You’ve surely heard that the civil war in Syria, and the broader tensions in the Middle East and Africa, are about tribalism. Let’s learn about tribalism … and you. (More)
You may remember those educational film strips from the 1950s and 60s. My grandfather, Regis Phlyphytyphts Phlyphytyl, claims to have made a brief, uncredited appearance in the 1956 classic Aluminum on the March. (Scroll to 12:37 and look in the trees as the “sleek, modern bus” drives past. I’ve never been able to spot him but he swore he was there.) David and Jerry Zucker and Jim Abrahams, best known for their disaster movie spoof Airplane!, had already turned their keen wit to those postwar science films in this skit from their first film, The Kentucky Fried Movie:
Given my family ties to the educational film business – I’m sure grandpa really was in one of those trees – I decided to try my
hand paw at it. So here’s the first draft of my new script: Tribalism and You
TOMMY: Daddy, why are they fighting in Syria?
FATHER: (Shakes head, looks troubled) Well, that’s a compli–
NARRATOR: Good question, Tommy! Let’s learn about tribalism … and you.
[Montage of child-safe photos of people holding guns in third world countries.]
NARRATOR: Yes, Tommy, tribalism is why people are fighting in Syria. It’s why we will never see democracy in the Middle East or Africa. Tribes there have been fighting for hundreds of years. Those people just don’t like each other and they can’t get along.
TOMMY: Like Republicans and Democrats?
FATHER: (Looks shocked)
NARRATOR: (Chuckles) No, Tommy. Republicans and Democrats are different political parties, but they’re not different tribes.
TOMMY: What’s the difference?
NARRATOR: Well, for example, tribes don’t need real reasons to argue. They just hate each other.
TOMMY: Like Republicans hate President Obama, no matter what he does?
FATHER: Umm, Tommy–
NARRATOR: It’s okay, Dad. No, Tommy, Republicans always have reasons to be angry with President Obama and Democrats. For example, Republicans were angry because President Obama said he might strike Syria without asking Congress. Then they were angry because he asked Congress. Now they’re angry because he’s asked Congress to wait before voting. Those are reasons.
TOMMY: They sound like silly reasons.
FATHER: (Nods surreptitiously)
NARRATOR: No, Tommy. They were very important. If President Obama struck Syria without asking Congress, that would violate the Constitution. When he asked Congress to approve the strike, that was abdicating his responsibility as Commander in Chief. And while Syria is the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time and Obama is the wrong man, asking Congress to wait while he works on a diplomatic solution means President Obama is getting played. America needs strong, decisive leaders who always follow the Constitution, Tommy, not Operation Shuck & Jive.
FATHER: (Eyes widen)
TOMMY: What is that?
NARRATOR: “Shuck & Jive” is a black American English phrase for telling lies, Tommy. It means Putin’s Monkey probably gassed the Syrian people himself to distract us from scandals like Benghazi and the IRS.
FATHER: (Rolls eyes and shakes head)
TOMMY: Russian President Putin has a monkey?
NARRATOR: That means President Obama, our first monkey president.
TOMMY: Umm, President Obama is a human being. And that sounds kind of racist.
NARRATOR: Now don’t go playing the race card, Tommy. I didn’t say anything at all about race.
FATHER: (Gives “Oh puh-leeze!” look)
TOMMY: But it was pretty clear what you meant, and a new academic study shows a strong correlation between slave ownership in counties before the Civil War and how many people in those counties now vote for Republicans. Is that what you meant about tribes fighting for hundreds of years?
FATHER: (Nods proudly)
NARRATOR: Don’t try to be clever, Tommy. And didn’t you see the photos at the start of my talk? All of those people were dark. Tribalism only happens with brown-skinned people, Tommy. White people – like you – always have other reasons. That’s why it’s so important to understand tribalism … and you.
TOMMY: (Crosses arms over chest) It still sounds like racism to me.
NARRATOR: Look, Tommy, white people are good at democracy. We invented democracy. We believe in democracy. We’re not tribal.
TOMMY: Then why are Republican counties trying to secede from Colorado and California and Maryland?
FATHER: (Gives look that says “Good question!”)
NARRATOR: That’s democracy in action, Tommy. Democracy means the majority rules, and if your people aren’t the majority then you redraw the lines until you are.
TOMMY: And that sounds like tribalism.
NARRATOR: Dad, what are you teaching that child?
FATHER: Respect. Empathy. Critical think–
[Screen goes black.]
NARRATOR: And that’s all the time we have kids. Ask your teacher to order our next film: Propaganda … and You.
Good day and good nuts.