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Is This Election Killing Political Satire? Ask Nicki Minaj

“First things first, I’ll eat your brains.” It’s a Nicki Minaj line, and also an apt description of what this election cycle appears to have done to the political press’s grey matter, particularly the part of the brain that processes humor. The latest kerfuffle: Last evening, a new Lil’ Wayne mixtape hit the Internet, featuring a line in which Minaj raps, “I’m a Republican, voting for Mitt Romney/you lazy bitches is fucking up the economy.” Buzzfeed and others immediately seized on the line as “proof” that Minaj is actually a right-winger. Never mind that next line of the verse, “out in Miami, I’ll be chilling with a zombie” places the rap firmly in the magical realism realm where Minaj loves to dwell. Never mind that this description of the Mitt Romney voter is hilarious and trenchant and obviously critical. Nor that this isn’t even the first time in recent memory a rapper has made a barbed joke about Republicanism-as-status-symbol. (George W. Bush foil Kanye West, on 2011’s Watch the Throne: “And I’ll never let my son have an ego/He’ll be nice to everyone, wherever we go/I mean I might even make him be Republican/So everybody know he love white people.”)

Minaj is, as Ross Douthat pointed out this morning, in the same boat as David Brooks. (Did I just kill hip-hop by typing that sentence?) Brooks—who has a not insignificant body of work as a gentle satirist—attempted last week to write a column mocking the way the press has written critically about Mitt Romney; it was greeted with confusion from both the right and the left. His tongue was too firmly in cheek for this election cycle, apparently: Brooks told Daily Intel yesterday that “The lesson is never tell jokes about politics.”

Maybe it’s just don’t ever tell jokes about the way Mitt Romney is characterized. (Or, OK, tell funnier ones.) While Brooks’ effort was greeted with confusion, The National Review’s Kevin Williamson’s hilarious high-level satire of the gendered  and class-obsessed storylines surrounding this campaign was received with anger. Intentionally ridiculous lines like “From an evolutionary point of view, Mitt Romney should get 100 percent of the female vote. All of it. He should get Michelle Obama’s vote” were greeted with not just straight faces, but grave, concerned ones.

I understand, sorta, why people are so quick to be upset. Plenty of the “jokes” politics have lobbed our way lately have been unfunny (I’m looking at you, Foster Friess). And plenty of the “real” policy discussion has been a joke. (Hey there, Todd Akin!) The National Review is not the Onion. But when someone (a non- Stewart/Colbert someone) wants to satirize precisely all that ridiculousness, are we so far gone through the earnest-outrage wormhole that we can’t even manage an appreciative chuckle?