Until quite recently, humor had a potential for subverting power by evoking laughter that tore it down from its plinth. But now satire has gone from threatening the powerful ones to becoming a language that the power elite also master. One no longer consolidates one’s position at the top by rising above the people. Popular politicians today tear themselves down to our level by being self-mocking. Satire is thus becoming a language of power. There is also something about laughter that makes us stop thinking critically, as if the release of laughter makes us calm and happy. Humor can thus be an effective rhetorical strategy because it acts as a shield against criticism.
The question thus becomes whether one should respond to the power elites’ countermeasures against satire by laughing even louder, more often and with longer bursts of laughter provoked on one’s own initiative and of course without the powerful ones having signaled that they want us to laugh, or whether one would rather choose another strategy and respond with condescending resignation to the humor offensives of those in power – the same reaction that a typical cake-cracker-joke evokes.
A paper hat and a quote from secretary general of NATO and former prime minister of Norway, Jens Stoltenberg:
Jens Stoltenberg at the LO Stat (trade union) conference in 2008: «I don’t know what NPM is, but if you’re against it, I’m sure I am too.»
Six years earlier, Stoltenberg had introduced one of welfare’s biggest reforms: hospitals as health enterprises. A reform carried out at record speed and without prior investigation, and which bore all the hallmarks of New Public Management.
In order to counteract the self-ironic disarmament strategy of those in power, you need to be quick. Whoever ridicules first wins – otherwise, one should parry with condescending indulgence, well supported by accompanying gestures such as rolling of the eyes and indignant shaking of the head. The Quick-joke-cracker is the perfect tool for carrying out a surprise attack on a powerful person. Replace the cake-cracker-joke with a silly quote from the authority in question.
Be sure to get up close and offer the irresistible trigger strip of the cracker. While the target still is living in a fool’s paradise, you open up the cracker, read the quote and roar with laughter. Make sure that the laughter is so contagious that you get everyone in the immediate vicinity with you. It takes a lot for the quoted and inferred authority to be able to mobilize enough overview to enable him to resort to satirical rebuttal. So, you’ve won.
The Quick-joke-crackers can also form the framework for a demonstration in public space, where they are distributed on a larger scale and form the basis for an epidemic of power-overthrowing laughter. (Read more about power-overthrowing laughter in the section of the sitting mat.)