Comedian and chief of digital business of Visinema
Illustration of comedy (Shutterstock/SkyPics Studio)
In this day and age of democracy and web 2.0, free speech is not only a birthright, it can also be a platform to give voiceless ideas a hearing.
Yet the space for art, or more specifically comedy, is getting narrow and narrower. It has become an easy target for censorship, court battles, or at the very least public apologies, pressing on the very foundations of free speech, an idea which we have fought for so long to secure.
Maybe we have started to leave our honeymoon phase of democracy and have entered a phase of, according to Polybius Cycle, ochlocracy. A corrupt form of democracy, where we are ruled by the mob, in this case, a group of “triggered people”, with online petitions as their burning torches and pitchforks, in order to hunt witches that merely spell ideas, and bringing them to justice.
Back in the era of Indonesia’s New Order, the fight was clear. It was the people versus the supremacy of the government. Comedians, musicians and others were often terrorized and oppressed for expressing their opinion of their ruler. But today, something like a fox lovers’ community can bring a comedian to his knees, make him lose shows and sponsorship, and leave him crying and apologizing on social media. Meanwhile, the government just acts like it is witnessing a couple’s quarrel in public: if it’s not our fight, just cover your sight, then walk away.
Mark Twain once said, "Against the assault of laughter, nothing can stand.” The father of American literature compared the importance of comedy to other more obvious things such as power, money, persuasion, supplication and persecution. All could and would have colossal effects when given the time -- whether to lift, push, crowd or weaken.
But Twain believed that only laughter could "blow it to rags and atoms at a blast." This is what makes comedy such a dangerous weapon. It makes messages easier to digest and spread around. Such a great tool to make people boil. Not a poem, not a painting, not even a building.
It can’t be a building. Because there’s a building in the center of Jakarta with a questionable shape, that people just walk past and never realize. Now, this joke potentially just triggered people to protest about the building or the joke. Or even worse, the building's owner, who can very much be upset by the joke, could also take legal action. Both cases will leave the spokesman vulnerable to attack.
However, comedy is not a tool to insinuate chaos. Although, it can be chaos itself. But I'd rather look at it from a perspective that it’s a tool to spark ideas.
Impressively, it brings out skepticism, a philosophy that certain knowledge is impossible. It makes us question, doubt or challenge what is validly accepted. Realizing oddness or highlighting irregularity. Remember, no society has ever survived by staying still; the Romans thought they were great, where are they now?
According to Jimmy Carr, the “'Ha-ha' moment of a joke is very similar to the 'A-ha' moment of 'Ah, I have an idea.'" In Carr's theory, it's two things: noticing differences and linguistic abilities that have led us to our increased development in the last few millennia. This points out that we are wired with comedy. Every time we are inspired, it’s the same moment that we are about to laugh. Thus, it can’t be killed, nor should it be.
Another great thing about comedy is, it can bring so much wisdom inside us. It humiliates us, breaking us free from the beliefs and principles that we hold dearly, but binding us to improvement.
However, know that comedy is not only for comedians. Everyone can attain it if you allow yourself to loosen your screws. The great minds did, even Einstein was funny. He said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
He didn’t say this on a cliff with a toga, yelling at some interns so they didn’t make a mistake. I’m quite certain he said this in a lab, shaking his beaker or flask for the one-hundred-and-something time that kept on exploding over and over again. While at the same time wondering why it keep on exploding. Maybe if it's stirred, and voila! It didn’t explode. It wasn’t meant to be inspirational, he was laughing at himself.
But where should comedy stand in this current world? A world full of self-proclaimed thought police, seizing crimeless perpetrators? Should one always apologize when one offends another?
The feeling of being offended can’t be the guideline for what can or can’t be joked about. How thick would the rule book be if this happened?
We also can’t leave it to the authorities, because that would be going backward and everything would turn into a land of tyrants once again.
We should grow out of that feeling of being offended. Nothing happens when you are offended. No victims are added when joking about the pandemic, and no offense can help to make a cure.
When it comes to free speech, it is either all in, or nothing at all. (kes)
Adriano Qalbi is a comedian and chief of digital business of Visinema. He is also the chief creative officer of Majelis Lucu Indonesia.
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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of The Jakarta Post.