“Bizarro World”: Like its comic-book origins, a situation completely at odds with reality, and the now-standard political way to describe anything worthy of extreme disbelief.
DC Comics introduced the Bizarro World – also known as htraE, or “Earth” spelled backwards – in the 1950s as a cube-shaped planet featuring polar-opposite versions of Superman, Lois Lane and others. More recently, it’s been featured in TV shows like “Seinfeld” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”
It started out being used chiefly in sports coverage, but eventually made its way into politics. One of the earliest references was in a September 1996 piece in Variety asserting that year’s Democratic National Convention appeared to feature more patriotic events – and had many more cigarette-smoking attendees – than its Republican counterpart. “What happened?” columnist Timothy M. Gray asked. “Was this some Bizarro World, a political alternate-universe?”
Its popularity appears to have soared in this presidential campaign. A search of the term in the Nexis database over the last six months turned up 313 references, compared to 211 mentions during the same period in 2012. In both instances, the overwhelming majority of uses were in political contexts.
“Bizarro World” has endured because it’s so malleable. Some pundits and others commonly apply it to Donald Trump’s break-every-rule candidacy. “Trump has created a Bizarro World of politics,” The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza observed last month. “What looks like up is down. What looks bad is good. The rest of the field — and the media horde covering the candidates — needs to adjust to the fact that this is the new normal.” And Kirsten Powers said on Fox News in January: “We just moved into this Bizarro World that Trump has created, where if you disagree with him, then somehow you are the establishment.”
Meanwhile, Barack Obama’s critics invoke it with equal gusto. The New York Post’s conservative editorial board, criticizing the president’s international travel schedule for 2016, wrote an opinion piece pithily headlined “President Obama’s Bizarro-World Victory Tour.” And former George W. Bush administration lawyer John Yoo called Obama’s tenure “a Bizarro World presidency” because, he said, it’s the reverse of what the Constitution’s framers intended.
Interestingly, according to the Sunlight Foundation’s invaluable CapitolWords.org, three of Congress’s top ten users of the phrase in floor debates during the last twenty years (all Republicans) have run for president: former Georgia Rep. Bob Barr, Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch and Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona.
Chuck McCutcheon writes his "Speaking Politics" blog exclusively for Politics Voices.