Thursday, April 20, 2017

Comedy As A Secular False God

It is one of those things that are just known.  Or are "known" to be known, or really, just required to be said that jokes are subversive, undermine power and, therefore, are a good, in themselves.  But there's no evidence of that.  Some despots and would be despots have attacked people and even killed people for making fun of them but that was not done out of fear, it was done out of not liking to be made fun of.  Rudolph Herzog, who did a major study of jokes during the Nazi era came to the contrary position.

Contrary to a common myth, targeting Hitler using quips and jokes didn’t undermine the regime. Political jokes were not a form of resistance. They were a release valve for pent-up popular anger. People told jokes in their neighborhood bars or on the street because they coveted a moment of liberation in which they could let off a bit of steam. That was ultimately in the interests of the Nazi leadership. Consequently, the Führer and his henchmen rarely cracked down on joke-tellers and if they did, the punishments were mild - mostly resulting in a small fine. In the last phase of the war when the regime felt threatened by “dissenters,” though, this changed. A handful of death sentences were handed down to joke-tellers, though the true reason for this was rarely their actual “crime.” The jokes were taken as a pretext to remove blacklisted individuals - people the Nazis feared or detested because of who they were rather than because of what they had done. Among others, these included Jews, left-wing artists, and Catholic priests. As I show in my book, a staunch party member could walk free after telling a joke, whereas a known “dissenter” was executed for exactly the same quip.

Just where the commonly held belief that jokes had the power to bring down the powerful comes from is something I don't know if anyone ever researched.  I think I've heard it mostly asserted by people in the entertainment industry, those who make money out of telling jokes and producing humor, some of which is funny, most of which isn't.   I assume some of them really believe it and more really want to believe it but it's obviously not true.  As I pointed out about the only people who have been destroyed by jokes are people who are vulnerable, poor people, people who are ugly or fat or unpopular, people who are stigmatized on the basis of their gender, their race, their ethnicity or their regional origin - that last one really, really hasn't worked out very well as a political tool for North-Eastern liberals or those on the West Coast in the biggest possible way.   It might hurt someone in show biz or whose job depends on getting their next bit of writing sold.  A campaign of derision, which is effective, might end the career of a comedian or a writer.  Maybe that's where they got the stupid idea from.

There are a number of similar superstitions that we are supposed to believe in with all our hearts even though it's obviously not true.  One which I've gotten huge opposition to pointing out is the myth that letting Nazis and fascists spread their hate will protect democracy - look at the Trump regime to see how well that worked out.*  Since beginning to look more closely at the idea that "anything can be funny" even the most obviously unfunny things in human history I've come more and more to believe that it is more likely to undermine liberalism than to promote it.

I think the thing that got me onto this topic, this time, the slight effort of Duncan Black, shows how much of a value lazy, bored, jaded, and superficial libertarian-liberal types value their own entertainment above anything involved with the pursuit of equality and the moral obligations to treat people well.  That's hard work, frequently not immediately gratifying and, so, about as unkew-el as possible.   The assertion of the virtue of comedy has everything more to do with entertainment value than moral value.  If Rudolph Herzog is right, jokes might, actually, be a means of dissipating political force instead of mobilizing it and, so, be something that the corporate-fascist state might well encourage,  Sort of like how Pepsi has attempted to co-opt  Black Lives Matter style protest as a kew-el thing that young people are into this year.

Why else could the idea that because someone calls something "comedy" or "humor" or, in the biggest lie of all "satire" have come to hold a sacralized position among those whose conventional, atheist-materialist, scientistic educations and acculturation admit to little if anything else having the status as sacred, not to be questioned, in a massive irony - not to be mocked, not to be joked about, not to be turned into a figure to be laughed into insignificance?   Comedy, humor, "satire" (almost nothing called that today is actually satire) make a particularly bizarre sacred object or idol or substitute for moral good.

I think that the phenomenon of the sacralization of comedy is a symptom of a country that has been driven into stupidity by entertainment.   I think, in that, the United States is catching up to class ridden Britain and the even more absurd France.  The results are already bad. They will be worse.

Don't get me wrong, I adore Samantha Bee and Stephen Colbert - one of their shows, alone, has more real humor and comedy and, on occasion, satire than the entire careers of the putrid Lenny Bruce, Mort Sahl, George Carlin and several other official gods of comedy thrown in.  Only don't count on them taking down Trump. They didn't prevent him, after all.   And if they went the way Duncan Black seems to want humor to go, they'd stop being funny and become a definite part of the problem.

*  I'm pretty confident that load of crap was promoted by Marxists who were too stupid to understand it not only wouldn't work for them on the basis of even-stevens, the resultant legal orthodoxy would enable fascists, white-supremacists, neo-Nazis and Republican fascists.  I am quite confident that the hands of the Corliss Lamont era ACLU would be all over it if that superstition were an object that could be dusted for prints.  I think a lot more of what that trust-fund Stalinist jerk was financing had that idiotic motive.  Though he certainly had help from other Marxists and the, mostly, secularist liberals who they easily suckered.  I think Corliss Lamont, whose prime motive wasn't even to promote Stalinism -though he was about the last overt Stalinist left standing - but atheism, might serve as a key in understanding just about everything the American left has done wrong.

If there's one thing that is certain, Vladimir Putin and his fellow post-Marxist crime associates have played the American legal-political system - especially the free-speech, free press orthodoxy - entirely more skillfully than American leftists have.  Those idiots are still pushing the Marxism that Putin and his buddies knew was a total failure beginning in the 1970s.  If the current issues of The Nation, In These Times, and other venues of the American so-called left don't have something like that in the columns or letters, you can read them online all the time.  The rump Bernie or Busters are pushing that crap in response to the Peretz-Sanders tour.  I was seeing it just this morning in comment threads, Bernie-bots who were obviously as anti-Democratic as a Republican slamming Tom Peretz and the Democratic Party.  Bernie isn't helping, though he's not so stupid as to believe that his elections haven't depended, entirely, on the support of Democrats in Vermont since he made that deal with them.

1 comment:

  1. Just where the commonly held belief that jokes had the power to bring down the powerful comes from is something I don't know if anyone ever researched.

    Off the top of my head, the same place that thought blogs and comments would bring down governments; or at least, win elections.

    Christianity teaches us that, left to our own devices, we are all navel gazers, locked in the cell of ourselves, as Auden put it, convinced of our own freedom. We never get over the first lesson, that the world is just an extension of us. Child psychologists say we get past that "developmental stage," and in a limited sense, we do. But we also never get past high school and the fact we aren't sitting at the "cool table." We are most superannuated adolescents our entire life, some more obviously so than others (like the current POTUS). We assume, quite comfortable in the illusion, that the world is full of people like us, and the ones clearly not like us, are the enemy.

    And they can be brought down with minimal effort; like, through humor. So Jon Stewart had the power to defeat the rabid and radical GOP, if he'd just wielded it (and not been so wimpy). Blog posts and lots of sharp, insightful comments would lead the body politic to enlightenment, or at least to electoral defeat. It's all about "me," and finding a way to get enough of the world to agree with "me" to matter. And humor, being entertainment, being even more mainstream that blogs or news sites with the "correct" leanings, would sway the masses to finally do the right thing!

    Except, as you point out, not. Mostly because it doesn't work that way; mostly because this analysis starts with the presumption of "original sin."

    So there you are.