A few months ago, a man was arrested in Turkey for posting a picture online comparing their president to the Lord of the Ring’s character named Gollum- he faces five years in jail. Why would this harmless joke receive such grand punishment? Alain de Botton contends humor, such as this, does not merely entertain but it seeks to convey a message; a message too dangerous to convert directly. This man’s humor was a political attack against the Turkish government or so they contend. Humor plays a vital role in our society- the ability to, with impunity, bring to light hypocrisy and societal lies not only furthers our free speech but fosters a not easily manipulated hoi polloi.
There is no one more adept at shinning a spotlight on hypocrisy then Jon Stewart. His show, The Daily Show, writes jokes on the everyday news: from politics to world affairs. His comedic style that traps public policies in their own web of misinformation earned him more public trust then mainstream news stations. His humorist tactics engaged his views and spurned them to action on a hoard of issues. His straight talk persuaded Congress to renew medical benefits for 9/11 responders with no one able to oppose him with mere political games. In a world of agendas, Jon Stewart brought a funny side to the news while attacking hypocrisy and protecting the public from oligarchic manipulation.
While Jon Stewart lifts the vale on Washington through jokes, Kurt Vonnegut lifts the vale on our own societies highest held ideals through satire. In his novel Cat’s Cradle, Vonnegut introduces the reader to a religion called Bokononism: a religion based entirely on lies. A religion forcibly outlawed because coercion breeds cohesion and an illegal religion feels more purposeful. The island, in economic disparity, survived only off the false hope of religion. The religion does not try to understand the world and when the world comes to an end all its followers commit ritual suicide. Through poignant satire, Vonnegut examines both a lack of morality in science and the pointless meaning that religions assign to the world. He says, “if you do not understand why a religion can be built on lies, you will not understand this book”. Vonnegut safely promotes a self-evaluation of our own society’s most noble ideals. It is unpopular to insinuate life and religion are pointless except through a humorist/satirical lens. Vonnegut preserves free speech and fights hypocrisy in our world while keeping his works open for the entire populace, even fundamentalists, to enjoy and debate.
While Vonnegut’s work preserves free speech and at the same time calls into contest our society’s most basic believes, the world rallied around Charlie Hebdo to defend that free speech. Humorists play a vital role in our society- they take to the limit our free speech and provide a window into the hypocrisy of the establishment. Charlie Hebdo did both and was attacked by religious extremists for their drawings of Mohammed humorizing the extremist’s beliefs. The world stood behind Charlie- they called out, “Je Suis Charlie.” The defense of free speech and the niche it creates for informative humor is vital to the world and especially to the people in it. The ideas published in Charlie Hebdo are often dangerous or unresponsive if published without humor. Even with humor, they became deadly but Alain de Botton’s belief, comedy allows a message impunity, still holds true due to the united front against the violence. Humor is protected- free speech is saved.
The role of the humorist today remains vital- exercise our free speech to engagingly rout hypocrisy and bring light to the fallibility of our ideals. More people trust Jon Stewart for real news because his funny bits do not bias the truth and promote real change. Many countries are afraid of this real change and so punish humor with laws like ‘Les Magistrates’ (which make it illegal to insult the monarchy). This persecution, like that of Charlie Hebdo, only reinforces the effect and importance of the humorist today. If those who are extreme or those who are in power are afraid of the humorist, he must be the friend to the proletariat for he can awaken and reveal to them their power. Vonnegut’s satire calls into question our very societies ideals in a way that steps back from the constantly louder and louder battle between battling beliefs. The humorist is dangerous and yet he is the acme of our freedom.