What were you doing when you first heard about the attack on the
World Trade Center? How did it make you feel?
Victor: Like most people, I turned on the news first thing
in the morning and heard the anchor say, "The Twin Towers are gone."
Then I saw the footage. By the tenth repeat, the reality of it began
to sink in. My first reaction was that it was Miami Cubans angry
about the Latin Grammys being moved to L.A., but then I heard that
the attack was well-organized and I realized that it couldn't have
been Latinos. And it was on time. But honestly, my first reaction
was that it was Bush and Cheney. The phrase "American Blood on American
Soil," which masked the US-provoked skirmish that started the Mexican
War in 1846, kept resonating in my brain. "Remember the Main". The
Gulf of Tonkin. It fit the M.O. Before, nobody was interested in
Bush's military hocus pocus, and now people are ready to hand over
their civil liberties in exchange for a strong "home defense." It
didn't surprise me that the first thing Bush asked for was the War
Powers Act and a blank check for military spending rather than medical
aid and disaster relief. Keep your eyes on those guys. They're up
to something. I feel a tremendous sadness for the people who perished
and their families. There are mothers crying all over the world
because of this. I hope no more innocent people die as a result
of this heinous act.
What's your sense of how the media conducted itself that day?
Victor: On the first day I think the media did an excellent
job of trying to make sense of a senseless act. They kept their
heads as the facts emerged. Later, though, they repeated the official
White House version without questioning it. That second week, during
the military escalations, it was frightening to see the media rally
us toward a war without the benefit of naming an enemy, declaring
that it would be a "new kind of war," a war of covert actions kept
out of the news, perhaps never divulged and with the potential of
state-sponsored assassinations. What's new about that? Anybody remember
Latin America? Central America? Iran-Contra?
Now, though, the media are being more critical and doing their research.
A lot of things are coming out that will cast a bad light on the
US. Not the people, but the government. There's been more empathy
and understanding in the news recently, and I find that hopeful.
Speaking as a political satirist, how have these events transformed
President Bush's image?
Victor: Like I've said before, because of all his press
conferences and public statements, Bush is now reading at the tenth
grade level. So that's gotta be good for his image. And I think
his golf game has improved since he "took" office. But when I hear
the media analysts say that Bush is handling the current situation
well, I wonder, "Are we looking at the same footage?" I mean, Bush
standing on the rubble with the bullhorn and vowing to kick Afghanistan's
ass. Didn't he realise he was sloganeering on a pile of corpses?
To many it was patriotic and presidential. I thought it was macabre,
grotesque and disrespectful. All around him people are heroically
searching under every inch of rubble for survivors, and he jumps
up there like Douglas Fairbanks. It was like he was rounding up
a posse. And that whole wanted poster remark. I was surprised they
didn't call the mobilization "Operation Frontier Justice." Shoot
first and ask questions later. I still wish Martin Sheen would have
run for President.
Do you think there is any symmetry between Jerry Falwell's
remarks on the 700 Club and Bill Maher's commentary on his show,
Victor: After Falwell's comment about the shared responsibility
between liberals, gays, foreigners and terrorists, I was sure he
was going to declare a crusade against Jamie Farr for that whole
Corporal Klinger thing. And Maher's comments about US military cowardice
for launching mechanical death from hundreds of miles away. The
only symmetry I see is that they were both being honest, and they
both apologized but didn't really mean it. Falwell's extremist comment
reminds us that we have our own fundamentalist hatemongers bent
on starting a holy war, only they shave, wear expensive suits and
invest God's money into theme parks and politicians.
In the aftermath, comedians are starting to relocate their funny
bones a little. How do you feel about this?
Victor: I think it's important to make people laugh during
these times, because there is so much pent up stress and anxiety.
Laughter is a communal and very primal thing. We laugh when we're
afraid, and it allays our fear. It is a physiological response.
And psychologically, sometimes gallows humor is our only defense
against truly dreadful situations. Laughter empowers the spirit.
It is also a way to address a truth or observation that might otherwise
get you in trouble. It might be safer to say, for example, "Bush
is trying to be hip, so he's governing by hip-ocracy," than to write
a serious article listing all the facts relating to why Bush's actions
are hypocritical, or, as Bush might say: "hypocriminal." That might
make people feel helpless. Tell it in a joke, though, and people
might go: "Yeah, that's right!" I like that "Bush Laden" photo circulating
on the net, and that "Curious George" picture from earlier this
year with Bush and the chimps. Those possess more truth than a lot
of the powderpuff commentary we're getting.
We need critical voices at this time to sift through the symbolic
and factual rubble, and the first ones to step into the breach have
been the comedians and political cartoonists: Jon Stewart, Bill
Maher, Pocho Magazine, The Onion. But the message has to fit the
medium. Even I find myself holding my commentary until I feel the
timing is right, because timing is critical in all humor. I hope
when comedians do step up to the mike, however, they go at it full
bore, because we need to say things that nobody is saying.
I recently read that shortly after the Kennedy assassination, Mort
Sahl went onstage with a newspaper that had the picture of Jack
Ruby killing Oswald. He supposedly said, "Here is a picture of Jack
Ruby shooting the assassin, surrounded by 24 members of the Dallas
Police Force...Or 25 if you count Ruby."
That's the kind of honest, critical voice we need right now, because
evil triumphs when good people do, or in this case, say, nothing.
Do you have any jokes you'd like to try out on our studio audience?
Victor: About the bombing, no. The first joke I remember,
though, was a photo of the World Trade Center rebuilt as a giant
hand giving the middle finger. It was during those early days when
angry white guys were shooting at mosques, killing Muslims and beating
up Mexicans just for looking like Muslims, all in the name of defending
freedom. I still don't know why those weren't classified as terrorist
acts. Still, the joke was a barometer of the time, and hopefully
today's jokes will help promote understanding and not violence.
So I don't have any jokes right now per se, but as soon as George
W. Bush or Osama Bin Laden slip on a banana peel, I'll be there.
All I would say regarding George W. Bush, though, is that it's up
to all of us to make sure the "W" doesn't stand for World War III.
That would be unfunny.