“Ridicule dishonors a man more than dishonor does.” Francois de La Rochefoucauld
The good thing about the internet is that it gives everyone a voice and an ability to be heard. There can be no better example of this than during the recent crises in Turkey and Syria where tales of atrocities on the ground were brought to you directly by those who were suffering them.
The bad thing about the internet is that it gives everyone a voice, including every semi-literate dipshit who’s been spoon-fed a steady diet of Alan Jones’ warm diarrhoea and thinks that mashing a keyboard in a protozoic reaction to something they’ve semi-read constitutes a cogent sentence.
As was the case recently for me.
I had been on Twitter mocking the Abbott government for it’s ineptitude, incompetence, deceit, fearmongering, demagoguery and thinly veiled fascism – as is my sworn duty. I had just made a rather clever parallel between Abbott’s pre-election lies and his campaign of fear regarding the recent IS activity when a wild troll appeared, who had taken exception to my criticism of his choice of racist, backwards leader. In amongst his poor syntax and calling me a pinko he declared that IS wasn’t something I should be making jokes about.
And that’s where I got offended.
When people say that something is beyond ridicule, that’s when we begin to have a problem. Because to say that something is beyond ridicule is to say that it is beyond question and beyond reproach. That it should be accepted without hesitation. And that, my friends, is anathema to civilisation.
In fact saying that something cannot be joked about is one of the most certain measures that it NEEDS to be joked about. Because if a belief or a concept or a person is strong enough then they will weather criticism and ridicule and be all the stronger for it, tempered by arguments to the contrary and all the more certain for it. But if they shatter in the face of satire they are a nonsense and to be disposed of as quickly as possible.
Humour and ridicule is as much a natural defence mechanism as white blood cells. You’ve heard the expression “comedy is tragedy plus time”? There’s a reason for that
”whenever there is a popular joke cycle, there generally is some widespread kind of social and cultural anxiety, lingering below the surface, that the joke cycle helps people deal with” Dr Arthur Berger
Humour releases several neurotransmitters which deal with calming the body’s fight or flight response and dealing with stress (I’ll be going in to this is extraordinary detail in my forthcoming MICF show next year “The Science of Comedy”). It also helps to annotate and condense important information so it is easier for the brain to process and store and, more importantly, later recall.
Simply put, if you don’t laugh you cry.
The more important, the more tragic a social issue is, the more crucial it becomes that we have jokes about it to help us process it, so that the sheer tragedy of it does not overwhelm us. It’s a concept known as “gallows humour”. As psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl wrote in his best-selling book Man’s Search for Meaning
“humor, more than anything else in the human make-up, can afford an aloofness and an ability to rise above any situation, even if only for a few seconds.”
And what could possibly be more tragic than the holocaust? Surely you can’t do jokes about the holocaust? Surely that is above the rusty saw of humour? Well, Twitter Troll, that’s where you’re wrong.
In fact the Holocaust was the crucible in which modern comedy and satire was forged.
The term “holocaust” means “burnt offering”. There’s no better example of gallows humour than that.
One of the more popular jokes in the concentration camps at the time of their liberation by the Allied forces was to call Adolf Hitler’s manifesto Mein Kampf (My Struggle) Mein Krampf (My Cramp).
Another that was popular during the closing stages of the war, as told by a Jewish survivor, goes as follows:
“Two Jews are waiting to face a firing squad, when the news arrives that they are to be hanged instead. One turns to the other and says: “You see—they’ve run out of ammunition!”
This type of humour serves a purpose – to give hope to those who are hopeless. Even in the face of one of the most unspeakably evil atrocities ever committed, even then there is hope. We must be winning because, hey, at least they’re running out of bullets.
How about this joke, pointing out the Hugo Boss inspired SS uniforms:
"A Swiss visiting a Jewish friend in the Third Reich asks him: “So how do you feel under the Nazis?” He answers: “Like a tapeworm. Every day, I wriggle my way through a mass of brown stuff and wait to be excreted.”
I feel the historian Salcia Landmann put it best, seeing these jokes
“as an expression of Jews’ will to survive against all odds. These jokes make fun of the terrors Jews experienced every day. As such, the blackest Jewish humour expresses defiance: I laugh, therefore I am. My back is to the wall, and I’m still laughing. “
It wasn’t just the Jews who were oppressed by the Third Reich however. Normal, everyday Germans chafed under the weight of the Nazi regime, living in constant fear of the fascist regime that they found themselves under, one that we in Australia seem desperate to emulate. And so the people made jokes, because that was the only way to relieve the pressure valve.
How about this one? This joke makes reference to the Nazi policy of subjugating the judicial system to their own needs:
In Switzerland a Nazi bigwig asks the purpose of a public building. ‘That’s our Ministry of Marine,’ says the Swiss man. The Nazi laughs and mocks him. ‘You with your two or three ships, what do you need a Ministry of Marine for?’ The Swiss man: ‘Yes, - so what do you still need a Ministry of Justice in Germany for then?’
Swap out “Justice” for “Immigration” and there’s some eerie parallels right there.
Hitler visits a lunatic asylum, where the patients all dutifully perform the German salute. Suddenly, Hitler sees one man whose arm is not raised. “Why don’t you greet me the same way as everyone else,” he hisses. The man answers: “My Führer, I’m an orderly, not a madman!”
Or this: (an important caveat to this one: in German the term for dialing someone on the phone is exactly the same as the term for voting in an election)
The telephone rings, and a man says: “Hello, can I speak to Müller?”
“Müller. Is Müller there?”
“No, my name is Schmidt.”
“Oh, I’m sorry, I must have dialed the wrong person.”
“No big deal, we all did that in the last election.”
"Question: What is a reactionary? Answer: Someone who occupies a well-paying job coveted by a Nazi.”
Replace “reactionary” with “terrorist” and see exactly why the concept of something we “shouldn’t make jokes about” doesn’t fly here.
Or perhaps, yon troll, you were really objecting to my criticism of the Abbott government. Perhaps you didn’t like your bastion of reactionary, 19th century, backward white power paraded before the world for the farce that it is. This is exactly why it needs to be ridiculed. Because if it were truly a government of substance and purpose, it would withstand scrutiny. The jokes would be seen as what they were, just jokes. But if the jokes cut too close to the truth, if they showed how dangerously inept the government was and highlighted the scope and magnitude of their incompetence and failure, then those jokes cease being jokes and become very dangerous weapons.
Perhaps you’re thinking “well I don’t mind a joke but this is too far. It should be kept in good taste”? That’s it, isn’t it? Well then allow me to point you to the rules of engagement for the Shutzstaffel regarding dealing with jokes about the government:
“For some time the devising and telling of political jokes has grown to become a real nuisance. So long as these jokes are the expression of a sound spirit and are harmless in character, there will be, as has been repeatedly underlined at the top level of government, nothing to object to in them. But if they are slanderous in content, then for security reasons we can and must not tolerate their being spread around. “
We need humour. And the more something seems like it shouldn’t be the subject of humour, the more desperate the need for humour becomes. Even the darkest of subjects is fertile land for humour and satire. In fact, as the subject becomes darker and more terrifying, so does the necessity of the humour to combat it. Because humour is our defence against it. Humour and satire show us that the bad guy is not invincible. That the night is darkest just before dawn and that, no matter how utterly hopeless the outlook might be, there is and always will be hope. That last shining gem at the bottom of Pandora’s Box.
If you’d like to know more then I would commend unto you Dead Funny: Telling Jokes in Hitler’s Germany by Rudolph Herzig, Der Judische Witz by Salcia Landmann and Man’s Search For Meaning by Dr Viktor Frankl.
See what I did there? I quotes sources. That’s what we “leftys” as you put it do – we back up the claims we make. With facts. For my ally is the truth, and a powerful ally it is. Yours is agitprop and nonsense that will not stand even the slightest scrutiny and we both know that, don’t we?