Vermin Supreme: An Argument for Satirical Campaigning
a paper by Dani Gehm, senior student of Rhetoric & Media Studies at Willamette University in Oregon.
At first glance, Vermin Supreme appears to be nothing more than a disgruntled activist
attempting to throw off the balance of serious presidential candidates with obnoxious behavior.
His image certainly points towards this direction—it seems impossible to suggest that a man
wearing a large rubber boot on his head, skin-tight leopard pants, and “hip hop bling” could be
serious about anything, let alone politics. However, Vermin Supreme has achieved fame for his
seemingly whimsical attempts to run for office and his ability to combine political satire with
activism and protest. As of May 2012, the keyword “Vermin Supreme” received over 550 hits on
YouTube, with the most popular video (“Vermin Supreme: When I’m President Everyone Gets A
Free Pony”) totaling over 1.3 million views, over 6,000 comments, and over 18,000 “likes” (and
a mere 175 “dislikes”) in a mere four months. The ability for Supreme to garner this much
attention for his take on presidential campaigning in such a short amount of time signals that
something about him resonates with the American public.
Although satirical humor and parodic campaigning has been used to criticize society
throughout history (Rosenberg, “Biography”), Supreme’s style of satirical campaigning becomes
an important text to study for several reasons. First, because of the increasing popularity and
prevalence of political satire in pop culture. From successful television personalities and comedy
programs like Stephen Colbert of The Colbert Report and John Stewart of The Daily Show, we
can see that a new wave of “infotainment” has become a way for audience to entertain
themselves, and as a source of political information (Moy, Xenos & Hess, 2005; Hmielowski,
Holbert & Lee, 2011). Particularly in younger demographics (Hmielowski, Hobert & Lee, 2011),
infotainment has become increasingly popular as either a primary or supplementary news
source or political commentary, even with the prevalence of satire. Akin to these politically
driven infotainment shows, Vermin Supreme has achieved fame and popularity for his
humorous take on politics. Second, unlike The Colbert Report or The Daily Show, Vermin
Supreme has built a new type of political satire, based solely on his own statements, actions,
and press releases. Supreme interacts with politics in a way that significantly differs from the
norm. In general, well-known satirists like John Stewart and Stephen Colbert position
themselves outside of the political process, acting as news reporters, anchormen, or political
commentators. However, Supreme, who is no less satirically driven, actually positions himself
exclusively within the political process to drive his commentary. Third, Supreme’s image
represents a unique example of image events: “staged acts of protest designed for media
dissemination” (Delicath & Deluca, 2003, pg. 215). As stated in several of his online press
releases (“Vermin’s Speach [sic]”, “Vermin’s Promise”) and videos (“King of the Rats: On The
Trail with Vermin Supreme”, “Interview With Vermin Supreme”), Supreme’s acts and statements
are a direct reflection of his nonverbal commentary. For example, Vermin states, in regard to an
early campaign platform to give clown noses to members of Congress, “the symbols that I work
in sometimes are pretty obvious. It pretty much says right there, ‘this is what I think of you, here
you go'” (“King of the Rats: On The Trail with Vermin Supreme”). Although it may be obvious
that these actions represent “acts of social protest… intended to shape public opinion” (Delicath
& Deluca, 2003, pg. 330), these images, videos, and events do not truly attempt to convince his
audience to vote for him in political elections. Unlike the image events of Greenpeace or Earth
First! as described by Delicath & Deluca (2003), Supreme’s images call upon the audiences’
ability to differentiate between Supreme’s superficial face-value argument (‘Vote for Vermin Now
& Often,’ via “Vermin Supreme 2012”) and a deeper argument that scrutinizes traditional
This essay attempts to argue that Vermin Supreme is able to access a deeper meaning
about contemporary political happenings. By application of absurdity and mockery, Vermin
Supreme utilizes satirical rhetoric in his campaign speeches and protests in order to draw
attention to, question, and criticize traditional campaign rhetoric. I first present a history of
Vermin Supreme as an activist, humorist, and politician; second, I provide a brief background of
satire as a function of political commentary; third, I draw a theoretical rhetorical framework
around the satirical commentary of Vermin Supreme and use it to analyze the meaning behind
his campaigns. Lastly, I reflect on the rhetorical discussions surrounding Supreme’s satire,
particularly relating to how audiences and rhetoricians can interpret his attempt to satirize
In this paper, I analyze Supreme’s speeches at the “Lesser Known Democratic
Candidates Presidential Forum” in 2012, “Interview With Vermin Supreme” YouTube interview
from 2012, the short film “King of the Rats: On the Trail with Vermin Supreme” from 2008, and
content from Vermin’s campaign website, which has remained largely unchanged since his
decision to participate in presidential primaries in 2000.
My decision to analyze this content was made after a careful examination of Supreme’s
campaign materials since his decision to run in the presidential primaries. Much of his website
from the start of his campaigning has remained unchanged—many of the original written
speeches, recorded speeches and interviews on YouTube, and fake news clips that make up
the majority of his campaign content still exist. In deciding what materials to analyze, I picked
“Interview With Vermin Supreme” for the completeness with which it describes Vermin’s current
campaign promises and platforms, many of which are a continuation from previous election
cycle campaigns. The “Lesser Known Democratic Candidates Presidential Forum” video was
picked to display Vermin’s typical interactions with other real candidates and with the media.
“King of the Rats: On the Trail with Vermin Supreme” was chosen because of the multi-faceted
look on Supreme’s campaign, including his platform, grassroots interactions, interactions with
the media, as well as its focus on Vermin Supreme as a personality. I also draw in excerpts of
speeches and documents from Supreme’s website in order to provide analysis on some of his
older campaign resources.
Vermin Supreme, “King of the Rats”: Spectacle and image events
Vermin Supreme began his long
career of infiltrating political
primaries and elections in
1992 in Boston, Massachusetts
(“King of the Rats”). He started
his satirical campaigning
“career” by running for mayor of
several cities in the United
States, including Baltimore,
Detroit, and the small military
town of Mercury, Nevada. In the early 2000s, Supreme began to focus on bigger goals, and
decided to campaign for the 2004 Presidential primary. The political satirist began to make
waves during many visits to crowds of “grassroots” supporters of Democratic and Republican
nominees alike. Oversized toothbrush in hand, and flagpole eagle attached to his chest (see
Figure 1), Supreme slowly garnered attention from supporters for popular candidates during
events, and gradually led them away from the partisan mob mentality that grassroots
campaigning often creates. The uniform screaming of popular candidates’ names was replaced
by confused stares at the man with the boot on his head in many Boston grassroots campaigns
(as seen in “King of the Rats”). This paradoxical technique of using ridiculous methods to lead
civilians from this mob mentality is what Vermin Supreme does—and has been doing—for over
two decades. He has essentially perfected it to an art form. Everything that he does—from his
campaign “promises” and speeches to his interactions with other candidates and the media—is
an attempt to draw attention to what he believes to be wrong with the American electoral
Figure 1: Screen capture from “Oval Office Underdogs: Vermin Supreme” (cited
under Krauthammer, Charles)
Among one of the most startling things when the persona Vermin Supreme is mentioned
is the name—is it his real name? What does it mean? Why would anyone choose that for a
name? When asked, Vermin Supreme will tell you—truthfully—that “Vermin Love Supreme” is
his legal name. The legal change occurred in the 1990s (Connors), but has been used since the
1980s. One of the first documented explanations of “Vermin Supreme” comes from Vermin’s
campaign website in March of 2000. Displayed in the format of a news clipping quoting a
speech, adorned with an image of a fist clenching dollars and flags, the following explanation
“…let me say that I Vermin Supreme is (or is it am) first and foremost a
politician.. Let me also point out that all politicians are, in fact, vermin.. I am the
Vermin Supreme, therefore I am without question the most qualified candidate
in this race, at this time. […] Of course, as a politician I shall lie to you, because I
am a politician, and have no reason not to” (“Vermin’s Speech [sic]”).
Because the name Vermin Supreme, both as a name and as a persona, has come to
represent the most extreme representation of the politician, it can be thought of as a slogan to
or a caricature of Vermin’s satirical campaign. Similar to Obama’s “Yes We Can!” or McCain’s
“Maverick,” I believe that Vermin Supreme has become a slogan used to describe the candidate
as a person, the candidate’s policies, and an overall picture of the campaign.
When asked about his name, the topic of validity often comes up. Is Vermin Supreme his
birth name? If not, what is (or was) his real name before his performance as Vermin Supreme
began? He simply refuses to answer questions about his “former life.” Not even on the internet
can the true identity of the man known as Vermin Supreme be found. His refusal to answer such
questions shows that he is very much in character during all times of his public life.
Furthermore, the attempt to keep his private life confidential can be compared to the responses
of serious politicians to accusations or questions about scandals in their personal lives.
Supreme’s appearance is the first indication that his work as a politician is anything like
the suit-wearing, neatly groomed men and women that typically occupy the political sphere.
Sporting no less than five ties, a large rubber boot on his head, and a pair of leopard-print
shorts, Supreme can immediately grab the attention of nearly anyone he encounters. His ability-
-and intention–to attract attention based on his image is an example of what Aaron Hess calls
political spectacle. Political spectacle represents an “othering” of someone, or the act of pointing
at a group or individual because of the way that they are presented, and “operates as visual
publicity within mediated environments and has an effect on the production of public opinion”
(Hess, 107). Supreme’s dress and image becomes “a type of argument within the public screen”
(107), as he aims to make a statement about a certain group of people (politicians). By
participating in the political sphere while obviously “othering” himself stylistically, Supreme
attempts to make a critical statement about what participation in politics is really about. I believe
that, by “othering” himself, he makes a statement that participation in politics boils down to
image and the ability to appeal to a broad spectrum of individuals, instead of important values
like honesty or integrity.
Satire as cultural commentary
In my analysis of Vermin Supreme, I am entering and adding to several important
conversations surrounding satire as a function of cultural/political commentary. I am entering a
discussion of satire as cultural commentary, as Supreme’s rhetoric relies on his audience’s
ability to differentiate between viewing him as simply a form of entertainment and as an
individual who uses humor and satire as a means to provide a critical commentary on
campaigning, elections, and politicians in general. I am adding to this discussion by displaying
how Supreme’s rhetoric differs from the political commentary of popular TV satirists, paying
particular attention to the emphasis Supreme puts on joining the political process he critiques,
instead of acting as an outside party looking in.
In order to accurately analyze Supreme’s commentary on political campaigning, the
concept of satire must be first defined and understood. Satire is defined by Abrams & Harpham
in A Glossary of Literary Terms, 8th Edition as “diminishing or derogating a subject by making it
ridiculous and evoking toward it attitudes of amusement, contempt, scorn, or indignation.” When
used in the context of political satire, the word is used to signify comedic or ironic behavior (for
Supreme, campaigning) that aims to shed light on real political behaviors in order to reveal vices
Satire has been used to criticize society since Ancient Greek Aristophanes pioneered
the genre of comedic drama (Rosenberg, 155), but has created a polarizing debate amongst
scholars as to the effects satire has on audiences and society. Many scholars have argued
about the effects of satire, namely whether the use of satire to study society has an overall
positive or negative effect. Ian Reilly summarizes the two sides of this debate in stating that
“most scholars would agree that satire is either a form of criticism that subscribes to the highest
moral order, or that it is a base form of invective that cultivates destructive, even nihilistic,
tendencies: in short, a constructive presence and/or a destructive force” (2011, 505-506). In this
essay, I argue that political satire in this form–the satirical campaign–is used to inform, educate,
and incite action in American citizens.
Also integral to understanding Vermin Supreme is the distinction between satire and
parody, as the two share similarities but serve uniquely distinct functions as they provide a
commentary on public culture. Satire differs from the concept of parody in several ways. First,
because a parody is modeled off of a specific subject or text, instead of a broad concept or idea.
Second, as Margaret Rose defines it, parody is “the comic refunctioning of preformed linguistic
or artistic material,” (1993, pg. 52). That is, parody aims to alter or imitate a subject in order to
achieve comedic ends. Although parody may (and often does) comment on society or culture,
the end result is humor. In satire, comedy or humor is simply the means to an end. In the case
of Supreme’s ‘satirization’ of political campaigning, we can see that he uses humor and
absurdity as a means of revealing the faults of politicians and campaigning.
The use of both political satire and parody to reveal corruptions in politics is not unusual,
especially in recent years. In both the 2008 and the upcoming 2012 elections, comedian and
television personality Stephen Colbert campaigned for presidency. His most recent campaign,
which was suspended in January 2012, focused on the satirization of the “current political
money system” (Grier). Colbert’s creation of the “Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow”
Super PAC (better known as the “Stephen Colbert Super PAC”) aimed “to make a serious point
about the massive growth of new Super PAC funding organizations” (Zengerle). By proving that
his Super PAC—technically unrelated to his campaign for presidency, although clearly
influenced by it—could gain over $1 million in donations (Zengerle), Colbert strived to show the
corruption surrounding campaign finances.
Colbert’s more popular political satire can be compared to Supreme’s presidential
campaigning. Like Colbert, Vermin Supreme attempts to disrupt the perceived reality of
campaigns and politicians as being fair or honest (“King of the Rats”). However, unlike Colbert,
Supreme’s campaign directly interacts with the media, serious candidates, and the public. By
actively participating in the political processes that he are attempting to satirize, Supreme sets
himself up to be compared with those political processes. It becomes easier for the public to see
the connection between Supreme’s ridiculous campaign platform and serious candidates’
Although satirical campaigning is not unfamiliar to the American electoral system,
Vermin Supreme’s style of political satire goes above and beyond any nonsensical campaigning
previously seen. In the case of Supreme’s campaign, a typically serious action—running for
president—is ridiculed in a way that attempts to mock not only those who run for president, but
the action of campaigning (and politics) itself. As the end result aims to persuade or alter public
opinions, one can see that Supreme’s campaign rhetoric is a satirization of the current political
electoral system, not a parody. Supreme’s involvement with the rhetorical tool of political satire
is important to a discussion of comedy in political culture because of his ability to place himself
directly into political processes. Supreme highlights what he believes to be dishonest,
untrustworthy campaign rhetoric through the presentation of his own actions, and his
interactions with others in his satirical campaign promises and policies. He presents these
policies and promises by participating in public campaign speeches, protests, and grassroots
Public participation, political efficacy, and political anxiety
By allowing his audience to see him participate in politics and his satirization of political
campaigns, Supreme educates them and attempts to engage internal political efficacy in his
audience. Hmielowski et all state that “political entertainment content has the ability to generate
politically relevant outcomes (Holbert, 2005; Holbert et al., 2010)” (2011, 98). Many studies on
late-night political comedy shows like The Daily Show and The Colbert Report have found that
not only does watching these shows encourage political participation (Cao & Brewer, 2008), but
that participation can educate individuals or groups and strengthen their ability to understand
politics. In a study conducted by Finkel & Muller (1998), research showed that “participation has
a significant effect on individual and group efficacy, indicating that prior behavior leads
individuals to adjust their perceptions of both group and individual influence upward” (45). Public
participation as a function of “infotainment” also relates to the concept of political efficacy, the
faith or trust of individuals in government, and their belief that they can participate in and
understand politics. Political efficacy can be categorized in two ways: internal political efficacy
and external political efficacy. External political efficiency refers to the belief that one is effective
when participating in politics, whereas internal political efficacy refers to the belief that one can
understand and therefore participate in politics. Although Supreme is unable to garner mass
media attention in the same way that popular candidates do, Supreme’s interactions with
candidates and with the media (even on a small scale) seem to tell a story to an audience–that
one can participate in politics even if one does not agree with the government.
Through Supreme’s satirized election promises and speeches, a sense of humored
anxiety is transferred from Supreme to his audience. Supreme shows how typical the single-
platform campaign is in American politics by setting his own ‘mandatory tooth brushing law’
platform next to Ed Cowan’s “nuclear-tipped arms race… the only problem that can destroy us,”
as seen in the Lesser-Known Democratic Candidates Presidential Forum. In this satirization of
the single-platform campaign, beyond the humor, Supreme states that there is something
surreal about his campaign (“King of the Rats”), something that isn’t quite right. And it is this
uneasiness with comparing Supreme’s nonsense campaign platforms to real candidates’
platforms that creates anxiety about today’s political climate.
This becomes more obvious as Supreme’s outlandish campaign promises are compared
to some of the statements made by many other candidates. Supreme’s single-platform
campaign promises may seem outrageous, but when compared to the (very real) campaign
promises made by serious candidates for the 2012 Presidency, the pledges of the man wearing
a boot atop his head don’t seem quite as silly. The uneasiness with which many Americans
view Supreme can be easily transferred to this election cycle’s real presidential candidates.
Republican candidate Newt Gingrich “wants to create a lunar colony that he says could become
a U.S. state” (McCaffrey). GOP candidate Rick Santorum claimed in a February 2012 article
that those who believed in climate change “are the anti-science ones,” compared to those that
believe global warming to be “based on phony studies” and that it is little more than “political
science” (Kaplan). The juxtaposition of Supreme making campaign promises that are neither
feasible nor important to the American people (no matter how much Supreme may insist that
they are of major importance) with the statements of real politicians like Gingrich and Romney
exemplifies Supreme’s ability to transfer anxiety into the political sphere.
Absurdity in Supreme’s campaign: A platform of Dental Law and Zombie Preparedness
Because of the complexity of Supreme’s core argument, and the difficulty humans
inherently have in seeing critical flaws in those who we trust to lead and guide us, I argue that
Supreme uses “the absurd” in the way that he acts, speaks and dresses to say what may be
unsayable with words or by conventional means. The concept of “the absurd” is defined by
Stephen M. Halloran as when an individual “tries to say what is fundamentally unsayable” (98).
That is, when words and reason fail to properly describe a thought or idea, language is
transformed and molded to fit the experiences that the speaker or writer wishes to convey. In
some cases, this transformation manifests in language that is not conventionally
understandable, or “disengaged from reality” (99). In other cases, it manifests as “purely visual
means of communication–movement, gesture, and visual metaphor” (98). It can be seen
through Supreme’s campaign that the concept of “the absurd” is used cleverly to make
important, “unsayable” points about the American electoral system. The primary use of
absurdity in Supreme’s campaign can be seen in how he dresses, and in his many campaign
Throughout the several election cycles that Supreme has participated in, lavishly
outrageous election pledges have always been at the heart of Supreme’s satirical campaign. In
his speeches, interactions with voters, and on several parts of his campaign website, Supreme
continually states that politicians lie, “promise your electoral heart anything you desire,” and
think of the American people simply as “constituents” (“Interview with Vermin Supreme”).
However, instead of making blanket statements about present-day politicians, Supreme makes
these statements in character: by becoming one of these scheming politicians himself. He takes
this argument to the extreme and absurd by overtly playing to specific interest groups when he
is able (“King of the Rats”), and often by using language that “[turns] itself inside-out” (Halloran,
Supreme’s promise to enact “mandatory tooth-brushing laws” provides an excellent and
unique example of language being turned inside-out. From afar, a law titled “mandatory tooth
brushing” may seem like a simple (yet fanciful) way to help lead Americans towards healthier
lifestyles; however, Supreme does not allow this pledge to remain in the realm of the rational.
He extends this platform to the most extreme by going on to state that this law “is not about the
preventative dental maintenance detention facilities” and “is not about the government-issued
toothpaste containing an addictive yet harmless substance” (“Interview With Vermin Supreme”).
He purposefully turns his language inside-out by showing that his platform, while stating that it is
not about any of these controlling and seemingly dangerous things, would actually be controlling
and harmful. The use of absurdity and twisted language in Supreme’s campaign shows a
unique affinity for satirization in order to articulate harsh criticisms about the American electoral
It can be seen throughout his interactions with the public and in many of his online
campaign materials that Supreme is comfortable with changing his campaign promises
depending on who he interacts with and picking many platforms that are not “reality based”
(“Anarchist Runs for President … since 1988”). A few of Vermin Supreme’s 2012 campaign
promises include plans to “kill baby Hitler before he’s even born,” use ponies as a Federal
identification system (and for use in protection from terrorism), and to protect the American
people from the “upcoming zombie apocalypse” (“Interview With Vermin Supreme”). The use of
absurdity in Supreme’s campaign platform calls to attention the equally absurd claims and
promises made by serious presidential candidates. By making promises like mandatory teeth
brushing, “[making] crime against the law” (from Supreme’s website, August 4, 2007), and
supporting time-travel research, Supreme attempts to draw attention to the absurd statements
and guarantees that politicians often make in order to collect votes and media attention.
“The whole system is rotten”: And he’s the most rotten of them all!
Vermin Supreme also mocks the real processes of campaigning through his
presentation of his own campaign promises and policies, and paints serious candidates as
untrustworthy, deceitful individuals. Supreme imitates the absurd claims and labels that
politicians often give themselves, revealing a sentiment that politicians are often untrustworthy if
one examines their words carefully. In his opening statement at the “Lesser-Known Democratic
Candidates Forum” in early 2012 Supreme states that he is “a friendly fascist” and “a tyrant that
you can trust,” and that “you should let [him] run your life, because [he] knows what is best for
you.” This is an example of the absurdity of real candidates’ presentation of promises and
policies. By connecting contrasting words such as “friendly” and “fascist” (a word often
associated with decidedly unfriendly political leaders such as Mussolini, Hitler, and Francisco
Franco), Supreme mocks the absurd claims and labels that politicians give themselves,
revealing a sentiment that politicians are often untrustworthy if one examines their words
carefully. Candidates often try to promote themselves as being friendly, trustworthy, and able to
guide the country in a positive direction—that is, “we voters… make emotional, intuitive
decisions about who we prefer” (Brooks). However, these candidates are often attempting to
appeal to voters who might not have the same ideological viewpoints as them by using
rhetorical framing to appear as either more liberal or conservative, as a regular Joe or a
knowledgeable scholar, or any other set of technically conflicting traits. Supreme implies that
candidates trick the voter into thinking that they are endorsing someone who has each
individual’s best interests at heart, when they are simply using buzz words (such as “health care
reform,” “change,” or “lower taxes”) to appeal to certain audiences.
He also attempts to frame politicians as individuals willing to tell voters whatever they
want in order to gain a position of power. In a short interview with RevolutionPAC, Supreme
states explicitly that he will lie because he has “no reason not to,” and that he will “promise your
electoral heart anything you desire.” This frank statement implies that politicians think of the
American people as anything but people—simply, as Supreme states, as “electoral heart[s]
that need to be converted to that candidate’s side by any means necessary. Vermin further
states that he “has no intention of keeping any of the promises [he] make[s],” alluding to the fact
that politicians often make more promises that they can feasibly keep, or simply that some
politicians make promises only to gain the support of a particular voting bloc.
Vermin’s satirical use of popular campaign speech patterns reveals the hidden intent
and rhetoric behind these popular speech formulas. Vermin’s description of one of his main
policies (mandatory dental hygiene) follows a fairly common political speech pattern in which a
candidate identifies one or several arguments against their policy, and then tries to outweigh
those arguments by presenting a greater moral imperative that shifts the framework of the issue
to one in which they have the high ground. Rick Santorum has recently used this speech pattern
while criticizing Obama’s health care regulation that requires American employers—including
Catholic organizations—to provide employees with contraceptives in their health care coverage.
Santorum states that the issue is “not about contraception… it’s about government control of
your lives and it’s got to stop” (Santorum). Vermin satirizes this political speech pattern by giving
a list of five arguments that could be used against his policy, including “preventative dental
maintenance detention facilities” and “government-issued toothpaste containing an addictive yet
harmless substance,” and then attempting to outweigh all these arguments with a statement that
his dental policies “[are] really about strong teeth for a strong America.” Although his moral
statement attempts to justify all of the negatives about his policy, it is clear that such negatives
greatly outweigh his moral argument. The hidden intent behind the formula becomes obvious in
Vermin’s ‘satirization’ of this popular speech pattern. He shows that politicians often attempt to
frame an issue in a misleading or completely untruthful way in order to gain support for their
Supreme also frames many of his policies or campaign promises in ways that attempt to
target potential voters’ main concerns or most important issues, even if the policies or promises
themselves have nothing to do with voters’ concerns. One of Supreme’s policies includes
“zombie preparedness.” Supreme states that he is the “only candidate who provides such a
plan” for preparing for the “upcoming zombie invasion.” By creating an implied threat—a zombie
invasion—and stating that he is the only candidate who is prepared for (or even acknowledges)
such a threat, Vermin attempts to satirize the tendency for candidates to “one up” political rivals
by stating that their opponents do not pay attention to important issues (even if the “important
issues” being stated are not actually important to the public).
In early 2012, Ron Paul attempts to “one up” his rivals by stating that he is “the only
candidate who wants to cut spending,” and accuses his rivals of not targeting the issue.
Although other Republican candidates may not have proposed as many reductions as Paul;
Romney, Cain, and Gingrich have all pledged to repeal Obamacare, “saving an average of $20
billion a year” (Sinn). Several of Vermin Supreme’s campaign policies are framed in such way.
He claims that his “Federal Pony Identification System” will supply jobs to all Americans, and
that “it will protect us from terrorists.” He gives no reasoning behind why this program would
protect the American people from terrorism, but is simply hitting popular “buzz words” that lead
the audience’s attention towards important issues or problems.
Supreme’s policies have infiltrated the media from time to time ever since his decision to
enter politics. Most media outlets have described him in ways that highlight his absurd dress,
unique name, and wacky policy platforms. In the 1996 documentary, “Why Can’t I Be
President?” ABC News anchor Sam Donaldson displays reluctance, even surprise, that he
would be willing to cover satirical campaigns such as Vermin Supreme. He states, “we have a
very valuable small amount of airtime at ABC news… and that airtime ought to be devoted to
bringing to the public the plans, the hopes, the dreams, the aspirations, the qualifications of
people who are serious about it. …I should spend our time on Vermin Supreme? Not a chance!”
(Donaldson). However, few are able to get to the bottom of why Supreme runs in such strange
ways. In an interview with Charles Krauthammer, syndicated columnist from The Washington
Post, in 1996, Supreme is described as “half nuts but half wise… slightly insane… and a lot of
We can see a distinct disparity between the views of those who believe in Supreme’s
ability to access a deeper level of political commentary and those who see Supreme as an
unqualified jester. This disparity compares to the findings of LaMarre et. al. that discuss
audience polarization, or “biased processing” (2009, 225) in response to “ambiguous deadpan
satire” (225) on The Colbert Show. After researching audience perceptions of Colbert’s opinion
on The Colbert Show, the authors found that ambiguous satire influences “individually held
political attitudes” (226). That is, members of both Republican and Democratic parties felt that
their views were being supported by Colbert on a given issue. We can see a similar
interpretation of views in how audiences perceive Vermin Supreme’s participation in politics.
Those who believe or who are open to the idea that there are major flaws within America’s
electoral system see Supreme similarly as Charles Krauthammer (“I don’t think it’s a detriment
to the political system. I think it’s a nice little accoutrement.”), whereas those who view the
electoral system as serious and idyllic may view Supreme similarly to Sam Donaldson (“airtime
ought to be devoted to… people who are serious about [becoming elected]”). Although both
sides see the comedic approach to Supreme’s actions, there are distinct differences in how
different audiences view the humor. Adding to the findings from LaMarre et. al. discuss the
differences between conservatives and liberals in the perception of political satire (226), I
believe that Supreme’s approach to political satire represents an important distinction in how
audiences view this unique kind of political satire–the satirical campaign.
On countless occasions, Vermin Supreme has made clear his desire to inform the news
media, American people, and even serious candidates themselves of the hypocrisies of our
Presidential election system. With every interview like that of Charles Krauthammer, his intent to
spread knowledge becomes a reality.
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