“Words are trouble, words are subtle / Words of anger, words of hate / Words over here, words out there / In the air and everywhere / Words of wisdom, words of strife / Words that write the book I like.” – Tina Weymouth, Chris Frantz and Steven Stanley, Wordy Rappinghood
“Gestapo? You asshole, I’m the mailman!” – Lenny Bruce
Ayn Rand, Dick Gregory, and Pol Pot walk into a bar…
Yeah, I know. Too soon. But, damn, what ever happened to our sense of humor? It seems the more we care about something, the less perspective we have about the subject. Humor is key to establishing and expanding one’s perspective.
Laughter opens doors. Satire opens minds. Al Capone did not say “You can get much farther with a kind word and a gun than you can with a kind word alone,” but he could have. In fact, this observation was given to us by Professor Irwin Corey, a Broadway actor, an incisive comedian, a far-left activist, and a hero of mine. And the good professor certainly made Capone’s point for him – we take this misattributed quote as an axiom. It makes the point succinctly, and it gets that point across the plate.
We are so concerned about not hurting somebody’s feelings that we forget that some feelings deserve to be hurt. That’s part of bringing about change. You don’t have to take malicious pride in doing so if you don’t want to, but you can get much farther with a funny word than by breeding mopery.
I guarantee you funny geniuses such as Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor, Wanda Sykes and George Carlin were a hell of a lot more successful at political organizing than Saul Alinsky, Jane Addams and W.E.B. Du Bois were, combined. And that’s okay. We no longer have the attention span for detailed polemics… except for the self-defined elite, who deserve a bit of mocking even on their birthdays.
Which brings us to the concept of political correctness, the archenemy of free speech. I guess you know where I land on that issue. We were supposed to be politically correct long before we came up with that term. Lenny Bruce was arrested for dirty words, but he was persecuted for questioning the morals of organized religion. Jonathan Swift fared better despite his rabid role as an Irish patriot; the British government declined to persecute Swift, but his printer was convicted of seditious libel for getting his word out. It’s hard for me to imagine a world without either of these satirists, but both were, for their times, very politically incorrect.
As were the aforementioned Carlin, Sykes, Pryor, and Corey. And Capone.
The object is to get through to people who, in your opinion (and no matter what that opinion might be), need to hear your point of view. Of course, there will be a backlash: Newtonian physics applies to sociology as well. And some of it will be ugly, skivvy, and ruder then you were. As a species, we are so committed to argument that we had to invent anti-social media so that we might have an infinite platform. It ain’t going away, and gee, why can’t we all be nice?
Because we’re dealing with issues that are not nice. The trick is to communicate, and, damn it, humor helps. The other side always will find you crude.
Yeah. Well, that reminds me of the words of The Joker.
“Why so serious?”
There ain’t half been some clever bastards / Probably got help from their mum / (who had help from her mum) / There ain’t half been some clever bastards / Now that we’ve had some / Let’s hope that there’s lots more to come – Ian Dury