So shoot the dinosaur if I am not understanding this correctly BUT I am wholly confused about how humour and the topics of gender fluidity [in which I include LGBT as a ‘topic’], ethnicity, disability and beliefs collide. There’s a rule book somewhere that is, from what I can fathom, as fluid as the Gender identity it sometimes defends.
So, I understand the opening premise. That we are all human inside; the universal organism truth of us in which lie the seeds of Equality for All. Clear. And agreed.
And in the immutable words of a 90s Blur anthem, regardless of whether I am a boy who likes girls like their girls like their boys; or a girl whom wishes to be a boy; or a boy who wishes to dress like a girl; whether I have a Koran or a bible or a Torah or a light sabre (jedi numbers in the UK stood at 176,632 in the 201census, the 7thlargest religion in the UK after Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism, Judaism and Buddhism); whether I have black, brown, olive, bluey white, or any other skin colour or patina you can name; regardless of how I speak – by accent, idiom, dialect or impediment; whether I have all of my limbs or just some of them, flaws, glitches, disease, chromosomal or neural disorders or again, any other condition or illness that renders me ‘imperfect’ in the eyes of the zealots, we are still all the same sentient human creature and should be treated as such.
This is where normailsation or universality should apply, calibrate and enforce itself. At a regulatory, political and constitutional level. This is the nature of Human Suffrage. And these are societal and cultural truths that need to be enforced if needs be, especially if someone in flouting these human truths chooses to act maliciously against any one party to the detriment of that party and the benefits of themselves.
But the tension point on all of this for me is around humour.
Humour is a kicking post. A buffer to what sometimes feels like an imbalanced world or our own individual tribal and societal failings or myopia. Yes, it is turned cruelly against some people and beliefs – as is every technology humanity has ever created [ and yes I am referring to humour as a technology]. But broadly, humour is as much a tool of the oppressed, the marginalised, the down trodden, the forgotten and the set against as it is a tool of the bully and the racist.
Satire has been used as apolitical weapon for millennia, especially amongst those who felt they were incapable of confronting on equal terms a politic, leader, party, belief or philosophy that they found diminished their equal right to inclusion, peaceful living in equality with their neighbours.
Is satire a moral instrument? Yes. Whether it is being wielded by some homophobic, racist, right-wing, liberal-hating cyclops, or by some bullying, socially psychopathic vegan eco-fetishist, it is being used to promote a particular moral/immoral/amoral world view or perspective that truly believes in its righteous self. [We must remember that morality, like sexuality, is fluid.]
But it seems that one of satire and humour’s redeeming traits is that it is mostly fired up in favour of the underdog or the insurgent spirit in any given situation.
From the walls of the palatine Hills or the Senate baths; Diogenes in his barrel in the square, the rapier wit of Rowlandson and the satirists of western Georgian society all the way through to the agitating propagandists of ‘pick a world war any world war’, the revolutionary guard of 1968 and the journalists and cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo; humour is a leveller and a balloon popper; a stick with which to hit the stuffiness and humourless, po-pious self-righteous pomposity of those people seeking to rule through some self-ordained permission and assertion.
I love humour. And the more edgy and raw and punk it gets – the more hackles it raises – the more I like it.
Perhaps I just don’t like the smug controlling satisfaction written over the faces of what seem quite joyless people in any given situation.
Agreed. The catch all of the foot-in-mouth ‘truth as bullets’ insensitive twat ‘humour’ of ‘I was just saying what everyone else was thinking’ …displays a crass insensitivity and lack of even a shred of the kind of diplomacy that is a primary facet of any socialised human being. But my greatest issue is that it is frankly usually just lazy. And it is rarely funny. [The greater sin.]
But back to the upside.
A lot of humour for me is predicated on challenging every norm, status quo and given wisdom around identity truth, practice, posture, habit, behaviour, viewpoint, politic, assumption and directive. Anything that seemed to adopt a tyrannical, humourless, bullying self-referential righteousness.
It is there as a relentless counter balance to what is presented as ‘right’ or ‘normal.’
It is at its least a projection on to a higher plane of ‘taking the piss’ – a pastime created to keep people from getting ‘ideas above their station’, ‘too big for their boots’ or ‘too clever by half.’
In recent times once we’d cut out way through the smoky bullying humour of the working men’s clubs of the 1970s, aimed at ‘er indoors, the mother-in-law, women drivers, people of colour, homosexuals, ginger haired kids and the ‘t’ick’ Irish (or the Polish in North American Society) we got to the stand-up revolution of the 1980s.
Barbs and parodies and small humorous cruelties where now aimed at Maggie Thatcher, racist coppers, bent politicians, pig-ignorant gin & jag Middle-Englanders, Kebab Shop Men, gobby builders, Gap Yar students, Hoorays, PR queens, and every other shade of the establishment (who could forget Alan Beresford B’stard).
Then the Noughties switcheroo mix-up of geo-gender-livestock-foodstuff-education-politics had us all getting more and more confused. Suddenly Left was Right. Up was down. In was out.
One example of this lies in the roots of the recent Anti Semitism row in the Labour Party. And there ain’t nothing funny about that.
Was a time when supporting Palestine against state-funded [The American state to be precise] Zionist incursions and hegemony in the Middle East was particularly a stand against Israel’s state-terrorism [as it was perceived], not against the Jewish people. That support became an alignment with the PLO, who tripped and passed the baton to Hamas, who buddy up to the Hezbollah, who’re in bed with nascent IS militancy and suddenly a lot of people in the Labour Party are all confused. Pro PLO was not meant to be anti-semitic. But then again was it? If Israel is a secular state, then everyones fine. If it’s the homeland of the jewish people then that gets complicated. Back then Pro Palestine was definitely anti America and Anti Global Money. But it certainly wasn’t meant to be pro Hezbollah; and as for IS, well… Anyway. pick the comedy bones out of that if you can.
And the idea of sustainable lives and living within our means was a good thing. Cheap meat and its industrial production was killing the planet and our health and well-being. A more balanced diet was called for. More vegetables. A more vegetarian diet became suitable and vegetable-led diets are becoming far more normal. But the Vegans got super militant and a lot more aggressive. And suddenly they are the tyrants encroaching on free will. WTF?
And then as the Gay Agenda is usurped by the Gender Agenda, who’s rights come first? LGBT thankfully stepped in as the umbrella collective to champion all rights equally but the Gender Agenda could not be denied. And its confusing out there. [As Joe Lycett, the currently Bi-sexual comedian pointed out on Radio 4 recently, the Gays are controlling the Bi agenda, so Bis have to speak up for themselves.]
Although statistics reveal that 1 in 16 people are either gay or lesbian, we are yet to see what the true number of the transgender population might be.
We also need to allow for what I like to think of as ‘settlement’ – where the very universal nature of youth’s fierce pursuit of identity might predispose more than are actually truly transgender to pursue it as an option of identity while ‘churning’ through their individual activism years.
Yes. That idea of transgender possibly being a phase– shoot me now for suggesting that just maybe, transgender, like many other things, sometimes politics, sometimes philosophy, sometimes religious, sometimes physical, can be put in the tumble dryer of puberty and the fierce crucible of early identity and come up looking like an absolute, an emphatic truth; and feel that way for some years.
Do I believe that people can fundamentally find themselves in the wrong body? Yes. But equally, do I also believe that transgender has popped itself on the shelf of turbulent identities that youth might reach for? Yes. And that needs to be remembered before we steamroll anything in any direction without letting it ‘settle’. Less haste to the scalpel and more power to the emotional support systems while going through this stuff seems sensible to me.
Veganism and Vegetarianism unsurprisingly also feature heavily in the individual activism years, as they are also most likely to set young people ‘against’ their parents and the existing Order’s politics, beliefs and behaviours.
So what is activism linked to identity and being? And what is activism linked to humanity and existence?
The lazy answer would be ‘its all shades of the same.’ They’re not.
Regardless, that the new tropes of gender, veganism et al are being rendered through the social smack down of the social channels and the twitter model of ‘no right to reply’ leads us to the role of humour and satire.
Tyrannies of social inclusion and exclusion are being undertaken. And revolutions are being foisted on communities and societies.
Small problem is that the gathering norm is coming from the kind of people the humour of the 80s and 90s once set out to liberate.
And the rule book is currently either being used as loo paper in the gender neutral khazi or hung on a hanging tree next to the most recent #metoo protagonist.
Humour is now as likely to target gay rights activists, gender neutral toilets, tech entrepreneurs, hipsters, uber-feminists and fragile millennials as it will the old favourites of Proscribed Religion, philandering and (criminally) bent politicians, oil moguls, bankers, war mongers, child abusers, and Doctor’s Surgery Receptionists.
So does that mean teasing and taking the piss out of transgender is a return to the old days of right wing homophobias; or is it simply humour doing what it always does?
Which brings me to the catalyst for this blog.
Or should I say my family’s interpretation of Modern Family and particularly the humour involved.
After a particular binge-watching weekend [Bad parenting] we realised that my daughter is sensitive to how women are portrayed in Modern Family. Neurotic Claire. With her over-controlling mania’s and aggression issues. Over-inflated Gloria with her ‘goose honk’ Columbian tone, towering heels and malapropisms. The two Dumfy daughters – one stupid and loose, the other geeky and up tight. So a wholly reasonable perspective and opinion on my daughter’s part.
But she equally seemed somewhat oblivious to the rest of the comedy cavalcade of swipes – the gay stereotypes of Cam and Mitchell and their fatuous statements – “the only gay men to leave LA on pride weekend because we don’t like crowds” “Oh no, Lesbians” – and hybrid Gay-Asian jokes – “the only two gay men in America to have raised an underperforming Asian child”– the old school, rich white myopia of Jay (he’s a brash crass self-made man with intimacy issues and he did marry pneumatic Gloria after all) and of course, Phil Dumfy’s deeply flawed world view on subjects such as the menstrual cycle and its effect on women – “monstruation” – his staggering stupidities, fawning salesmanship and general foolishness.
At which point my son chimes in and says perhaps there are gender stereotypes but everyone’s being targeted. And while we are at it, no-one seems up in arms about the prevailing wind in tv drama and comedy of stupid, self-interested, unhygienic, venal, childish male stereotype with a one track mind [whether that be shabby cheap sex, donuts, skipping work, or playing golf.]
We have Brian Griffen in Family Guy; the less said about Homer Simpson the idiot child abuser the better; Richard Watterson, the dad in Amazing world of Gumball demonstrates a staggering level of parental irresponsibility and idiocy; and even Peppa Pig’s father, Daddy Pig, could do with a bath and a fresh injection of brain cells.
The female riposte to this is often ‘well, you guys identify and laugh at those male truisms – and anyway, it’s about time you got skewered after hundreds of years of beating down women’s self-worth and identity – emotionally, intellectually and physically if needs be.’
Fair cop. But if we’re all equal. Surely we’re all up for the rules to be applied equally?
Anyway, where we netted out on Modern families humour imperative was, in my opinion, the right place.
In turns each of the stereotypes is hammered but it is done with a redemptive and cautionary tale ending in mind. Ultimately it says, reach beyond the short-sightedness and human frailty and flaws and we are all equally and without exception allowed and capable of a shot of redemption if we choose to take it.
It is the equanimity of deft cruel parodies, stereotypes and clichés and the purpose to which these comedic cruelties are played that allows all things.
As long as humour is applied equally, and no one stereotype is singled out, then anything goes, the only filter then being to what tonal extremity do you like your humour to play.
South Park far outreaches Gumball in extremity and crass stereotyping. But the premise of using stereotypes is much the same.
But this is a liberal choice. Some would say that as in literature, what constitutes funny it is a question of quality not morality or ethics.
It is the quality of the writing and framing and characterisations in the comedy that should be judged. Not the morality. As Oscar Wilde was said to point out when discussing the morality of a particular book:
“There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book.Books are well written, or badly written. That is all.”
The source code of humour is the human condition, in all of its flawed, raw truth and sometime often-time ugliness and inappropriateness.
Lazy humour tends to just be cruel for cruelty’s sake. Humour that tends to just seek to make people feel less shit by demeaning someone else to make them feel shitter – that’s not only lazy but spiteful and negative. That’s not OK. There is no counterpoint or greater purpose to it.
Even if the purpose is just to put a pressure valve on something that would otherwise explode into something far more destructive, at least it has a role in society.
Humour with purpose is a beautiful thing. Because it reminds us that power in all its forms, shiboleths, hysterical and aggressive assertions, trumpeting identity and righteous untouchables are all fodder for the excoriating blade of wit and humour.
Humour is the raw blunt edge of humanity. And like all evolved practices behaviours and traits, it exists for a reason. As I have said. Humour is a Human Technology.
As Sy Benson, the erstwhile Head Comedy Writer character in the film My Favourite Year promounced:
“You don’t cut ‘funny.’”
He also pronounced on the morality of a philandering Actor’s right to appear on a family show:
“We’re discussing morals. We’re talking generations to come here.”
To which Alice, another writer, responds:
“you’re not qualified to discuss morals, Sy”
to which Sy intelligently replies
“Up yours with a Mello Roll, Alice!”
Now what are we to do with this? Accuse him of misogynistic and aggressive use of language and making threats with a pastry, and have him arrested? Undertake a thorough investigation to define which ‘hole’ he is referring to, to define whether this is indeed gender specific abuse or a more universal aggressive attack? Shame him on twitter in the absence of context? Send him home with a pat on the head saying time to hang up your comedy typewriter? Or accept that humour like humanity has rough and imperfect edges, points of discomfort and areas of uncertainty, and having accepted that just apply a little wit and wisdom in the judging of it.
Anyone one for a Non Vegan, Camp Comedy Night Out?