Humour as protest strategy

Brilliant read on laughtivism – on humour as protest & counter-protest strategies from NYTimes.

Using the case of counter-protest against white supremacist march in Knoxville, Tennesee in 2007 using word jumbles (“White power? White flour! Wife power! Tight shower!”), it lists down some basic yet effective strategies to counter bigotry and racial supremacy using humour, if you know your enemy well.

“For the far-right groups, violence is central to their way of looking at the world,” said Peter Simi, associate professor of sociology at Chapman University. “The idea of having violent confrontation and conflicts fuels and energizes them. They feed off it.”

By using ridicule and mockery, it makes the groups look less attractive to the type of people they want to attract and gain attention & support.

There’s a sizable portion who are there for the thrill. It doesn’t mean they don’t believe in the broader ideology, but they really enjoy the potential violence. They want to feel dangerous and important. They don’t want to feel like part of a sketch.” He thinks that’s true for the Antifa as well.

After all, which plan is more attractive to young macho men? “We’ll face a small group of masked tough guys” or “We’ll face a large number of men, women and children wearing silly hats and big red noses”?

Perhaps the most impressive is a political prank done by the Yes Men duo, of Mike Bonnano (who was behind the B.L.O.) and Andy Bichlbaum.

They set up a fake website, which drew a few invitations to conferences. In Sydney in 2002, Bichlbaum impersonated a World Trade Organization official and announced that the organization was shutting its doors and re-establishing itself with the mission of getting corporations to behave responsibly. The audience not only swallowed his story, it also liked the idea, Bichlbaum said. Bichlbaum often impersonates a representative of corporate interest to announce good behaviour — as it did with the W.T.O. The spoofed organization must then, embarrassingly, deny it.

Reminded me of Hasan Elahi’s talk when he was added to the FBI watch list by accident – instead of being against the rule, he decided to get hyper-involved in it.

After being detained at the airport for suspicions of ‘terrorist’ activities, he was told his activities will be monitored for a year. In an attempt to invert the surveillance, he began spamming emails, photos, msgs etc. to the authorities which turned into an art project.

Hasan Elahi
Stay v3, 2016
C. Grimaldis Gallery

Somehow, in a Derridean sense (arkhé) this is like a tongue-in-cheek reference to the US authority (and other authorities) with their growing omnipresence of geopolitical borders.

“Humor has a tremendous place in this sordid world.” Also, a certain Dr. Seuss used to say.

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