Living in a Satire: The Limitations of Political Humor against Hate

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The day after the disastrous Trump Press Conference, where the President of the United States stated in response to a question regarding the Charlottesville protests and attacks executed by whites supremacists: “So this week, it is Robert E. Lee. I noticed that Stonewall Jackson is coming down. I wonder, is it George Washington next week? And is it Thomas Jefferson the week after? You know, you really do have to ask yourself, where does it stop?” I discovered an article on my news feed by Vice called “What the Hell Was That?” Seems like an appropriate response to the surreal horror of Trump’s bizarre responses, but I was thrown off by the comment Vice News shared the article with:

“We should probably just use this headline every day.”

There is, I admit, some truth to this: it seems our nation is continuously spinning out of control with one atrocity and horrible remark following the next, but the nonchalance of this statement, the unnecessary attempt at scavenging a bit of wit and humor – no matter how bitter – dampens the rage of the article itself.

Humor has long been a weapon to be wielded against oppressors. Satire is one of the oldest genres in the world, being utilized regularly in Ancient Egypt and Greece, and in more recent years the Yippies (Youth Internationalist Party) utilized theatrical pranks and gestures (for instance, nominating a pig as president) to mock the status quo with “symbolic politics.” But just because humor is abundant and well-established as a political tool does not mean that it is always effective or appropriate to use, especially in a society that seems to have become a satire of itself. Even in the funniest, most irreverent, satires (be it Doonesbury, The Simpsons, Dr. Strangelove, Blazing Saddles, Fight Club, Grand Theft Auto, or even Borat) the characters live with sincerity, conviction, and seriousness. They are not simply shuffling about their lives guffawing, rolling their eyes, and making jokes about the president in an attempt to get a laugh, because living in a satire is deadly serious. Humor must be used decisively and skillfully, it simply doesn’t work to drop a bit of wit, smile sheepishly, and pat yourself on the back. It can’t be half-sword, half-shield.

Many believe that humor can be used to deligitimize hate and ignorance, but while hatred is absurd, it is not always easy to shame into submission. The Neo-Nazis and Alt-Righters are fueled by feelings of victimization, a certainty that it is the world that is descending into absurdity. When you humiliate a bully, the bully may back down for the moment, but that wont make them less angry, or less inclined towards violence. Some may point to the humorous subversion of Wunsidiel’s Rechts Gegen Rechts (“the Right Against the Right”) as proof of the effectiveness of humor against hatred, but don’t forget that these tactics of humor are tied to the real world: ” For every meter the neo-Nazis marched, local residents and businesses pledged to donate 10 euros (then equivalent to about $12.50) to a program that helps people leave right-wing extremist groups, called EXIT Deutschland.” These are not just jokes with a political bent, this is a movement dedicated to utilizing nonviolence to produce introspection and remove the power of a neo-nazi march. Also remember: the German goverment’s response to neo-Nazi marches in Berlin was very different than in America:

“For the neo-Nazi march, one flag per 50 people was allowed, images of Rudolf Hess were forbidden, as were drums and military music. Police individually searched each marcher in a specially set-up tent before allowing them into the penned-off march area. The neo-Nazis had to cover up tattoos and they weren’t even allowed to chant slogans. In a country where guns are banned, nothing more dangerous than a mobile phone was allowed on them. Whereas in Charlottesville, there were fully armed militias on the streets.”

It is easier to utilize humor as a weapon when hatred is already considered unacceptable, but when alt-Righters feel justified and vilified, when they wield the memetic flag of “kekistan” on an online trolling campaign to incite anger, when Trump tries to fight absurdity by being more absurd, we must consider carefully when we need to tell jokes and when we need to speak plainly. The alt-Right is bearing the standard of a joke proudly, they are using the very same tactics of theatricality and absurdity as the Yuppies used:

In many ways, Kek is the apotheosis of the bizarre alternative reality of the alt-right: at once absurdly juvenile, transgressive, and racist, as well as reflecting a deeper, pseudo-intellectual purpose that lends it an appeal to young ideologues who fancy themselves deep thinkers. It dwells in that murky area they often occupy, between satire, irony, mockery, and serious ideology; Kek can be both a big joke to pull on liberals and a reflection of the alt-right’s own self-image as serious agents of chaos in modern society.

It seems appropriate that the New York Times retrospective great comedian and activist Dick Gregory shares his quote: “Humor can no more find the solution to race problems than it can cure cancer.” Humor is not the panacea of politics, but it is a tool for introspection and it can be used to expose hate for what it is: stupidity and absurdity. But it seems at this point, at least in America, that the hate is pretty open and identifiable, and we’re already a joke to the rest of the world. If we are living in a satire, maybe we should tread carefully and take things a little more seriously.

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The Taste of Snow

Sugar covered snowflakes were the cookies, they were rich and had that brown plumpness that that most people think only doughnuts own, but instead of one hole each had an intricate maze of deep-fried criss-crosses. No two were alike, just like the real thing, and when you bit into one the powdered sugar and glaze would slip through and electrify your tongue. They also dissolved like real snowflakes but I always wished it would rain down cookies from the sky rather than what I was told was frozen water. The recipe was closely guarded and only brought out when we brought a pine tree into the house, and I waited eagerly for that taste of sugar on dough. Too young to cook I would wait by the mixing bowl as it growled and wait by the oven as it hummed and wait by the window as something not quite so taste fell silently by. I think I was by the window when there was a crash, not the clammer of pans but the brittle kind that means you need to watch your step.

“There’s glass in it now”

“Not enough to make more”

It was a real dilemma. Make glass-filled cookies, or no cookies at all. I, being young, brave, and by the window where glass looked perfectly safe, thought I’d take my chances. But I was short and in the minority. In the end we made them, but only to look at. So I had to eat real snow and watch the platter to try and remember the crisp taste of silent fireworks and lemon glaze. We never made them again because the cookbook got too wet to read. I’ve always wondered how many other children had the chance to learn what snowflakes really taste like.

Notes of a Dirty Young Man: Addendum

It’s been a little over a month since I posted my long rant about my depression, my most infamous post by my own standards since it gained the most views and earned me more than a few concerned messages. I suppose that happens when you drop certain words in a public forum, but now I want to say things with a clearer head on my shoulders. First, I need to thank all of my friends and family who have reached out to me, and supported me, and assisted me in getting help. Thank you to those of you who simply took the time to read some long mind dump on the Internet. The attention was appreciated, it was helpful. I don’t mean to say that it was clickbait, because I was being desperately honest. Sometimes we need to know that we are simply seen by the world, and that we can leave a mark upon it.

I have medicine now, and in less than a week of medication I feel like a person again. The part of me that is me, that is Patrick, had been distant for a long time, and I had to scream to myself at the top of my lungs to get my body and brain to function. It was exhausting, and I was growing increasingly distant. I was telling myself that I would feel better if I solved problems in myself, and it was all the more devastating when solving those problems had no payoff. I was close to the conclusion that the problem was myself. Now, with medicine, there is still pain, there are still moments that can dig up sadness and shame and guilt, but these moments no longer close in on me. The cycle of worrying is lessened. There are still dangerous ideations, but I see them for what they are: reflexes. They are thoughts that pass by as single frames in the film of my life. They are not cloying.

Taking pills makes me nauseous, I eat less than I should when I am already too thin, they make me tired, I find reading more difficult, writing too, I can fuck but not cum, I cannot drink, grapefruit is poison, but I don’t really care because I actually feel interested in life and not bored with being. I have plenty of problems but now I don’t drown by thinking about them, I feel ready to move forward and face them. I feel ready to attempt reconciliation with those I have hurt, rather than relying on apologies and running. I have never believed that happiness is the true goal of living, so I am well prepared to live now with a rational sadness, but I do not feel afraid of happiness or contentment anymore either. Some caution is necessary, relapse is possible, it has happened before. There is no escaping certain cycles of life, but there are ways to learn how to bear them. I appreciate the patience of this world. I appreciate its love. I appreciate the struggles of those who are not me, and those who have put aside their own struggles to help me. I hope I can give as much love and patience and support in return.

 

– PH