In Defence of Humour

By Michael Dale

In response to Nathaniel Mehr’s biting critique of the War on Terror board game (which appeared on the Palestine Chronicle on December 22), I would like to ask him what his dour anger over the past eight years has contributed to the downfall of the Bush administration.

Being on the Left does not mean that one must lack a sense of humour. Exaggeration and spoofing are often easy ways to get the average citizen to start thinking about the gross injustices that pervade our world today. It is not, as Mr. Mehr would have it, a complacent acceptance of the problem, but just a little comic relief in what most times is a very heart rending struggle. Hearing the latest death toll from Iraq or watching the world direct only lip service to the horrors of the Democratic Republic Congo takes its toll on even the strongest of us. I myself have been known to watch a sitcom on television and read MAD magazine to provide a respite for my mind. According to Mr. Mehr that means my socialist credentials are suspect.   

Humour is a natural part of the human condition. It is often the way that people deal with intense situations. Psychiatrists speak of it as pressure valve to avoid total mental breakdown. It is also a means to reach those who are intimidated by the subject matter.  Joe the Plumber doesn’t understand the intricacies of domestic or foreign policy. I suppose now Mr. Mehr will dismiss me as he did his “young” colleague as just thinking myself “politically-conscious” because I was irreverent enough to allude to the running joke of the 2008 U. S. presidential campaign. But if a game such as War on Terror causes one person who might not have otherwise to ask a question or recognize the absurdity of the argument put forth by those who would endanger this entire planet with their zeal, then what is the harm?

Mr. Mehr brings up the Holocaust and opposition to Hitler and the Nazis prior to World War Two.  He says, “Can we even conceive of anti-fascists in the 1930s and 1940s showing their solidarity with European Jewry by getting together and giggling over Kistallnacht – The Board Game?”  Apparently he has forgotten or is unaware of the Charlie Chaplin film “The Great Dictator” which was a spoof on Hitler. Chaplain was attempting to highlight the absurdity of Hitler and the Nazi regime to counter a mainstream press that was singing their praises during much of the pre-war period. 

“What, we must ask, has been the combined effect of eight years of gimmickry and infantile anti-Bush posturing?” Mr. Mehr asks. I would like to answer him. No, it did not bring down the Bush administration. But that was never in the cards. To impeach President Bush we would have needed the very people in Congress who supported him and acted not as a watchdog but as a cheering section. There is only one other viable way to remove a president from office before the end of his term and if Mr. Mehr is suggesting that he should say so directly. It did however keep some of us sane while we struggled to be heard above the War on Terror theme music and glitz of the mainstream news media. Humour broke the tension and made those who seemed unassailable more vulnerable, more human which gave us hope, made us feel a little less like modern Don Quixotes. If Mr. Mehr would rather keep humour out of his efforts to challenge the warmongers, I support his right to do so and applaud his efforts. I extend my sympathy as well. But I also extend my outrage that Mr. Mehr would presume to characterize anyone who doesn’t share his vision of the Left, as arrogant, complacent, drug-taking slackers.  He sounds like my father 40 years ago. Whoops, there I go again. That is true arrogance, Mr. Mehr. That you and only you have the true religion. 

It is not as Mr. Mehr states that I “underestimate the seriousness of the current world situation” or that I believe gimmicks can bring down a U. S. president. Each of us does what he/she can to counter the Rightist attack on civilization. I use humour, satire and sarcasm to great effect in the college classroom. If it shocks the students into thinking I will do it because that is what I am really teaching them, many for the first time, to think.  I suppose Mr. Mehr would not care for my blog either as I inject humour where I can in discussing domestic and international political issues. Again it helps to humanize and undermine the omnipotent appearance of my opponents.

From childhood, I have used humour as a tool to deal with stress and difficult situations. It is part of who I am. If I don’t measure up to Mr. Mehr’s standards of a politically-conscious person, so be it.  I will continue to contribute what I can in the classroom and in my writings to challenge the progress of American imperialism in my infantile way. The job is not over. Nothing has changed in Washington with the election of Barrack Obama. American imperialism has been around for over a century and Barrack Obama believes as much in Manifest Destiny as did George Bush. 

– Michael Dale is a professor at the School of Liberal Studies, Conestoga College Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning, Kitchener, Canada (Teaching International Relations, Canadian Politics, and Canadian and American History). He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. 

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