1-laughing-pasadenaThe shocking events of violent extremism witnessed in the past few days in France truly puts under the spotlight the threat posed by fanatics who basically lack a sense of humour. Humour is our most subversive weapon in the fight against absolutism.
Surely one of our most critical human attributes is a sense of humour, the ability to laugh at our own seriousness and pomposity, ‘taking the piss’ out of politics, religion, sexuality, death – no topic should be off limits. That inability to laugh makes the savage murder of the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists such a loss of talent and a tragedy.
Front and centre in the resistance to intolerance are creative cartoonists and Australia fortunately has its own proud tradition. Imagine life without cartoonists like Bill Leak, Alan Noir, Peter Nicholson, Geoff Pryor, Cathy Wilcox, Mark Knight, Bruce Petty and of course Michael Leunig. We all have our own favourites and we need these creative artists to poke fun at political and religious pomposity.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali Somali-born American (formerly Dutch) activist, writer and politician said in a recent interview:
“In Islam, it is a grave sin to visually depict or in any way slander the Prophet Muhammad. Muslims are free to believe this, but why should such a prohibition be forced on nonbelievers? In the U.S., Mormons didn’t seek to impose the death penalty on those who wrote and produced The Book of Mormon, a satirical Broadway send-up of their faith. With 1,400 years of history and some 1.6 billion adherents, Islam should be able to withstand a few cartoons by a French satirical magazine. But of course deadly responses to cartoons depicting Muhammad are nothing new in the age of jihad.”
Under a personal fatwa of her own, Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a person living under mortal threat by fanatics. In 2004 she collaborated on a short movie with Theo van Gogh, entitled Submission. Critical of Islam, it provoked controversy, and death threats were made against them. Van Gogh was assassinated later that year by a Dutch Muslim.
In 1979, even though Christians were insulted by the movie Life of Brian, which they felt made fun of Jesus Christ, the Monty Python team were not put under a fatwa or fire-bombed. Even though unwillingly perhaps, Christians have come to accept parody and mockery against the most sacred of their tenets.
One of the most innovative and successful journey’s into Islamic parody has been the Australian TV series Legally Brown, written and performed by comedian Nazeem Hussain who grew up Muslim in Melbourne. Another cast member Mohammed El-leissy is a Muslim imam. Laughter and religion it seems can coexist. Reviewer, Ben Pobjie believes that “a recognition of the inherent absurdity in our prejudices and stereotypes is at the heart of much of what he does, allied to a healthy willingness to get silly, and a superb command of comedic character.”
In America, Allah Made me Funny ( http://www.allahmademefunny.com ) is the longest running artistic collection of Muslim comic performers in the world and recently had a successful ‘World Domination Tour’!
Humour is one of those qualities which is subversive, critical and universal (although there are often cultural differences in what’s considered ‘funny’). Humour catches us off guard. It defeats bias and intolerance because it undercuts and sidetracks intellectual argument. It demonstrates the basic ‘silliness’ of existence. Living in a pluralistic society obliges us to be broadminded enough to accept parodies of our ‘sacred’ tenets and beliefs although I do not believe it ever needs to be cruel or merely an excuse to spread hate or intolerance of minorities. The powerless should never be the butt of satire or attacks masquerading as humour.
Psychologists suggest that in humour, when the punch line occurs, the subject must realign their thinking to accommodate the differences between the initial paradigm and the sudden burst of new information. Humour allows the recipient to be caught off guard, surprised into ‘realigning their thinking’. That’s why it is so subversive and worth a thousand weighty arguments.
We need more satire and humour, not less, more creative artists poking fun at our absurdities and our pomposity. Currently in Australia there seems to be a lack of satire and a fear of poking fun. Where is our contemporary irreverent TV comedy, our Frontline, our Chaser, programs prepared to ‘take the Mickey’? Most current TV comedy I believe is self-indulgent, self-obvious and lame, a mere re-run of events which are already absurd in themselves; there’s no unexpected ‘realignment of thinking.
In 20011 the offices of Charlie Hebdo were fire-bombed when Charlie Hebdo editor, Stephane Charbonnier (‘Charb’) published a special edition called “Charia Hebdo” featuring Muhammad as a “guest editor.” The cover depicted the prophet threatening readers with “100 lashes if you don’t die of laughter.” ’ Let’s defeat extremism and intolerance with humour.
Surely it’s time to recognise that guns and suicide bombers are now so passé in the battle of ideologies. It’s time for a battle of jokes, of cartoons at twenty paces. At least there would be fewer dead bodies and we’d have a laugh along the way.