Two Words: Chuck Norris

Curator's Note

Mike Huckabee’s collaboration with Chuck Norris – a minute-long advert suggestively called HuckChuck Facts – provides a playful window into the political culture of celebrity endorsements. With HuckChuck Facts, Huckabee isn’t rewriting the book on celebrity endorsements nor is he reframing the way celebrities serve as the golden mouthpieces for a candidate’s campaign; what he is doing, however, is engaging in a playful reconsideration of how celebrity endorsements are constructed, disseminated, and marketed to the young (read: hard won) 18-30 demographic.

This short clip illustrates an important shift in the way Presidential candidates have used various media to shape, control and manage their image in the new media environment. Here the Huckabee campaign chooses its subject carefully, enlisting the services of the iconic (and ironic?) Chuck Norris to bolster the young electorate’s identification with the Republican conservative. What makes the spot different from most conventional campaign ads is Huckabee’s engagement with popular culture/kitsch and his use of irony as a rhetorical strategy. Riding the wave of popularity made possible by chucknorrisfacts.com, an ever-growing archive of Chuck Norris-related jokes, Huckabee et al. appropriate and remediate the comic and ironic features of the jokes to sharpen both the candidate’s image and to put his cultural capital on display.

At first glance, the unexpected pairing of Huckabee and Norris produces an initial response from the viewer: this must be a parodic/satiric text! The difficulty (first-time) viewers have ascertaining the intended meaning of the ad speaks to the ironic play at work in the text; that we are never entirely certain of where the irony is directed also makes this spot worthy of further consideration. Although Huckabee does well to generate viewer interest, one wonders what these double-edged ironic utterances reveal about this “principled, authentic conservative” Does the irony at work in this “Chuck Norris approved” ad serve as a vehicle to deflect serious critical inquiry? Does Huckabee use HuckChuck Facts to defer having to address key issues like illegal immigration (“My plan to secure the border? Two words: Chuck Norris!”)? As political humour scholar Paul Lewis reminds us, the good news about humour is frequently also the bad news: that it can be used to deflect and dismiss much needed critique.

Comments

Craig O. Stewart's picture

Interesting post. I'd like

Interesting post. I’d like to suggest that an ironic reading would perhaps have the unintended effect of putting such statements as “Mike Huckabee is a principled, authentic conservative” or “is a lifelong hunter who will protect our second amendment rights” in the same category as Chuck Norris facts—meaningless boasts from a right wing boob. That is, it could facilitate a kind of critique of discourse for many in the 18-30 demo, but those who are already unlikely to be persuaded by Huckabee’s messages. On the other hand, the statements in this ad may function for other, conservative members of this demo, as hyperbolic, rather than ironic statements—that is, they are humorously exaggerated, but veridical, representations of what these audiences believe about conservative masculinity, tax policy, etc. And it is here where this message is likely to actually win people over to the Huckabee camp.

Ted Gournelos's picture

I agree with Craig. The

I agree with Craig. The fascinating thing about this clip is not necessarily its content, but rather its demographic and the process of intercommunication hinted through ironic politics-qua-politics. It gestures to a “truth” many on the left take for granted: that humor and irony isn’t easily incorporated into conservative or reactionary discourse. On the contrary, however, it can often be used to mask the processes of discourse themselves, as well as the means through which discourse operates and is obfuscated (e.g. celebrity culture or the political ad). After all, this ad is far more interesting than the average *New Yorker* cartoon; so what is at stake is not whether irony can be used, but rather how it is used and whether irony itself represents a (sub)culture, as many theorists seem to claim at times. More importantly, does that subculture have a political agenda, is it as varied as the dominant culture, and can it be reached and galvanized through the same processes?

Viveca Greene's picture

Very timely and interesting

Very timely and interesting clip and post, Ian. (Also, quick—and entirely sincere—thanks to the IMR team: it’s a fantastic resource.)

OK, given this week’s irony-and-politics theme and the candidate at the center of the ad, I’d love to take the opportunity to inject the term South Park Republican here and see how you all respond; however, Huckabee is too far right for it to fit perfectly. The ad must be an attempt to court that demographic though, which, as Andrew Sullivan (who coined the term) explained, are people who “believe we need a hard-ass foreign policy and are extremely skeptical of political correctness” but are socially liberal on many issues. As those of you reading undoubtedly know, in South Park Conservatives Brian Anderson argues that these voters happily consume “cable-nurtured satire” like South Park, Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn, and The Raw Feed. So, the ad targets them, or some of them, yes? (Any idea where it ran, Ian?)

I’m thinking about Ted’s question regarding irony representing a (sub)culture and one with a political agenda… It does seem to be the lingua franca for the population I interact with daily but I’m always curious if the liberal-arts-college set is truly representative in this regard. And, if there’s an assumption that irony is more blue than red (or oppositional than dominant?), I wonder if it’s because the population arguably best known for it (college students) tends to be.

Jonathan Gray's picture

Viveca, I think irony would

Viveca, I think irony would be considerably more “red” if the country and its power base were considerably more “blue.” Irony, after all, tends to cut at the way things are, and needs to do so for it to feel like it matters. Hence, for instance, where the irony leads to humor in this ad is where it parodies the form of the endorsement ad (something that is ripe for criticism). It’s parody, not satire. Claiming to use Chuck Norris for border control is primarily funny, I’d suggest, because (a) candidates never offer such puerile policies in ads, and (b) it overblows Chuck’s masculine hero figure to ludicrous proportions (being able to cover the entire border single-handedly). Parody, then, not satire. Yes, there’s a small element of the laughing at the “politically correct” liberals, but that’s more or less outright criticism and not irony per se. Or witness Fox News’s lame attempt at making a right-wing Daily Show — comparing Obama to Osama, and making the umpteenth Hillary-hating joke is neither particularly ironic when African-Americans, minorities, and women have all too little real power in the United States, nor is it something that irony needs to say: countless unfunny people in power can and do repeat such criticisms daily, whether explicitly or implicitly through their policies. By contrast, the left has a greater need for irony — when your politics are being represented by the likes of Alan Combes, Paul Begala, or a host of Democratic congress-people who don’t seem that different from their Republican counterparts, other venues and approaches are vital. I don’t think irony is lefty inherently, but I think in a country that always seems to lean right, it will always appear that way here.

[...] 3-minute clips

[…] 3-minute clips accompanied by a 100-150-word impressionistic responses.” See the latest post, Two Words: Chuck Norris here for example. Image: “Steal this Album” by The […]

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