested by police — to the biting riposte of the “We Are the 53 Percent” blog on Tumblr, where contributors chide protesters to “get a life, get a job and stop whining!”
“This is a big story,” said conservative filmmaker Mike Wilson, who created the “We Are the 53 Percent” blog. “I was down in Zuccotti Park last night. It’s real. I think it’s worthy of satire that points out some of its shortcomings. I disagree with them, and poking fun at them is one of my ways to communicate.”
In general, the politically minded lampooning has two underlying themes: first, that the protesters are overly entitled; second, that the movement’s critiques of both capitalism and growing wealth disparity in American society are misguided.
As for the jokes themselves? They range from gentle to cutting. Comedian Remy Munasifi’s “Occupy Wall Street Protest Song” falls squarely in the former camp.
Like Mr. Wilson, Mr. Munasifi saw Occupy Wall Street as a prime target for spoofing — in part because the protesters have attracted worldwide attention, in part because he feels that life for Americans not in the richest 1 percent of society isn’t particularly bad, despite the movement’s fundamental complaint that too much wealth is concentrated in too few hands.
Duly inspired, Mr. Munasifi recorded a song parody set to the strains of Bob Dylan’s iconic “The Times They Are a Changin’.” An accompanying YouTube video depicts Mr. Munasifi strumming a guitar among Occupy D.C. protesters in downtown Washington, singing the following lyrics:
Come gather round people
Come and join your hands
We’re taking Wall Street
And we’re making demands
We need poster board
I can’t make it myself
But it’s 10 cents a sheet
At the store it’s on sale
An example of the economies of scale
It’s so evil
“I thought the protesters were overlooking the fact that money isn’t necessarily wealth,” said Mr. Munasifi, 31, an Arlington resident. “The wealthiest guy 200 years ago had a chamber pot. Today, it’s amazing that I can have an iPhone, and it’s no worse than the one the King of Saudi Arabia has. Things are getting better.”
Syndicated columnist David Harsanyi took a similarly ironic approach, penning a mock “Occupy Wall Street Manifesto” in which he purported to speak with the voice of the movement.
“We demand the end to a corrupt Wall Street (“Apple,” “your 401(k)”) because banks hold too much power,” he wrote. “We demand that government consolidate authority so that elected officials can make prudent choices for us. All that cash in banks was printed by the war god Mars and has nothing to do with the voluntary deposits by ordinary Americans, so we do not consider this theft.”
“I had read one of the actual manifestos out there, and it made me chuckle,” Mr. Harsanyi said. “I thought that by playing with it, I could point out the inconsistencies and ideological problems with the positions taken” by the Occupy movement.
“Philosophically, I understand the anger behind the movement. But I believe in free markets. I think their anger is directed at the wrong people. And they want to use the state to fix a problem that I think the state caused.”
Mr. Wilson’s “We Are the 53 Percent” blog is less satirical — and more direct — in its criticism. Inspired by “We Are the 99 Percent,” a blog featuring photos of people holding handwritten signs detailing their recession-era struggles that has become a symbol of the Occupy Wall Street, “We Are the 53 Percent” sports similar photos and signs extolling hard work and personal responsibility while scolding others for blaming their problems on the financial system.
Co-created with RedState.org founder Erick Erickson, the blog is intended to represent the 53 percent of Americans who pay federal income tax. One contributor’s sign reads “while you are protesting the rest of us are working.”
“I put it up at about 4 in the morning last Thursday,” Mr. Wilson said. “Went to bed, got up at 8 a.m. and there were a whole bunch of pictures.”
Mr. Wilson added that while the site originally was intended to poke fun at the Occupiers, the tenor of contributions is changing.
“Look, it started with, ‘Shut up, you whiners,’” he said. “But now it’s become more, ‘Listen, we’ve been there. Sometimes you have to do things you don’t want to do in order to make it. Sometimes, no matter how hard you work, things don’t work out, and that’s just the way it is. My life may not be perfect, but it’s mine. I get to make choices.’”
Of course, not all of the humor is attempting to make a larger philosophical point. On Twitter, users have come up with a series of Occupy Wall Street pickup lines:
Can you buy me a drink?
MAN: Do you come here often?
CROWD: Do you come here often?
The zipper on my sleeping bag works.
Twitter also gave birth to Occupy Sesame Street, a full-blown Internet meme that grafts the popular, Muppet-populated children’s show to the real-life protests for maximum comic effect.
On an Occupy Sesame Street Facebook page that has been “liked” by nearly 32,000 people, one doctored photo depicts Oscar the Grouch peeking out from his signature garbage can amid Washington protesters; another shows Ernie in the crowd during rapper Kanye West’s visit to Zuccotti Park.
Among the most amusing Twitter posts:
Truly outrageous that 99 percent of the cookies are consumed by 1 percent of the monsters on PBS.
In a democracy, it’s your vote that counts. On Sesame Street, it’s your count that votes. Ah-ah-ah.
Serious or silly, the lampooning of Occupy Wall Street may actually serve as an early barometer of the movement’s budding social significance — the same way politicians can measure their importance by the number of attack ads broadcast against them, or rappers by the number of diss tracks directed their way.
“Nobody likes to be made fun of, but there’s an element of the ‘Saturday Night Live’ syndrome,” Mr. Wilson said. “You know you’ve made it when there’s an ‘SNL’ parody.”