The needs of an ironic generation have overridden better judgment before. From forcing people to utter the words “Governor Schwarzenegger” to adding to the fortunes of Anheuser-Busch by “ironically” drinking Budweiser, there have been lots of cases where being ridiculous for the sake of being ridiculous has run counter to sincere political goals. Right now, though, we’re experiencing possibly the most extreme incarnation of this trend yet, with one of America’s biggest ironic heroes endorsing the most right-wing presidential candidate still in contention. I’m talking about Chuck Norris.
Before you call me crazy, stupid, or suicidal for even thinking of crossing Chuck Norris, let’s consider Chuck’s redeeming qualities. He was a mediocre martial artist and an even worse actor, and even those who worship at the Church of Chuck must admit that Walker, Texas Ranger was terrible. What he does have going for him is one of the more memorable running gags in recent years in the form of Conan O’Brien’s “Walker, Texas Ranger lever”; his personal appearance on Conan proved that he had a sense of humor about it. That in turn led to the appearance of the initially hilarious but increasingly unfunny “Chuck Norris Facts,” a bevy of stupid but sufficiently absurd sayings that secured his iconic manliness. Several commercial appearances later, he’s a star again, with credentials that just barely exceed those of Paris Hilton.
None of this would be a problem if he weren’t crossing over into the political sphere. But sadly, Carlos Ray Norris has become the most well known and active campaigner for Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee. In doing so, he’s taken the focus away from other notorious Huckabee supporters, none more dubious than Bill Gothard, leader of the cult-like evangelical Institute of Basic Life Principles. He’s supporting a candidate who has said that AIDS victims should be quarantined from society and who feels that a woman’s natural place is in the kitchen. Something tells me those views aren’t shared in Greenwich Village or Belmont, areas that have nonetheless become hotbeds of Norris-loving irony.
There’s a reason we should care about the political significance of a seemingly non-political celebrity: It’s become all too apparent recently that celebrity culture is infiltrating arenas where it would have never even been considered 20 years ago, whether it’s tabloid-like coverage of John Edwards’s haircutting habits or Jessica Simpson’s relationship with Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo dominating football talk. Celebrity endorsements are as strong as ever, and even in the Bible Belt, far removed from Hollywood’s traditional liberal activism, the impact of Norris’s campaigning can’t be ignored. Since the duo appeared together in an Iowa television ad this fall, Huckabee’s popularity has skyrocketed, and young conservatives have gravitated toward the martial arts star as he tours the country with his candidate.
While we can’t ignore Chuck, we must understand why: We’re not satisfied with just telling jokes for the sake of being funny; we have to have them dominate life, society, and yes, even politics. Norris’s relevance to 2008 is predicated entirely on a joke, over which writer-less Conan O’Brien and Stephen Colbert have both claimed credit for. But as Colbert will be the first one to tell you, what should be strictly fodder for late-night programs has increasingly become a presence on the nightly news and CNN. That’s not something to brag about to our grandkids.
Some may accuse me of taking Chuck Norris too seriously, but to that end I’m here with a reality check: Chuck Norris cannot divide by zero, and his roundhouse kick is not a preferred method of execution in 16 states. Nor do his tears cure debilitating illnesses, but extensive medical research does—research that would lose funding if the Chuck–Huck ticket wins in November. I don’t fear Chuck Norris the martial artist, but his implications as political spokesman have my hairs a bit on end. The day we learn not to fear Chuck Norris will be a new day for America.