Fear and Comedy

Posted on 30 March 2015

Australia has clearly fallen into the Global Financial Crisis. No goverment is going to announce that their country has fallen into a recession, or worse a depression. Couple this with a serious environmental crisis and people are frightened. Frightened people don’t tend to be very rational.

When people are frightened their Amygdala is set off bringing on the fight, flight, freeze, or fawn responses. People in positions of privilege are not immune from these biological responses. When they are frightened they have the power to create the most damage by pointing fingers at people, finding ways to further disempower members of the community, freezing and pretending certain disasters aren’t happening and cocoon themselves from reality. I have seen people do these things on both the right and the left of politics.

I have a girlfriend whose environmentalist boyfriend told me that the world’s problems would be resolved if we removed women from the workforce and keep them from taking men’s jobs. This man is in his late twenties. People are angry with refugees for possibly “taking our jobs”. I find the anti-vaxxers a concern as well, but the sort of hatred people are pointing at individuals is pure harrassment and won’t convince anyone they should change their ways.

I understand being scared. I understand being angry. I also understand that if we don’t recognise our own fears, we can rationalise almost any behaviour: like marching academics and religious leaders off to enforced labour camps. Worse: marching off those with genetic defects and differing ethnicities to death camps. Trust me, the people doing these things have the most sound, if warped, logic: “Surely we want a healthy population? Surely we want to protect our jobs?”

When a comedian makes a hate joke, whether it is based on sexism, homophobia, racism, ableism, weightism…they are normalising that hatred. When an audience is afraid to react out of a genuine fear of abuse or ostracism, then we are dealing with a toxic atmosphere where people are being trained to accept victimisation. The critique of “political correctness” is a quick easy way to focus hatred. Basically the person is saying: don’t judge my hatred, I have a right to my privilege, the audience has a right to their fear, and you must accept it or else.

I dislike enforcers of outdated and harmful social mores. The snifferati who go, “How dare you use that naughty word”…”How dare you use a grocer’s apostrophe” annoy me as well. But I applaud those who call a spade a spade and find the awareness to protest hatred where they see it. But remember Martin Luther King, Jr’s words, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” He did not say these words casually. The African American public faced violence and lynchings while peacefully protesting. We now have an African American president in the world.

Please find a way to use comedy that gives people strength. Find a way to help people to see the problems, see them with less fear, then find solutions. Comedy is a creative act and what we need more than ever are creative solutions. Cooperation and goodwill are the actions that will turn the world for the better.

Peace and kindness,


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