Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Satire Is A Serious Matter

Mass Humour

Satire Matters:  Prof. Justin E.H. Smith writes that in repressive regimes, as during Stalinist Russia, humour thrives as a necessary counterweight to political absurdity:
“Outside of the meeting halls, of course, humor thrived, as samizdat, as oral culture, as the irrepressible truth beyond the pretense. The transmission of anekdoty—jokes, but literally anecdotes—remained a crucial form of resistance. Not surprisingly, many of these jokes focused on the sort of humor beloved by Jews, typically embodied in the figure of a certain Rabinovich. It is existential humor: tragic and hilarious. One joke in particular tells the whole story of the idiocy of regimes of seriousness, and of the redemptive power of humor as a response. An Odessa census taker knocks at Rabinovich’s door. "Does Rabinovich live here?" he asks. Rabin­ovich replies: "You call this living?" (Razve eto zhizn’?)”
Photo Credit
: Brian Taylor
Source: Chronicle Review

An article, by Justin E.H. Smith, in The Chronicle of Higher Education gives a compelling and reasonable argument on why democracies ought to ensure that satire has a safe position to freely express itself. Satire has a long history in western civilization, notably, to make persons think about the absurdity of life and of how death—the great equalizer—eventually will snatch us all. Satire in the best sense unites persons and points their minds toward such an idea; it frees the individual mind of narrowing partisan thinking.

Smith, a professor of history and philosophy of science at the University of Paris Diderot, writes the following in “Why Satire Matters”:
This dimension of satire may be hard for some readers to appreciate, in view of the fact that there are rather few outlets for true satire in the United States, and most supposed satire in fact follows the misguided principle that a satirist’s true purpose is to play the underdog or to stick up for the little guy. I say "play" here intentionally. Jon Stewart, for example, is putting on an act, the purpose of which is to whip the audience into a frenzy of proud identification with the smart and quick-witted host. The message of Stewart to his viewers is: Those guys in charge are awful, but you and me, we’re all right.
Perhaps the mainstream outlet closest to the true mission of satire is The Onion, with the slogan Tu stultus es (“You’re an idiot”). The newspaper does not say, as Stewart does, that those guys out there are stupid. It says that you are stupid. Satire tells us we are all yokels, we are all suckers, we are all doomed. We’ve all got arrowheads lodged in our necks, whichever side of history we are on, whether exploiters or exploited. Death is the great equalizer, and one way of thinking about humor is that it is the mode of experience in which this equality, true equality, becomes clear.
This is what makes satire funny; we can all relate, whatever our position in life. The best expression of satire has universal appeal. As does self-deprecating humour, which serves to make the comic the universal man with whom we can all identify. Satire says that life is serious, but it is necessary as a means of survival to not take ourselves too seriously. This is an important distinction to make.

For more, go to [ChronHigherEd]

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