Nel's New Day

September 6, 2017

Fight Authoritarianism with Humor

Filed under: Politics — trp2011 @ 10:37 PM
Tags: , , , ,

My partner and I get together every afternoon and talk. I drink scotch, and she drinks fruit juice. We start out with each of us listing three good things that happened to us during the day and then continue with wherever the conversation leads. I sometimes talk about what I’ve been reading, and she asks questions that makes me want to delve further into the topic. Often, the subject is politics, yesterday the tragedy of Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) rescinding DACA, work permits for children brought illegally and involuntarily into the United States. I segued into how stupid DDT looked when he was trying to load a pickup for a photo op. She asked why it mattered, and we launched into the importance of ridicule to oppose authoritarians.

[Anti-fascist protesters in Wurzen, Germany, last week. Markus Keine/NurPhoto via Getty Images.]

Today, the New York Times published Tina Rosenberg’s opinion piece, “Neo-Nazis in Your Streets? Send in the (Coup Clutz) Clowns,” that followed our discussion. Here are excerpts:

In Olympia, Wash., in 2005, a march of about a dozen brown-shirted neo-Nazis was met by protesting clowns, goose-stepping, Nazi-style. Hundreds of counterprotesters turned the occasion into a celebration of diversity and unity.

Two years later in Knoxville, Tenn., residents countered a white supremacist march with a hastily assembled group calling itself the Coup Clutz Clowns. The clowns pretended not to understand the shouts of “White power!”

“White flour?” the clowns cried, throwing some in the air. “White flower? Tight shower? Wife power!” For wife power, some of them put on wedding dresses.

And in 2012 in Charlotte, N.C., clowns protesting a far-right march held up “Dwight Power!” signs, evoking the Charlotte Hornets player Dwight Howard.

Responding to far-right demonstrators with mockery originated in Europe, where one outstanding recent example took place in the German town of Wunsiedel. Unable to dislodge annual marches with ordinary counterprotests, the town took a new tack in 2014. For every meter the neo-Nazis marched, the town donated 10 euros to an organization that helped people leave right-wing extremist groups. Residents hung silly signs along the route and threw confetti at the end, leaving the neo-Nazis responsible for raising $12,000 against their own cause.

Humor has a long and honored place in American politics as well.

And counterintuitive though it may seem, ridicule and mockery have long been an effective way to disarm protesters who espouse bigotry and racial supremacy. If you want to resist those who would stir up violence, using humor is more effective than staying at home when they march, and far better than rewarding their provocations with a melee in the streets.

Here’s what white supremacists want to do when they stage a rally:

  • Legitimize their views.
  • Strengthen their self-image as part of the downtrodden.
  • Unite their squabbling factions.
  • Attract new people to the movement.
  • Control media coverage.
  • Feel powerful and heroic.

They can accomplish all of those goals when the Antifa, or anti-fascists, respond to violence by throwing fists or rocks.

“For the far-right groups, violence is central to their way of looking at the world,” said Peter Simi, associate professor of sociology at Chapman University. “The idea of having violent confrontation and conflicts fuels and energizes them. They feed off it.

“It also helps perpetuate their own narrative about victimization and persecution —‘Look, we can’t even have a free speech rally without being attacked.’ ”

For the same reasons that violence by counter-protesters helps the far right, mockery hurts. “Ridicule makes the far right look less attractive to the type of people they want to attract,” said Cas Mudde, an associate professor in the School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Georgia. “There’s a sizable portion who are there for the thrill. It doesn’t mean they don’t believe in the broader ideology, but they really enjoy the potential violence. They want to feel dangerous and important. They don’t want to feel like part of a sketch.” He thinks that’s true for the Antifa as well.

After all, which plan is more attractive to young macho men? “We’ll face a small group of masked tough guys” or “We’ll face a large number of men, women and children wearing silly hats and big red noses”?

Humor and mockery are also good strategies for classic political protest — whether against politicians who enable white supremacists, or policies like tax cuts for the rich.

Founded in 1980 as part of the Solidarity movement, [the Orange Alternative in Communist Poland] specialized in surrealist protest, often conducted by people in orange garden gnome costumes. At a protest in 1988, 10,000 people marched wearing gnome hats. One of the group’s common tactics was to mock the state through exaggerated obedience.

On Poland’s annual day honoring the secret police (you can’t make this stuff up), the Orange Alternative carried banners and posters proclaiming complete devotion: “Love the People’s Police!” “Long Life to Undercover Agents!” During the annual celebration of the Russian Revolution, the group shouted Bolshevik slogans, and during a state-supported referendum in the city of Wroclaw, Orange Alternative marchers chanted “Vote Yes Twice!” as they called for a “200 percent voter turnout.”

The police found themselves in a conundrum. They couldn’t let the protesters continue. But by making arrests, they acknowledged that no one could possibly believe in the Communist orthodoxy — and anyone who said they did must have been joking. Most Poles already knew that, of course, but the Orange Alternative forced the state authorities to make it visible.

All of these organizations changed people’s thinking by putting familiar ideas into a disorienting new context….

Soon Congress will be considering proposals to drastically cut taxes for the rich and services for the poor. What’s the message? “No tax cuts for the rich”? “Protect social services”?

Better to do what Billionaires for Bush did during the George W. years. Put on your (fake) mink stole and pearls, or don your tux — look fabulously wealthy, or just fabulous. Carry a cardboard Rolls-Royce door or a Champagne glass and hold a sign that says “Pools, not schools.” Or “Only little people pay taxes.”

The group adopted a logo that cast the Republican Party’s elephant as a piggy bank and described itself as a “grass-roots network of corporate lobbyists, decadent heiresses and Halliburton C.E.O.s.” When President Bush made privatization of Social Security the flagship issue of his second term, the Billionaires, tired of waiting, put Social Security on eBay.

It seems too basic to even say, but the rule is violated again and again: Successful political activists are strategic. They ask: “What will reach, and motivate or convince, the people we need?”

Very often, the answer is: Make ’em laugh.

DDT said that he rejected the Paris Agreement because he didn’t want people in the world to laugh at him, failing to understand that he is the laughing stock of the entire world—sometimes openly and other times covertly as in Saudi Arabia where they consider him to be useful. In his first 100 days, DDT was the target of jokes from late night hosts, with 1,000 jokes about him, and the second 100 days just got worse.

Humorist Garison Keillor wrote about DDT:

“The cap does not look good on you, it’s a duffer’s cap, and when you come to the microphone, you look like the warm-up guy, the guy who announces the license number of the car left in the parking lot, doors locked, lights on, motor running. The brim shadows your face, which gives a sinister look, as if you’d come to town to announce the closing of the pulp factory. Your eyes look dead and your scowl does not suggest American greatness so much as American indigestion. Your hair is the wrong color: People don’t want a president to be that shade of blond. You know that now….

“Running for president is your last bid for the respect of Manhattan. If you were to win election, they couldn’t ridicule you anymore. They could be horrified, but there is nothing ridiculous about being Leader of the Free World. You have B-52 bombers at your command. When you go places, a battalion of security guys comb the environs. You attract really really good speechwriters who give you Churchillian cadences and toss in quotes from Emerson and Aeschylus and Ecclesiastes.”

As we now know, DDT’s adlibs revealed a high level of ignorance and a low level of vocabulary.

People are afraid of humor and satire because they are effective. Hollywood executives fought Charlie Chaplin when he wanted to satirize Nazism and Hitler in The Great Dictator. Arab airlines helped defeat the U.S. electronic ban with sarcasm. “Fake” news is so commonly used now for real faux news that DDT uses the term less and less. As Mel Brooks said, comedy robs people of their “power and myths.” Director Michael Moore told people to “form an army of comedy” to defeat DDT because “he’ll implode”; it’s “his Achilles’ heel.”

When Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) mocked DDT’s small hands and small something else during the campaign, DDT talked at a debate about how he was well-endowed. He may not be reacting as much to the jokes recently because of John Kelly’s tutelage and restrictions of what DDT watches, but John Kelly won’t be in the White House long. The humor will lead to DDT’s destruction.

2 Comments »

  1. So true about the power of humor! We need to use it more!

    Like

    Comment by jstjohn1 — September 13, 2017 @ 12:49 PM | Reply

  2. Great plan!

    Like

    Comment by Lee Lynch — September 7, 2017 @ 12:42 AM | Reply


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