Laughing at helplessness

Humor is often used to mitigate the sense of hopelessness people feel when they are being dominated by others, especially in totalitarian systems, or in systems where the offended has no recourse to better the system. In the west the disempowering of customers through the centralization of institutions such as Banks or in relation to Government Social or Immigration services, while not being as evil as the bads of Soviet Russian totalitarianism is becoming increasingly dehumanizing. (Here is a great letter by a pensioner to her bank.)

This sort of humor was a trade mark of people in soviet satellite state. It was almost overly ironic and often cynical about power and those that hold it. They had jokes and humorous sayings that would explain a mentality and a problem in a simple twist of phrase. Acidic versions of this sort of laughter are found in Kafka.

Community Organizers in the US, like Saul Alinsky used humor to show the incongruity between the rich, their values and their acts of oppression on those less well off in society.  Examples of humor as subversion such as these abound. Humor helps the helpless deal with their helplessness.

Canine Teams Demonstrate Explosives Detection At JFK

Be sure, this sort of humor is not a matter of an ahistoric laughter, it needs context. This sort of humor also brings about jokes quickly. Here is an example. Earlier this week a semi-international semi-crisis between Ireland and Slovakia was sparked by a failed police training excercise. Explosives sniffing Dogs where being trained at an airport in Poprad. The police took the bags of regular travelers and placed several grams of plastic explosive in 2-8 of them (reports vary) without the travelers knowing. One such piece was forgotten in its adoptive home.

This in itself is pretty unnerving. Messing around with peoples bags without them knowing? Well, perhaps in the name of security we can let that go (though perhaps only just). But then the Slovak police did not tell the Irish police correctly, who only days later found out about the incident and then raided the house of the unknowing Slovak emigre. He could have been killed in the raid. He was arrested and had to spend part of the day in Police custody. The Slovak Deputy Prime Minster and  Minister of Interior Robert Kaliniak, though he apologised to his counterpart in Ireland,  has still not apologised to the person whose bag was used (or rather abused).

The Wall Street Journal reports on the story here. According to an expert such training is a regular part of security practice. Mistakes have happened before, both at Heathrow and Charles de Gaulle airports.

Traveler & Pet At Airline Counter

I have not searched for jokes about those incidents.  I am less inclined to think that this was a case for laughter in France or the UK than it is currently in Slovakia. Within a couple of days of reading about the story and after some debate with friends on what Kaliniak should do, I received, in an email from one of these friends, “the latest one.”

After the plane landed and at the security desk:
Security: What do you have in your bags sir?
Passanger: How should I know?
Security: Ah. You must be from Slovakia.

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4 Responses to Laughing at helplessness

  1. Lauri says:

    A line on FaceBook shows a classic wry response:

    SK: “Myslim, ze ten pes, ktoreho cuch zlyhal, by mal odstupit…”

    English: “I think, that the dog, whose smell failed, should resign…”

    The reference to the dog here is, I think, similar to the Orwellian book…

  2. jingle says:

    cute dog, amazing humor on public relation or politics..

  3. linnea says:

    after staring at this title for weeks in gchat I decided to look at it. I like what your saying here. This idea of using humor to DO something really intrigues me. I’m teaching rhetoric to freshman right now and I keep thinking I should organize the class so we talk about everything through the medium of humor. It’s just amazing how much humor can do, like this for example, you don’t think about humor going together with helplessness, but it does! And humor does funny things to power–kind of switching things around so the person in power can’t use humor as well as the person without power. And then the whole idea of people wanting to get the joke…like there’s a power in humor itself. Anyway, this is probably rather unarticulate, but thanks.

  4. Lauri says:

    Good thoughts Linnea. I am working on articulating thoughts like that at the mo, as I am trying to develop a theology of laughter (humor) and relate that to politics.

    You should check out Saul Alinsky…

    As for Rhetoric, I recomend Taylor Mali on teaching (hopefully will encourage you a bit:)

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