In an hilarious episode of NBC’s The Office, Dunder-Mifflin übertwerp Dwight Schrute unwittingly adapts the words of several speeches by Benito Mussolini and Karl Marx in order to appear impressive at a conference for salesmen. “Blood alone moves the wheels of history!” he cries, and by the time he gets to Il Duce’s “It is a privilege to fight!” the equally witless conference audience is chanting along with him. “Salesmen of the world, unite!”
Explaining a joke tends to make it unfunny, but it might be helpful here. We, the viewers, laugh, because we know that Dwight’s adaptation is a little, shall we say, inappropriate. We laugh at Dwight, the fascist salesman, and we laugh at his fever-whipped audience, barely suspending disbelief. Yes, it’s possible that a roomful of several thousand salesmen with bachelor’s degrees would not recognize any of these “historic” words. The joke’s on them.
Reflecting on Rick Warren’s invocation at the “historic” inauguration of Barack H. Obama, I wondered: On whom is the joke this time?
Mainstream newspapers were critical of Obama’s choice of “America’s pastor” to deliver this prayer, but in the immediate afterglow they praised the prayer as “tolerant.” Of course, they aver, he prayed in the name of...