The chilling effect of Google on gag-based feature writing

I woke up the other morning thinking to myself, you know what would be funny? To go from Toni Morrison’s depiction of Bill Clinton as the first black president to the observation that Barack Obama, having missed his chance to be the first black president, could still be the first Jewish president: child of immigrants, excels in school, good at basketball, bad at bowling, subject to whispers that his religious commitments might bind him to America’s enemies, etc. etc.

But nowadays you’ve got to Google a gag before you deploy it. And you quickly find that Harold Pollack got there first at Huffington Post, back in January — which didn’t stop Howard Fineman from using the gag in March in Newsweek, or Josh Gerstein from bringing it back in the New York Sun this week.

You have to figure that Google has a certain chilling effect on gag-based feature writing. Of course ten people are going to come up with the same joke. And if that produces ten different columns, then maybe the funniest one has a chance to get popular. Is it really better if the first person to post the gag online salts the field for everybody else?

In this case, it’s for the best — Pollack’s piece is better than its successors, and better than what I would have written. But can we shed a single tear for the gag-based features that, thanks to Google, never tasted life?

Reader challenge: come up with a “Barack Obama is Jewish” gag that doesn’t appear in Google. “Obamulke” and “Baruch Obama” have both been done, but I think I can claim priority on “Barak Mitzvah.” For what that’s worth.

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3 thoughts on “The chilling effect of Google on gag-based feature writing

  1. Em says:

    Baruch Obama – genius!

  2. Harold Pollack says:

    Thanks for the plug…

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