NEW YORK – If you're not ready to feverishly debate Iraq or the deficit in this bitterly divisive election year, you can always surf the Web, where politics is frequently nothing but a big joke.
President Bush and challenger John Kerry (search) are spoofed as utter fools on the Internet daily, usually in good fun.
The most popular online diversion comes from JibJab Media Inc. (search), an online animation outfit in Santa Monica, Calif.
Its Flash animation parody, featuring Bush and Kerry taking shots at each other to the tune of "This Land is Your Land," has been viewed more than 65 million times since its July release.
"The thrust of the piece is how silly and juvenile the back and forth can be, and that resonated with people," said Gregg Spiridellis, 33, who created the piece with his 30-year-old brother, Evan. "It's a pretty ugly election year, and our piece just happens to be something people (from opposing parties) can share and laugh together."
Online political humor offers a way for Americans "to keep their sanity," said David Abel, editor of the PoliticsOnline newsletters. "It kind of allows people to loosen up a little bit and take a little breather and maybe realize that there's a lot at stake here, but we have to at least not kill ourselves in the process."
Many of the online games and cartoons are nonpartisan — Spiridellis calls his an "equal opportunity offender" — and are designed mostly to make money.
"This Land" has been forwarded around the world and occasionally lands in the mailboxes of advertising executives, leading to new business, Spiridellis said. It also got television producers' attention; a sequel is set to premiere on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" in early October, he said.
"This Land" is among parodies available at Mock the Vote, an ad-supported site from AtomFilms.
The video games industry has also weighed in. Games that let you manage simulated campaigns include "The Political Machine" from Ubisoft Entertainment and "Frontrunner" from Lantern Games. Each costs under $25. You buy ads, barnstorm around the country and hire operatives.
In a free game called "Staffers," you maneuver your character around a campaign office, answering phones, opening mail, greeting visitors and drinking coffee. It's mostly a promotion for a show by the same name on the Discovery Times cable channel.
Others are less promotional and more partisan.
In "Bushgame" from Emogame, Hulk Hogan, the He-Man and Mr. T try to save the White House from corporate interests. Players get "lessons" on the deficit and environmental policy along the way.
"The Subservient President," itself an online parody of Burger King's Subservient Chicken ad campaign, has the president responding to your commands. Type "start a war" and an actor with a Bush mask magically transforms Usama bin Laden into Saddam Hussein.
Not to be outdone, the Bush campaign site has "Kerry's Flip Flop Olympics" where you must determine the correct order of the Democrat's opposing stances on the same topics.
And separate Bush and Kerry sloganators let you generate fake campaign posters with less-than-flattering slogans.
The Internet is truly democratizing political humor, said Steve Schneider, a political science professor at the State University of New York's Institute of Technology.
Through forward-to-a-friend features, a funny or thoughtful item makes the rounds much more quickly than a joke from late-night television, said Michael Cornfield, senior research consultant at the Pew Internet and American Life Project.
Web journals known as blogs have helped circulate such humorous tidbits as a remix of the infamous Howard Dean scream by newspaper columnist James Lileks.
Some items can be downright cruel or violent.
Liquid Generation has torture chambers where scatalogical games involve humiliating Bush and Kerry with wedgies and elephant dung.
The object of one game on Comedy Central's site is to whack Kerry operatives with a golf club if they get too close to the White House. (If you hit Condoleeza Rice by mistake, you lose points.)
In "Bush Shoot-out" from Miniclip, the president shoots masked gunmen from behind his Oval Office desk.
Beyond the entertainment, can any of these influence the election?
Their creators say that's doubtful.
"I'm pretty sure we're preaching to the choir," said Dale McFarland, 53, a Dallas musician who runs the anti-Bush humor site The Specious Report.
Adds Spiridellis, "If anybody watches our cartoon and made a voting decision, we'd be frightened."