Events in the news the last couple of days have made me consider what is funny and what is not. For example, I think Monty Python is hilarious, but I’m sure there are as many people who abhor the classic British comedy troupe as adore them. And still others that ‘just don’t get what the fuss is about’. Purely physical comedy like early Chaplin and Mr. Bean has a universal appeal for many. But words seem to complicate things. I find gross out humour to be juvenile and offensive, but it makes a boatload of money at movie theatres. Some love dark comedy, but there are probably many more that are outraged by it. One of the most dangerous things you can do socially is laugh at something that involves death or the suffering of others. Keep in mind, though, that laughter is not simply a reaction to humourous stimuli; at times, it is a product of nervousness or insecurity.
Which brings me, in a roundabout way, to what transpired after Donald Trump’s inauguration with Kellyanne Conway and Sean Spicer. It started with Spicer making absurd claims about the size of the crowd at Trump’s inauguration. This was significant not simply because the claims contradicted very good evidence, but also because this was Spicer’s first official press conference, so all eyes were on him. Shortly after, Conway was interviewed, supposedly in damage control mode, which is a bit like carting kerosene to an inferno. Her now infamous defence of Spicer in which she denied that he lied, but claimed he stated “alternative facts” was a gold mine for late night comedy. It is easy to mock Spicer and Conway, and I suppose it might be therapeutic too. After all, in grim times, we all need something to laugh at. But let’s not lose sight of what is at stake here while we’re chuckling. When the truth is no longer a claim that the best evidence seems to support, but rather whatever those in power want it to be, a nation is on the precipice. Politically, America is very close to the point where those who support Trump are probably incapable of changing their mind regardless of events and where those who condemn Trump are equally incapable of changing their mind. Trump knows this. So, when he hammers away at his theme that the media is dishonest, he is hoping to further entrench this division. If you constantly lie, distort and deceive, then you need to try and discredit those who call you on it. The media and the fact checkers have been calling Trump out and so Trump provides his followers with an explanation. “The media is out to get me.” This plays well with the crowd that keeps trumpeting the line that they ‘are tired of the media telling them what to think’. By the way, lumping the media together and classifying them as dishonest is as illogical as making any universal claim about any large group, whether it be religious, cultural, national, economic or the like. When Trump condemns the media, a dangerous dance continues: namely, the media fires back, giving Trump more fuel to say: “See, they are out to get me.” The result is desensitization. That plays right into Trump’s hands. Some people eventually get tired of hearing about lies. So they tune out. And then the lying on more important matters than which inauguration was better attended will take place.
This is how erosion takes place. One lie at a time. And what is being eroded is the willingness and interest in seeing that the truth doesn’t just become a tool of the powerful.