Editorial: How smart jokes fool the unwary

Here’s a joke circulating on the Internet that prompts a laugh, rings true to some Americans, but is also disconcerting.
It goes like this:
“A cowboy named Bud was overseeing his herd in a remote mountainous pasture in Montana when suddenly a brand-new BMW advanced toward him out of a cloud of dust. The driver, a young man in a Brioni suit, Gucci shoes, RayBan sunglasses and YSL tie, leaned out the window and asked the cowboy, ‘If I tell you exactly how many cows and calves you have in your herd, will you give me a calf?’
“Bud looks at the man, who obviously is a yuppie, then looks at his peacefully grazing herd and calmly answers, ‘Sure, why not?’ The yuppie parks his car, whips out his Dell notebook computer, connects it to his Cingular RAZR V3 cell phone, and surfs to a NASA page on the Internet, where he calls up a GPS satellite to get an exact fix on his location which he then feeds to another NASA satellite that scans the area in an ultra-high-resolution photo.
“The young man then opens the digital photo in Adobe Photoshop and exports it to an image processing facility in Hamburg, Germany. Within seconds, he receives an email on his Palm Pilot that the image has been processed and the data stored. He then accesses an MS-SQL database through an ODBC connected Excel spreadsheet with email on his Blackberry and, after a few minutes, receives a response. Finally, he prints out a full-color, 150-page report on his hi-tech, miniaturized HP LaserJet printer, turns to the cowboy and says, ‘You have exactly 1,586 cows and calves.’
“‘That’s right. Well, I guess you can take one of my calves,’ says Bud.
“He watches the young man select one of the animals and looks on with amusement as the young man stuffs it into the trunk of his car. Then Bud says to the young man, ‘Hey, if I can tell you exactly what your business is, will you give me back my calf?’
“The young man thinks about it for a second and then says, ‘Okay, why not?’
“‘You’re a Congressman for the U.S. government,’ says Bud.
“‘Wow! That’s correct,’ says the yuppie, ‘but how did you guess that?’
“‘No guessing required,’ answers the cowboy. ‘You showed up here even though nobody called you; you want to get paid for an answer I already knew to a question I never asked. You used millions of dollars worth of equipment trying to show me how much smarter than me you are; and you don’t know a thing about how working people make a living — or about cows, for that matter. This is a herd of sheep. Now give me back my dog.’”
The political tag line to the joke is this:
But the jokester has it all wrong. Part of the problem stems from deliberate attempts to demonize government; to undercut the public’s faith in our elected officials, to shift the blame from where it belongs. This is the type of anti-government spittle that Rush Limbaugh likes to shout across the airwaves. It’s the type of “pro-big business, get government out of the way” spiel that rallies the conservative troops with flag waving and fanciful images of grandeur. It is also most likely propagated by some right-wing think tank that knows how to appeal to those already prone to dislike government.
What these think tanks know is that this type of political commentary spreads like wildfire across the Internet — partly in good humor (because most people will chuckle) — even though the primary message is that uninformed liberals (that’s the yuppie part) are sticking their noses into people’s lives and they know nothing about the struggles of everyday Joes.
“So, butt out, big government; let us handle this on our own!” It’s the rallying cry from Joe the Plumber.
And it is grossly misinformed.
Think about it. Who wants the average American to disdain big government?
Big business.
Why? Look at health care, for starters. If President Obama is successful in reforming the health care system, the enormous profits of pharmaceutical companies will be greatly reduced and the excessive costs within the system will be culled. If government would only stop regulating energy production, oil companies and gas companies could drill and pollute and reap the benefits of gasoline spikes with no government interference and those oil companies could get even richer; coal companies could ruin the landscape without regulations to restore the land; big banks could wreak havoc with higher credit card interest rates, unwise home mortgages, and investment practices that enrich the brokers and brokerage houses while pilfering money from individual investors; auto manufacturers wouldn’t have to build gas-efficient vehicles or be concerned with safety; big business could export all jobs overseas, avoid national taxes and still reap the benefits of living here — if only it weren’t for that evil big government that keeps meddling in the people’s business! The military industrial complex could get us involved in more wars, promote fear mongering and ding taxpayers with an even more outrageous share of the public treasury. And on and on.
So, say these right-wing think tanks, let’s target those Americans who love to hate big government but aren’t able to articulate how government protects their interests, and have them spread the message that liberals and government are out of touch with the average Joe. How better to do that than with a joke over the Internet that spreads organically.
Sadly, the very Americans who benefit from big government are the ones spreading this anti-government message on behalf of the big businesses that are — on many issues — working against them. Many from big business work to deny expanded health care, advocate for cuts in Social Security benefits, fight unemployment benefits when jobs disappear, push for lower corporate and income taxes on the rich, and work to stack the deck in favor of the wealthy.
Yep, the propaganda guys working on behalf of big business are good.
So good they can craft a joke with incongruent images and make it seem legitimate. Lose you? Think about it. The average age of a congressman is over 50, not some young guy (as in the joke) right out of college. Most House members are Republicans, and definitely not yuppies. Most don’t even know what the young man in the joke was doing with those electronic devices or how to do it — that’s a Wall Streeter, or someone from Silicon Valley, but definitely not a congressman. And most representatives and senators do know what’s going on around our nation’s farms and ranches, even though some Wall Street types might not. But, of course, they don’t want you to think about the joke; they just hope you have the typical right-wing or libertarian gut reaction: “Yeah, that’s so true, so true. If we just got big government out of the way, we’d be OK.”
So says the wolf to Little Red Riding Hood, who spreads the joke to her friends and they skip off to Grandma’s house none the wiser. Insidious? Definitely. And here’s the kicker: They don’t care.
Angelo S. Lynn

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