Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Monday, March 05, 2012

Laughter as political action

In the Soviet Union, satire was a powerful tool used by people to keep their political sanity. Joshua Yaffa, writing in the New York Times, seems to think satire is making a comeback.

The Kremlin’s Not Laughing Now
VLADIMIR V. PUTIN, the Russian prime minister, can barely open his mouth these days without being made fun of. After he compared the white ribbons of protesters to condoms during a televised call-in show, doctored photos of Mr. Putin with a condom pinned to his lapel went viral online within minutes. During the same show, Mr. Putin compared those opposed to his rule to the outcast Bandar-log monkeys of Rudyard Kipling’s “Jungle Book,” so the country’s most popular satirical television show depicted him as a goofy-looking boa constrictor.

The large demonstrations against Mr. Putin’s rule signal many important shifts in Russia’s political and civic life — including the return of political satire. Today’s political humor, much of it online, is designed to make Mr. Putin and his allies appear out of touch, uncool and, in a way, not especially dangerous — an empowering idea in a country where people had grown accustomed to the unquestioned power of whoever sat in the Kremlin…

Poking fun at the peculiarities of Russia and its people has roots in 19th-century literature, especially writers like Nikolai Gogol and Aleksei Konstantinovich Tolstoy (Leo’s second cousin)…

Satire became something of a national sport in the gray, sterile days of the Soviet Union, when humor served as a portal to an alternative reality…

In keeping with the amorphous, essentially leaderless nature of Russia’s current protest movement, the sharpest anti-Putin humor these days is not produced by traditional media institutions but simply shows up on the Internet or on handmade signs at demonstrations…

Humor and a sense of irony will not keep Mr. Putin from returning to the presidency, but they have contributed to a sense of civic engagement and vitality that will most certainly outlive [the] election…

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