“There’s nothing funny about that, ” a phrase too true about too many serious things these days. But there is a connection sometimes between the most unlikely of things – among those the link between humor and terror.
This truth was highlighted recently in the deadly attack on the satirical French magazine Charlie Hebdo where, before the violence ceased 17 people had lost their lives.The tragedy sparked advocates of free speech to lock arms in unity but you had to lift the leaf of free speech to find the protagonist of this story – humor, aka satire, aka ridicule.
Another attack on humor, albeit not tragic, was the hacking of Sony Pictures, ostensibly as a protest against a satirical film. The media reports millions of dollars lost as a result, feathers were ruffled and heads of state weighed in on the affair.
Such salvos used to be reserved for the “serious” journalist; the intrepid, thought-provoking intellectual who saw wrongs and tried to right them; Edward R. Murrow whose life was not threatened but fought strong political currents to push the message that Senator Joseph R. McCarthy was a ravenous wolf in sheep’s clothing; and Anna Politkovskaya who was assassinated for her powerful reporting on Putin’s Russia..
But the journalists of Charlie Hebdo – though brave – did not offer the white papers of main-stream journalism. Their stock in trade was and is humor. How did humor rise to such a level?
President Dwight Eisenhower suggested humor has always held the high ground.
“A sense of humor is part of the art of leadership, of getting along with people, of getting things done,”
Author and humorist Mary Hirsch said it is part of the art of leadership because it is often the only way to reveal the truth. It is a way of “making a point without drawing blood.”
But in this case it did draw blood.
The larger tragedy might be that satirical humor itself would be stained with that blood forever. Certainly Charlie Hebdo and others will push back but how will they be able to buoy their joy, their wit and their smiles to go on. If the shine of their humor dims it may dim for all and if that happens the light of satire everywhere will fail to penetrate the dark places that feed our terror.
Tim Sharp – TSOD