Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Dark humour

The most intriguing revelation about the events of 1989 from Zhao Ziyang's just-published memoirs: "Wen was a martyr to haemorrhoids throughout those days."

"Hey, buddy, is this the right way to Vladivostok? I think we're a bit lost."

Just to prove that it is possible to make jokes about anything......

And please, I hope no-one will take offence at this. I do not in any way wish to make light of the events of which we commemorate the 20th anniversary next week. In fact, I would venture that few foreigners - except those who were here in Beijing at the time - feel such a strong emotional tie to those events as I do, or feel quite such intense sorrow and outrage about it as I do.

However, it is human nature to make jokes even about the most terrible and serious matters - indeed, perhaps especially about the most terrible and serious matters. Such joking is not intended to belittle events and topics of such magnitude (indeed, as with the second one here, there is often an element of satire that makes valuable points about an issue, though in a seemingly flippant way). If it diminishes or displaces our fiercer emotions - our anger and compassion, our horror and disgust - it does so only to a limited extent, and only for a short while. I don't know if there are any more elaborate and convincing psychological explanations for the phenomenon of the 'disaster joke' ("Why didn't Superman save those people trapped in the Twin Towers?" "Because he's in a f***ing wheelchair!"), but it has always seemed to me that they serve as a kind of catharsis, a way for us to start to come to grips with events that seem too enormous, too appalling for us to assimilate into our experience. I'm not saying that we should let go of our sorrow and outrage, but, as with the related emotion of grief - something we've all experienced through more personal bereavements within the circle of our family and friends - we have to find ways to temper these violent emotions. We cannot feel that intensely about something continuously, forever; if we do, those emotions destroy only ourselves. 'Bad taste' jokes are a safety valve for releasing some of that pent-up emotion, rendering it less harmful to us.

But we do not need to lose those emotions altogether. We need to learn how to preserve those feelings without brooding on them excessively, how to summon them when appropriate, how to channel them into achieving something worthwhile.


Caren said...

Someone was reading Newsweek on the shuttle ride to the metro this morning and I could see him reading a "Twenty Years After..." article, and had to hold myself back from ripping it out of his hands so I could read it.

I was in 8th grade when it happened and still remember having an argument with my social studies teacher on why we should care about it. My classmates thought I was a freak and didn't understand why I was making such a big deal about it.

JES said...

I do love these kinds of jokes. (Well, most kinds of jokes, actually, but these are right in there.)

They seem allied to the sick jokes about GOOD news. Not sure if it's available to you over there, but the satirical The Onion "news source" seems fond of both forms. For example, there's this item (headline "Former Chinese Dissident Has Your Order Ready"), about the events over your way which are soon to be commemorated, or ignored. And then there's this item ("Black Man Given Nation's Worst Job") about the most recent US election results.

Over here, there seems to be an unspoken taboo regarding jokes about the events of 9/11/2001. But they do exist, and some are quite funny in a "this is cleverly phrased" way rather than a "this is about a funny incident" way. Still, if you catch yourself laughing at one you suddenly stop and look around, guiltily, much as the old heretics probably did in the days leading up to their final moments atop a pile of combustibles.

stuart said...


I hope you can get down to the Square next Thursday and take a couple of pictures that reflect a sombre mood.

Maybe you could catch the flag as it's being hoisted and snap it at half-mast, which is exactly where it should be on the anniversary.

Froog said...

I suspect the Square is going to be closed on that day this year.

I know some professional photographers who go down every year, and always get a ton of hassle from the cops - including the deleting from memory cards of photographs deemed 'inappropriate'(although apparently there is a way to retrieve such 'deleted' files if you're tech-savvy enough). Oddly enough, it is the massive police presence that they are most embarrassed about. You can photograph just about anything else, but pictures of the police get them anxious.

I was thinking, in fact, that if there is going to be any kind of vigil by local people - and any chance of such a thing happening without the police immediately stomping all over it - it's more likely to be out at Muxidi on the evening of the 3rd.