Even Today, Humor Has a Place in Our Public Discourse
Lighthearted, nonpartisan humor serves as more than just a distraction
As Inauguration Day in the US approaches, public concern over right-wing extremist attacks is mounting. Many Americans worry about a peaceful transfer of power and whether the fabric of our democracy will be torn asunder. These are serious times.
On the day of the US Capitol attack earlier this month, I shared a silly humor piece I had written called “I’m Never Taking Off My Wearable Blanket” to my personal Facebook page. My Facebook post said, “Sharing some silliness by yours truly! I know things are heavy right now, and I hope this brings some momentary lightness,” by way of introduction.
Immediately, I received a private message from an acquaintance. “Just FYI, now is not the best time to be posting your humor. The country is in crisis, and it’s insensitive,” it read.
After a wave of indignation passed, I asked her to explain. From her perspective, humor serves as a dangerous distraction from the pressing social and political issues of our time. It leads us to bury our heads in the sand. Our conversation led me to reflect: What is the role of lighthearted, nonpartisan humor during a time of national crisis?
Humor Doesn’t Have to Be Political
One of the exceptions to my acquaintance’s “no humor” rule is political humor. She reasons that political humor engages us in salient issues. It has the power to skewer dictators and help overthrow authoritarian regimes. For example, political cartoonist Herblock drummed up public opposition to Senator Joseph McCarthy and originated the term “McCarthyism.” For her, humor is justified if used as a political weapon or if it brings to light political issues.
Does that mean all other forms of humor, particularly the irreverent or goofy variety, have no public benefit? Does non-political humor only provide entertainment, which keeps us docile and complicit in the injustices of our time? After some reflection and research, I believe the answer to both questions is “no.”