I’ve often wondered the purpose of laughter. In upper primates, it has been around for roughly six million years as a mechanism to show affection and playfulness, rather than aggression and threat and yes, gorillas actually laugh when relaxed and not being eaten by Ebola ridden Africans. We possess a genome dedicated to humour, hard-wired into our social psyche – a defence mechanism to protect us from horror and false and very real threats.
We entertain ourselves in what little free time we now possess with humour and comedy. We sit transfixed as comedians parody and lampoon the great and the good and rightly reward and honour those who expose their hypocrisy and duplicity. Whether Spitting Image, Private Eye, Viz Comic or Harry Enfield and Ting Tong, we delight as the pompous and humourless are held to account by the public. Those who would rather we didn’t are naturally furious but understand thankfully that in a free society, dissent takes many forms and laughter is one of the more harmless ones.
Our newspapers and online media are full of the most brutal political cartoons, designed specifically to offend the sensibilities of those who would rather we didn’t and simply accept their version of the planet, without question or due process of thought. I can’t think of a decent cartoonist who doesn’t receive death threats for having the audacity to point out hypocrisy. Our social and printed media is flooded with witty and satirical comments poking fun and questioning the messages our “betters” delight in broadcasting to us at every opportunity.
Compare and contrast if you will, against authoritarian societies where to even snigger at political criticism can and certainly will bring you anything from arrest to death. Regimes so insecure in their self appointed right to rule that to even entertain the thought of doubt out loud will have you branded a subversive, a seditionary, an enemy of the State or the collective to be denounced and destroyed.
Britain has a rich and illustrious history of satire. In 1695, the Government threw out the Press licensing act of 1692 designed to “prevent the frequent Abuses in printing seditious treasonable and unlicensed Bookes“ and the effect was startling. Publications could finally print critique of the ruling elite without fear of death, the public could, instead of rioting and killing in their frustration, simply laugh at the whole, ridiculous pantomime of it all. Others were not so lucky – the dictators of Europe were able to rise to unquestionable power simply because any mechanism using mass media to stop them was throttled – see the East German book of licensed jokes or Stalin’s Socialist Compendium of Satire to see where an ill timed chuckle could lead you. Unluckily for the subjects of such regimes, they failed to realise that to laugh publicly is to hold megalomaniacs to account. They were silenced by ruthless cowards who cannot accept rightful criticism in lieu of brutal oppression
Well, we’re all comedians now. We can tweet, write our own jokes, mock, jeer, lambaste and humiliate whomsoever we see fit – from the comfort of our own homes and with a few clicks of a mischievous mouse. We can expose hypocrisy, corruption, abuse of power and point the spotlight at the idiots who still feel they have the God given right to speak on our behalf. There are still those who will threaten to burn down our businesses or our houses because we may utter something they disagree with online or post a cartoon in a newspaper mocking their religion. There are still those in more brutal regimes who will shoot schoolchildren in the head for daring to have an alternative opinion than one written thousands of years ago, but we realise that they are quite, quite mad and very, very dangerous.
So go ahead and issue your fatwas, demand we be silenced, shriek and shriek until you are blue in the face that “you can’t say that, it’s offensive” because actually, yes, we can and yes, we will and your ilk have been proven to be the most dangerous people on the planet – those who cannot laugh, despite being genetically programmed by nature to do just that. To laugh is human – to crush free speech and humour is the work of inhuman monsters with no free will to ignore, or even better, counter argue or debate to defend your ridiculous position. We who can laugh will be watching you – you’ve already killed hundreds of millions in the name of an obedient, compliant, authoritarian silence that suited only you and now we will hold you to account, and ironically, this time we aren’t joking. From Pakistan to Anfield (yes, you’re reading this, aren’t you), from Syria to Martin Brunt, you will not silence us because we know how to have the one thing we were put on this planet to do – have fun.
Here’s to the funny ones and sod the offended, no one is forcing you to listen to the beautiful sound of liberty, freedom and free speech; if you don’t like it or can’t face it or are too scared of the consequences to entertain it, don’t read it – that way lies the Gulag, Comrade.