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Posted at 3:54 PM ET, 03/ 4/2011

Gaddafi: Is it a laughing matter?

By Elizabeth Flock
height
Moammar Gaddafi smells flowers given to him by a supporter as he drives away in an electric golf cart after speaking in Tripoli, Libya. (Ben Curtis/AP)

As the protests to depose Libya's leader have amplified and the death toll continues to rise, Moammar Gaddafi has increasingly been on the receiving end of snark, ridicule, and parody. But is it too soon? In every tragedy, the question arises: when is it okay to laugh?

Some jokes were innocuously funny, such as Time magazine's photo gallery "Gaddafi Fashion: The Emperor Has Some Crazy Clothes," or the ribbing we gave Gaddafi by listing out his biggest scandals over the years.

Some attempted to delegitimize the leader through sarcasm. Mediaite wrote of Gaddafi's army of all-female, all-virgin bodyguards: "According to Gaddafi, the job works to "empower" women, rather than merely exist as the whim of a megalomaniacal despot."

But for others, the purpose of their jesting wasn't so clear.

Was Vanity Fair's Charlie Sheen or Muammar Qaddafi? quiz, in which they asked readers to identify whose rant it was, merely created to jump on the Charlie Sheen crazy train? (Quick: "Shame on you, you gangsters. Surrender..." Who was it? Answer: Not the one with tiger's blood.)

Many readers said they found the quiz surprisingly hard. But is it okay to compare a Hollywood actor with substance abuse problems with a leader accused of ordering troops to open fire on his citizens?

Other Gaddafi pranks have been transparently earnest about their desire to cause real change. The site spelldictator.com tells you "There are 645,120 ways to spell Moammar Gaddafi's name, but there is only one way to spell brutal dictator." Although clicking through those 645,120 ways to spell the name and getting a different flamboyant photo of Gaddafi every time is pretty funny, the large font of the words 'brutal dictator' below your fingertip won't let you laugh too long. And below those words lie a list of what a reader can do to help out Libya, such as sign petitions or donate.

But should we be focusing on the numbers dead in Libya or the need for humanitarian relief instead of starting snarky Gaddafi internet memes? Or is it okay to use comedy if the purpose is more than just to make a cheap joke?

One Libyan blogger doesn't think so:

and for the millionth time #Gaddafi is not a joke and we are not laughing for making him a clown he is pure evil, this is serious #Libyaless than a minute ago via web

Comedian Sarah Silverman stands firmly on the side of humor. While I haven't heard Silverman address Gaddafi (she definitely has addressed Charlie Sheen), Silverman dared to do a stand up routine about how 9/11 was worse for her than most people. She joked that 9/11 was the "same day I found out the soy chai latte was like 900 calories." As the audience laughed, they were likely thinking about how little those annoyances truly matter.

Satire has always been a tool for creating awareness, often for good. The VF quiz may appear to have little merit, but chances are the reader knew more about Gaddafi and his confused rhetoric after taking the quiz. And if a leader is truly not fit to lead, as Obama stated of Gaddafi yesterday, then shouldn't he be delegitimized in every possible way?

What do you think? What is the place of snark, ridicule, and parody here?

By Elizabeth Flock  | March 4, 2011; 3:54 PM ET
Categories:  Your Take  
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