Laughter Is A Revolutionary Act
“Nothing can my peace destroy as long as none smile”
More opened ears and opened eyes
And soon they dared to laugh
The lyrics above are from a song by Genesis, a retelling of the story of King Canute. In this variation, the king is vain enough to believe that by the strength of his decree he can stop the tide itself. His vanity is finally exposed to his people, who are at length willing to show their disdain for their leader through laughter. This version of the story has more in common with the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes, since it is the telling of a leader deluded by power into a sort of madness that is eventually exposed, even though it is the tendency of those who are led to accept the story told by those in power.
Power has a certain ability to shape reality around itself. It is an illusory power, a temporary power, but its ability to shape the narrative for a time is undeniable. Thus, a story about an emperor without clothes, and the need for a child to point that fact out, stays relevant to us for nearly two centuries. And the more power that is concentrated in fewer hands, the stronger that narrative will be, the more absurd it will become, and the harder it will be on those who wish to point out the falseness of it.
First to fall to the narrative of the powerful are the powerless, whose cries of injustice will be drowned out by the sycophants that gather round the mighty, telling them how great they are and how noble their reign. Second to fall are the intellectuals, whose rigorous application of logic and grasp of facts are at odds with the magical thinking and simplistic narrative weaved by the king and those who grow rich by heaping praise upon him. Then will fall the average citizens, who are humble and believe that such nobility as portrayed by the king’s sycophants must be respected.
The last to have a voice against the narrative of the powerful as they silence all dissent are those who couch their truth-telling in humor. The court jester can often get away with saying those truths others cannot, both because humor dulls the sharpness of truth and because the jester does not pose any real threat to the king’s power. It is a sign that power has reached the end of its limits of tolerance for truth when it feels it necessary to silence those who wish to make us laugh by pointing out the obvious delusions embraced by society at large and the powerful in particular.
We are at that point now where the final barrier is under assault. The moat of the media has been forded, and is now a conduit for lies rather than a protector of truths. The walls of legitimate political debate have been razed. The king (which, if you haven’t realized yet, is the power elite in this metaphor) is assaulting the keep, where those who still have the ability to laugh and the daring to mock the ridiculous now gather. They are armed with nothing but sharpened wit and pea shooters, but such weapons can be effective against overly extended narratives.
It is sad to see a ruling class so intolerant of the truth that they can no longer laugh at themselves. Michelle Wolf’s performance at the White House Correspondents Dinner burned their delicate sensibilities like acid, so much so that they will not even have a comedian at their next meeting. Comedian Randy Credico was roughly thrown out of the gathering.
It is tempting to say there is no one comparable to George Carlin anymore, but that is only because those doing the brave work of speaking truth to power are not covered by the mainstream media any longer. Despite the explosion of available television channels, media has been constricted by the ownership of it being in the hands of fewer — and much larger — moneyed interests. More than ever before, the powerful few dictate the narrative. Thus, those who are given a stage and rewarded for their work are not really very funny. Think about it, what’s the last really funny movie you’ve seen? Who are the most notable stand-up comedians of our era? Since John Stewart retired from The Daily Show, there has been no one willing to confront the true power structure. In the place of truth-tellers are partisan hacks, those willing to attack one aspect of the society while viewing others as sacrosanct.
But there exists yet venues for using comedy to point out the truths that no one else dare touch. Humor, enlightening and brave, still thrives. Jimmy Dore, doing a show out of his garage, is able not only to attract a sizable following but incredible guests like Chris Hedges, Tulsi Gabbard, and Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, among others. And from such a humble studio, he makes short shrift of those from corporate media willing to describe in detail the finery worn by their emperor.
Lee Camp and Russell Brand are two others willing to speak profoundly and with humor on the issues the sycophants will not touch and their leaders will not allow. The story, the unquestionable and sacred story that is spread by the mighty machinery of the powerful, is given the death-by-a-thousand-cuts treatment it deserves. You will never be able to un-see the emperor’s nakedness.
Lastly, Caitlin Johnstone is doing especially great work. As one who grew to adulthood on the works of Mike Royko, I can honestly say she is comparable to Mark Twain as a humorist, though her articles often go deeper than anything even Royko or Twain wrote.
Laughter is not only important now, it is absolutely vital. Laughter is not merely our last line of defense against a narrative that grows more absurd as it grows more powerful. It is perhaps the only weapon capable of slicing through a narrative that perpetuates fear and helplessness, which tells us that every other country is an enemy and every one of our fellow humans is a competitor that we must either defeat or be defeated by. It is a joyless, loveless narrative reinforcing the joyless loveless elite who have convinced us that their story is the only one.
The more official story of King Canute (still just a story, not history) is that he stood in front of the tide in order to teach his sycophantic followers that he was merely a man, helpless against the greater powers that operate the universe. This is a lesson that needs to be taught to our modern-day rulers, that they are not truly in control of events. The tide has been out so that for a time their commands seem to be obeyed. But the tide is turning and we must all appreciate the force that pulls us forward, though the decrees of the naked emperor would speak otherwise.
We must laugh at the nonsense that is being told us through every artery of an immense propaganda machine. We must shower them with the kind of laughter that brings down the curtains on a really bad play. We must laugh, and once enough of us laugh together, we will see that we are the tide, and they are a deluded king who seeks to rule what is beyond him. Each peal of laughter is a wave that works towards wiping away the delusional ambitions of kings.