Friday, December 19, 2014

The Right to Satire, Parody, and Bad Jokes



  


"The only valid censorship of ideas is the right of people not to listen." ~Tommy Smothers

"Censorship is saying: 'I'm the one who says the last sentence. Whatever you say, the conclusion is mine.' But the internet is like a tree that is growing. The people will always have the last word - even if someone has a very weak, quiet voice. Such power will collapse because of a whisper." ~Ai Weiwei

Through the ages, humor and laughter have dogged dictators and politicians. Some have gone so far as to outlaw them. It is happening again, albeit in a very modern way and with a twist: the focus is on the comedy movie, "The Interview".

Is the current flap based in politics? Religion? Personal tastes? National security? I have a feeling that this attempt at squelching comedy is a dangerous censorship based in fear.

It's nothing new but, as with any attempt to abridge our rights, it is critically important that we understand what's going. It's not only the United States that holds dear the right to freedom of speech, it is every other freedom-loving country. The better we understand what's going on, the more strongly we can hold tight to our precious right of free speech. Put simply, we respect individual differences when we say, "It's different jokes for different folks." 

 "The first condition of progress is the removal of censorship." ~George Bernard Shaw

William F. Fry, Jr., M.D. (1924-2014)
A true pioneer in the study of humor and laughter, my friend and teacher, William F. Fry, Jr., explained and illuminated ideas about misconceptions of humor, liberation therapie, humor and the social potpourri, the biology of humor, political correctness, and much more. He was prescient; a deep thinker, humanitarian & scientist, and a fine writer.

History Repeats Itself 
Always ahead of his time, early on Bill was talking about “Fear of Laughter” as if he knew that we would have to confront and understand the issue again and again.  His observations help to illuminate for us the current events around Sony's decision not to release "The Interview", a comedy movie. Here are excepts from Bill's keynote presentation at the 6th International Conference on Humor and Laughter in Tempe, Arizona, April, 1987.

"Despite the awareness of humor as a valuable and generally beneficial element in human existence, some strange anomalies have arisen during the centuries, regarding human attitudes about humor. There have been -- and are -- people with very negative views on humor. Various people consider humor to be frivolous, inconsequential and unimportant, vulgar or repulsive, disgusting, hostile, threatening and aggressive, fearsome.

"These negative views may appear as individual evaluations, or they may be majority attitudes of entire populations. On certain occasions in the history of Western Civilization, humor has actually been banned, forbidden, repressed by prosecution carried forth by ruling persons or groups. Although such extremes are not the common rule, they are also by no means totally
idiosyncratic and rare."


Potter Stewart, Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court, said, "Censorship reflects a society's lack of confidence in itself." Fry highlights the historical record, citing Aristotle (345 B.C.), St. Paul the Apostle (60 A.D.), Psychologist Vasey (1877 A.D.), France, during the late 1300's reign of Charles VI, National prohibition of comedy proclaimed in England during the rule of Oliver Cromwell, Lord Protector (1650's), and Nazi Germany (1930's).

"This type of fearful repression was also found in Nazi Germany (1930's), with the establishment of a special court commissioned to try cases of people creating humor about Der Fuehrer, his gang and their lunatic philosophies. Humorists and comedians were sentenced by the court and some were actually executed for this crime.

"It appears that a major source of the fear of laughter is the power of humor in human life. If humor and laughter were, in fact, as trivial and inconsequential as has been expressed at various times, there would be no cause for display of negativity and rejection. However, as we can recognize, humor and laughter are powerful elements of human life. They are elements which must be dealt with, not ignored or rejected.

"The issues of power over humor are primarily concerned with the question of "who's in control?". There should really be no question on this score. We are the experts and it's our humor, our laughter. We receive the benefits of our humor and laughter. To fear these powerful parts of our lives, to scorn, trivialize, reject them runs counter to the facts about them and counter to our own best interests." (Bold added.)

In the long run, humor wins, but we must be vigilant and active in protecting our right, perhaps our obligation, to make satire and parody, and even to make bad jokes.

"An attack upon our ability to tell stories is not just censorship -it is a crime against our nature as human beings." ~Salman Rushdie

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Maxims of The Peaceful Teacher



 

The mission of World Laughter Tour has always been, "Together we can lead the world to health, happiness, and peace through laughter.” Every edition of the “Study Guide and Reference Manual”*, which has grown from 30 pages to 145, includes this advice to our students:

“Find your source, live from it, keep your heart open, and laugh generously.
These are maxims of the peaceful teacher, the tools of a gentle healer.”
~Alan Cohen

Not only are humor and laughter therapeutic allies of our physical and mental health, they are characteristics that reflect the spiritual health of humankind and this planet; what we call peace.

Thanks to the help, support, and encouragement of many friends, scientists, clowns, clinicians, and other laughter lovers, we have done a good job of understanding and promoting the health and happiness ideals of our mission, evolving to be referred to as tools for health and well-being.

Now, let’s focus more sharply on the peace ideals of the mission.



To open a conversation on the topic, I commend to you “Cultivating Peace: Becoming a 21st-Century Peace Ambassador," by James O’Dea (Shift Books, May 10, 2012). Deepak Chopra calls this holistic approach to peace work “a brilliant manifesto that weaves science, spirituality, and social healing into a peace roadmap for us all.”

Jill Knox, RN, turned me on to the book. She is a peace activist, an advocate for healthy humor, and the current president of the Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor. Her vision and passion for these things will be a lasting legacy to our field. I will do what I can to help.

You would probably never expect O’Dea, who spent ten years as the Director of the Washington Office of Amnesty International, to lead off in Chapter One making a cogent and compelling case  about the importance of laughter in laying the foundation for us to work for peace. “Cultivating Peace,” he says, “begins with not taking ourselves so seriously.” He reminds us that, “a world without laughter would not be a safe or peaceful world.”

Anger and violence, he says, constantly cook up a “biochemical brew…that is toxic at every level--physically, emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually. They shut down the body’s exquisite ease, delight, and pleasure signals and replace them with hypervigilance and stress alerts.”

From that premise, he examines, explains, coaxes, cajoles, and carefully convinces us that the art and heart of peace advocacy and activism is within us our grasp. It will take some work to make it manifest but he shows the way. He calmly convinces us that we can find greater peace within ourselves, tantalizing us with the prospect of profound personal satisfactions as well as the realization of the better world we seek and often speak of. He repeatedly and realistically cautions us that the road to peace will not be smooth nor easy nor quick, but the promised  destination is possible eventually and definitely worth the trip.

A few quotes from Cultivating Peace, Chapter One:

The peace journey begins with understanding positive emotions, seeing how “truth, reconciliation, and forgiveness are essential components of collective healing strategies…”

“In time, I came to learn that too much seriousness is deadly.”

“Any kind of overbearing behavior--be it self-righteousness, bigotry, aggression, condemnation, arrogance, or finger-pointing--is an interruption of the body’s circuitry of love joy and play.”

“When we cultivate love and joyful service, we live longer, healthier, happier lives.”

“…jokes can have a way of revealing sadness, emptiness, hostility, and even viciousness. But true humor does not carry a poison pill.”

“Laughing is about the bubbling up of connection.”

Get hold of a copy of Cultivating Peace and start reading. Then, please join me in reflecting and connecting how humor and laughter are not only therapeutic allies in the sense of your physical health, but also in the healing of humankind and this planet.

If you have a favorite quote about peace, please share it with me here or on Facebook.



Click These Links to Listen to John Lennon and Leadbelly

* CLICK HERE to purchase the Study Guide and Reference Manual.
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