The newspaper comics artist Wiley hit it out of the ballpark with this one:
I laughed out loud reading that one. What would we do without our political cartoonists? What would we do without the iconic parodies of politicians that are performed by the actors of Saturday Night Live? What would we do without television networks’ late night comedy host monologues? I was surprised to hear an MSNBC panel hosted by Ari Melber discuss the role of late night talk show hosts with his panel guests Nancy Giles, Mark Thompson and Erin Gloria Ryan. Unfortunately, the video of that particular segment doesn’t exist in the online MSNBC video archive, but throughout the course of the evening show The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell (for which Ari Melber was substitute hosting), the entire panel, including host Melber, can be seen laughing about the news that they’re reporting on—the Nixonian strategy of Donald Trump to insinuate that the ‘Media’ is the enemy of the Republic…
And who can blame these panelists for laughing? For one thing, what other reaction is one supposed to express when one is accused of falsifying one’s livelihood…that all the investigative pavement pounding is merely trickery to fool America’s news and media consumers? For another thing, what other reaction is appropriate in response to the absurdist and surrealist accusations slung by an obviously inept executive official otherwise and formerly recognized as a reality show performance artist and producer of contrived entertainment?
Humor and laughter are sometimes classified as coping mechanisms, but they can also be a valuable resolution for distress. Why do we watch those late night talk show hosts bitingly jabbing at the foibles (or autocratic seriousness) of executive and political leaders? Because sometimes we need our comedians to take us down a notch from the terror we’re experiencing in real life. Sometimes we need the perspective of just how ridiculous and fallible our princely leaders are in relative terms. Sometimes we need to realize that—in America, at least—no one is above the pillar of jack-assery and ridicule that comes with the territory of the political spotlight. If once thought to be a reserved office of decorum and of a public servant epitomizing the height of elegance, our current presidential leader has ruined that public perception forevermore. To meme-quote the despoiler: “Sad.”
Currently, I am all in on the Resistance. I take it seriously. I suddenly feel like I know what it feels like to be willing to make sacrifices for one’s beliefs. I feel so strongly about those feelings that I consciously think about what it means to make such statements publicly. These online words have permanence that could come back to bite me. But I feel that strongly about them. …And yet, when one talks about that kind of commitment—the seriousness repercussions that can come from that willingness… what is the best medium of resistance? What is the best plan of a successful Resistance? What are the characteristics of a successful Revolution?
In the early pages of Srdja Popovic’s 2015 book, Blueprint for Revolution: How to Use Rice Pudding, Lego Men, and Other Nonviolent Techniques to Galvanize Communities, Overthrow Dictators, or Simply Change the World (Speigel and Grau, $16 paperback), Popovic makes the following claim:
“It’s common for people launching nonviolent movements to cite Gandhi, say, or Martin Luther King, Jr., as their inspiration, but those guys, for all their many, many virtues, simply weren’t that hilarious. If you’re going to get a mass movement going within a very short span of time in the age of the Internet and other distractions, humor is a key strategy. And so, walking slowly through [Serbia’s] Republic Square, I told [my visiting guests about how out revolution] used a lot of street theatre. We didn’t do anything too political, because politics is boring, and we wanted everything to be fun and, more important, funny. In the early days of [our revolution], I said, laughter was our greatest weapon against the regime. Milošević’s dictatorship, after all, was fueled by fear: fear of our neighbors, fear of surveillance, fear of the police, fear of everything. But during our time of fear, we Serbs learned that fear is best fought with laughter, and if you don’t believe me, then try to think of the best way to reassure a friend who is about to be wheeled into an operating room for major surgery. If you act serious and concerned, his anxiety will spike. But if you crack a joke, suddenly he will relax, and maybe even smile. The same principle is true when it comes to movements.
“How, then, to make something as harrowing as life under a despot funny? That’s the best part of starting a movement. Like our heroes, Monty Python, my friends and I put our heads together and struggled to come up with good, catchy bits of activism that would have the desired effect…”
It sounds antithetical. And it’s certainly not always the best or appropriate answer to terrorization and despotism. But I have experienced, myself, the healing effectiveness of humor in the face of hardship and persecution… I worked for a non-profit organization at one time, the focus of which was building bridges between gay and straight communities. The most effective way of accomplishing that goal was through performance and humor. Gay men are not above recognizing their quirks, stereotypes, and queerness. They are also not above jocularly making fun of themselves in regards to those stereotypes. When one can embrace one’s difference and celebrate it, it becomes much less intimidating to the strangers who are uninitiated with cultural differences.
I managed and directed a small comedy troupe within the organization. Our “schtick” was that we all dressed up (identically) like Ethel Merman and emulated that Broadway icon as only a bunch of gay drag queens could do. We performed mostly at benefit galas and events where our particular brand of levity could provide a balance to more serious subjects surrounding ameliorating bullying or homophobia, or even the dire subject of raising funding for research of the deadly epidemic of HIV and AIDS.
To keep cogent with this blog’s theme of reading tarot, I can tell you that as a tarot reader, I will often use humor as an effective ice-breaker in sessions where the client is new or nervous about the information he or she is trying to process. Readings where I can make the client laugh and where we can light-heartedly amuse ourselves with the discussion that unfolds are truly the best kind of readings there are. When a client isn’t able to laugh, I find that it’s often because he or she is so wrapped up in the distress of their problem that their focus continues to be internalized and obsessed about with possible worst-case scenarios. It also means that the client is less likely to hear the discussion that unfolds between us, and that they are much less likely to remember points of discussion or possible solutions after the session is over. (This isn’t a condemnation of that propensity; it is simply an acknowledgement of that tendency in human nature. Sometimes clients aren’t ready to hear about solutions; sometimes the only thing the client can do in the moment is focus on the immediate problem. The best tarot readers have experience with such situations and can either allay or distract the client from the obsession long enough to provide relief, or even better, with the assistance of the art therapy that the tarot cards offer, can interject alternative scenarios that help the client to see that choices are available in a situation that previously seemed futile. Even if the ultimate choice isn’t revealed during the reading session, the very fact of entertaining creative solutions may initiate further choice-centered reflection by the client on their own.)
Humor has its place. It sometimes needs to be executed as gracefully and tactfully as a presidential press conference OUGHT TO BE CONDUCTED. But humor definitely can be a salve for what ails us. And don’t be surprised if comedians become the rock stars of the next several years in juxtaposition with the current presidential administration…