July 17, 2012
Sarah Silverman's 'Indecent Proposal' and what that means for modern politics
By the time you read this, you probably will have watched Sarah Silverman in her underwear, demonstrating a lesbian sex act with her dog.
Because that’s the way politics works these days.
Silverman wrote and stars in a short video, called “Scissor Sheldon,” posted at scissorsheldon.com, in which she offers to, hmm, make casino magnate Sheldon Adelson very happy if he donates $100 million to the campaign of Barack Obama, instead of to Mitt Romney.
Adelson, the owner of The Venetian hotel and casino and one of the world’s richest men, has declared he is willing to spend that much money to help get the Republican candidate elected president.
“Sheldon, I have a proposal for you, and, I’m serious, look at me,” Silverman says to the camera. What follows — her proposal — is not really quotable in this newspaper, though, trust me, this video will introduce more young people to politics than student council.
The short video went online on the afternoon of July 16. By the time I saw it, early the next morning, it already had 11,000 “likes.” Major news outlets were covering it. It was wallpapered across my Facebook and Twitter accounts. Viral? Viruses could only wish.
The enormously popular, self-described “Jewess” comedian has used satirical political video before to great effect. In 2008, she launched The Great Schlep, urging young Jews to go to Florida to convince their grandparents to vote for Obama.
Story continues after the jump. (Warning: Explicit video)
Video courtesy of SchlepLabs
This time, she has once again teamed up with activists Ari Wallach and Mik Moore, co-founders of The Great Schlep. They run a pro-Obama super PAC with the anodyne name the Jewish Council for Education & Research (JCER). Its main backer is Alexander Soros, the 27-year-old New York University grad who also happens to be the son of George Soros.
“The most important political office is that of private citizen,” Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis once said — and his quote is the opening line on the Web page explaining JCER.
Wallach and Moore say their goal is to juice the campaigns of people they believe in by inspiring young Jewish voters to get involved.
“JCER is motivated by a deep love for the Jewish community and by a desire to ensure that Jews have access to accurate information as they engage in the electoral process,” the mission statement says.
For prior generations, that might have meant walking precincts, door to door, delivering speeches to Hadassah groups or passing out bumper stickers. Now, you submit your ideas on how to support Obama by using social media, humor and celebrity, and the super PAC picks the ones it likes best — like Silverman’s — and then produces and disseminates it. The Great Schlep generated 300 million impressions — at a cost of next to nothing. That’s a lot of precinct walking.
Merging politics with sex and celebrity used to be something only politicians did, after they were elected. Moore and Wallach have discovered it works even better before. Their successful campaigns leap far beyond the Jewish community and create national conversations. In the case of “Scissor Sheldon,” Moore said he hopes it will lead to a conversation on the role of unbridled political contributions in American elections and the outsized impact a billionaire like Adelson can have.
But here’s what makes me squirm — and it’s not at all Silverman’s offer — which, in her signature style, comes across as more adorable than raunchy.
It’s their relentless focus on one man — Adelson. The truth behind Adelson’s giving is that the entire system of unlimited, unaccountable campaign financing from so-called 527 organizations to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in 2010 is the single greatest threat to our democracy. Everybody who takes part — from Adelson to the secretive billionaire Tea Party funders, the Koch Brothers, Obama, Romney and also Alexander Soros — is part of the problem.
How is Adelson worse than Alexander Soros? At least Adelson steps out of the shadows and shoots off his mouth — as when he told jewishjournal.com that his former crush, Newt Gingrich, had “reached the end of the line.” Adelson makes his agenda clear. Politically, he and I may be far apart — but he is no hidden puppet master.
But the “Scissor Sheldon” Web site paints him to be exactly that. The spare site offers up a single, rather uncomplimentary photo of Adelson. On the page under the heading “Who Is the $100 Million Man?” you can find a 10-point list of all of Adelson’s supposed transgressions. It paints Adelson in an entirely one-dimensional way — a caricature — and lets others who dump swill in the political trough off the hook.
I get why Silverman chose to address Adelson. It’s personal, the way Silverman looks her landsman in the eye. This is like The Great Schlep, and he’s Super Zayde. Fortunately, we American Jews live in a time and in a country where we can feel perfectly safe and secure attacking one another using Der Stürmer — like iconography. Yes, “Scissor Sheldon” will provide a Jewish National Fund-sized forest of kindling to ignite every Jew-hater out there — but those freaks will hate us anyway.
My greater concern is that unlike, say, Stephen Colbert’s masterful Colbert super PAC shtick, in which he used the same broken laws to create his own unaccountable super PAC, the “Scissor Sheldon” bit won’t go beyond Adelson.
In fact, by the time you read this, this week’s big viral campaign may already be last week’s news.
Unless, of course, Sheldon Adelson says “yes.”