Tuesday, January 25, 2005

More Thoughts on World's Sickest Blog-post

I have actually been getting complaints about the posting below. This is gratifying in that it shows people do occasionally read my blog; yet it is also un-nerving because I wonder if these complainants may be right. Truth be told, I am not entirely certain of the answer.

Here's my thinking. Confused as it is.

I believe there is an argument for saying that the Holocaust was sixty years ago, therefore it's time to - if not exactly get over it - then put it in some perspective. Why should the Shoah be so uniquely singled out as the Great Taboo, as totally non-joke-about-able? There have been other Holocausts, in the sense of campaigns of genocide, before and since. Armenia, Rwanda, Bosnia. These events are not sacralised like the Final Solution.

I also think this sacralisation of the Holocaust is sometimes used by Jews and Israelis as a way of ring-fencing the Israeli and Jewish people themselves, of preventing us treating them in the same rough-and-tumble way we treat everyone else. i.e. You cannot make jokes about Jews, or Israelis, because if you do that shows you don't properly remember the Holocaust, and therefore you must be an anti-Semite. And evil. In this way we are sometimes prevented from honestly discussing the role of Jews in the world, or the alleged crimes of Israel.

However, I do also believe that the Holocaust WAS a very different historical event. You can't quite compare it with Rwanda or even Armenia. The Final Solution was a deliberate and painstaking atttempt by one of the world's most cultured and powerful countries to absolutely wipe out one of the most talented and intelligent peoples on the planet. Moreover, the Germans/Nazis used all the techniques of industrialisation and advanced science in aid of their attempt. Which does somehow make the Holocaust all the more evil - even, perhaps, uniquely evil. So maybe my complainants are right. Maybe we shouldn't joke about it? Hm.

There is another factor, too. I believe that anti-Semitism still stalks the planet. This anti-Semitism is probably evolutionary in origin: it is arguably the reflexive and instinctive response of any in-group to competition from a very resourceful and dynamic out-group. The same response can be seen in African countries vis-a-vis smarter, harder-working Indian immigrants; and in some south Asian countries vis-a-vis smarter, harder-working Chinese immigrants. But just because something is evolutionary doesn't make it right. Rape is evolutionary. Hey, I should know, I was an accused rapist. And rape, as we all know, is wrong. Likewise, anti-Semitism - or its equivalent - is a nasty genetic virus that lies dormant in most of us. We are the heirs to Auschwitz, whether we like it or not. So, again, maybe we shouldn't joke about the Holocaust..?

A third argument against my piece is that it is just plain nasty and offensive. I have some sympathy for this argument. I imagine if a camp survivor read my post then they'd be seriously distressed.

That said, though, most humour has the potential to be offensive. You could make a joke about car crashes and find you're talking to someone who was in a hit and run. You could joke about drug addicts and find you're trying to josh someone whose sister died of heroin addiction (er, this actually happened to me, last week). If we all worried about whom we might offend we would never make any jokes ever. Which is clearly undesirable. Therefore I think the offending-people argument is specious. Indeed, the only humour that I think is truly and wrongly offensive is humour aimed at suffering and innocent individuals, to their faces, soon after their misfortune. A woman whose child has died does not need to have you making jokes about it, within earshot, six hours after the tragedy. But that's it, to my mind. Apart from extreme cases like that, I think all humour should be allowed: humour aimed at nations, peoples, histories, institutions, guilty individuals, innocent individuals years after their misfortunes; humour aimed at blacks, whites, Scots, Japanese, aliens, Jews, homosexuals, heterosexuals, me. I think we are all legitimate targets. It's called free speech. Duh.

So maybe I was right to make a joke about the Holocaust, however unfunny?

I think I possibly was. For the above reason, and for a second, more powerful reason. Which is this.

The whole point of humour is to break taboos. You just have to read Freud's writings on humour to know that. I'll give an example. In his one of his works, Freud quotes this joke:

A man is being presented to the Queen. Suddenly the man lets rip with an enormous fart. At once the Queen's equerry, her servant, rushes forward in horror.
'Do you realise,' the equerry says, red-faced, 'that you have just farted in front of the Queen?'
'Sorry,' says the man, 'I didn't realise it was her turn.'

Now, not only does that joke always make me laugh, it also aptly points up Freud's theories about humour. In Freud's eyes, nearly all humour is about taboo-breaking. The fart joke, for instance, breaks two taboos. It presents us with the idea of farting in front of the Queen, a taboo idea. And it conjectures that there might actually be a royal protocol of farts in Buckingham Palace, a regal fart-fest where the Queen does her own official guffs. And so another taboo is broken.

Why do we need to break taboos? Because otherwise social conventions and inequalities would be unbearably stifling and irksome, and terrible things and events would remain festering in our minds, unaired. After every disaster or horrible murder there is a rush of sick jokes. These help us to deal with the terrible disaster, to make light of it. Without that taboo-breaking humour, this pressure valve that lets off our psychic steam, life would be too awful to bear. Laughter is therefore God's painkiller, the opiate that anaesthetises the ache of existence. And as an ex smack addict, I can vouch for the fact that laugher is, well, almost as good as heroin.

I have a final thought, related to this taboo-breaking thing. Humour is a way of reframing events, of looking at them afresh. Read my sick post below and you realise, again, in a new way, how awful the Holocaust was - that there really WERE attack dogs set on rabbis, that the Joy Division really DID exist, that the death marches are a horrible TRUTH of history.

For all these reasons, outlined above, I therefore feel I was right to write the world sickest blog-post.

Then again, I might just be a stupid, sad, anti-Semitic bastard. Who knows? Either way I reserve my right to be as offensive as I like. Shalom.

1 comment:

piskey6 said...

good structure, style and tone. i can see at least three main arguments, which you weave in a broad context, without losing any of the points they raise. interestingly, where the story could have ended, three quarters of the way down, you dive back in ever so gently re iterating the self deprecating self critical angle, which pays attention to the sensitivity of the topic. all in all very good - 10 out 10 (using NME ratings) (you are the Smiths of modern essayism).