4/29/2018
How do you make fun of a tyrant?

I've been watching American political satire for many years now. I've watched what I can watch when it was Jon Stewart and The Daily Show waving the flag, and I've followed with interest when his acolytes - and a few others not necessarily within his orbit - flew the nest and landed elsewhere. You have Colbert and Oliver and Bee; you have Noah and Klepper (and you had Wilmore); you have Meyers and Che and Jost; you have Kimmel, surprisingly. I have not followed Maher, for some reason, but the rest, I have, wherever geographical restrictions allow, some more than others.

"It's such a good time for comedy," they said, especially now that they have Donald Trump as president. Do the jokes write themselves? Yes, arguably, but as things get increasingly absurd it gets particularly hard to really hit your target. Many still argue Colbert has lost his bite - should he have not ditched "Stephen Colbert" to become "Stephen Colbert"? - and that his mantle has effectively been taken over by John Oliver and Samantha Bee, new masters of the once-weekly fueled "holy shit!" style of exposition. Still, I watch them equally, and I see some instances when they really hit the mark. Also, it's a good way to kill time when you find yourself finished with work but still unable to leave for home because this city just sucks.

But also, all that comedy must really help those who felt despair when it became clear Trump was going to be president. Now, I don't want to wade into the partisan implications of it all, but the comedy certainly helps their cause. Sure, it may be humanizing what they call the worst president their country has ever had, but it helps them let off steam. It helps them laugh about it. It helps them reassess what really is going on. "It's not so bad after all. We can fight this." It's like knowing your enemy has a most vulnerable gap in his defense. It boosts your morale just as you exploit that hole. Over here, on the other hand, well...

Just how do you make fun of a tyrant?

For half, or perhaps two-thirds, of the Philippine population, it feels hopeless because we have a tyrant for a president. It's not necessarily because they rooted for the other side; I didn't, you should know that by now. (Also, there are more than two sides, but then, we like to reduce things to its most polarized essence, yes?) It feels hopeless because you have this guy destroy what we considered civil norms with, simultaneously, a laser focus on what he wants and an inability to stick with it. It feels hopeless seeing people you respected to suddenly reveal their dark undercurrents. "Of course these people should be killed! Of course these people should be punished! Of course these people should be removed!" It feels hopeless when you realize that what they're doing is, in a way, completely justified, that it's just him looking out for his friends, the way he always has since he was mayor of the country's biggest city by land area.

It feels hopeless because you see them quash even the slightest hint of dissent. International media showing both sides are tagged as foreign destabilizers; interested parties speaking out are detained, deported, and accused of partisanship, like they're not doing the same thing. Critical outfits are tagged as oligarchs - well, they are, but why the interest now, and how about the other oligarchs who happen to be quiet? It feels hopeless because you see the government pour so much money - you don't know how much, but it does seem so much money - fashioning a propaganda machine, recruiting voices whose sounds hit you in a visceral manner, building outfits that claim a better music mix to lure a captive audience to their clearly partisan messages. And then there are the social media warriors. And then there's knowing that blocking them all does not work because that boxes you further into an echo chamber, seeing only what you agree with - and, besides, if you want to fight them, they'll fight back with even more vitriol.

It feels hopeless because, suddenly, the best way to support this country is suddenly to keep quiet, to put your full trust in the leadership, The government should be answerable to us. Sure, close Boracay down, but where are the plans? Where is the money coming from? And why so sudden? Is this all for publicity, to keep impressions of decisiveness and political will?

"Huwag ka nang magreklamo! Huwag ka nang makialam! Nagpapatagal ka pa. Makikinabang ka rin diyan. Tiwala lang kay tatay."

It feels hopeless because you really can't joke about any of this. For starters, we really don't have a culture of satire. We're too deferential. We're too reverent. We put a premium on respect, never mind if a person deserves it or not. You don't make fun of your elders. You don't make fun of people in authority. You don't make fun of traditions. You don't make fun of anyone and anything, as long as we say so. Mix in the whole atmosphere of fear, the image of toughness, perfectly encapsulated by those fists affixed at the back of cars, the one I drive included, unfortunately.

But then, there was a point when we had pocket-sized books filled with Erap jokes. There was a point when we had comedians affix an exaggerated mole in their faces, stick out their front teeth a bit more, and repeatedly say "I. Am. Sorry." There was a point when we had people calling Noynoy an autistic kid who loved video games. All right, that is cruel, and perhaps it's not a joke, but that broke down the high-and-mighty images of previous presidents, making it a little easier to hold them to account. But not this one.

So, just how do you make fun of a tyrant?

You're asking me? I'm not the funniest person. I crack bad jokes. I don't have the wit of a comedy writer. My default mode is serious, brooding anger. I take everything too seriously. You've read this essay; you very well know what I mean. The best I can do is call the House Speaker "Pants Alvarez" because his first name is Pantaleon, which sounds like pantalon. It's not even decent wordplay. I've seen others make fun of Vitaliano Aguirre wearing a wig - allegedly; this is a Colbert-style insertion of "allegedly" - but otherwise, no jokes. We're just too afraid this time. There are keyboard warriors devoting their lives to watching the enemy; there are officials devoting their lives to removing the enemy; all for the unshaken belief that we should trust this government fully, because it means well, because it has their backs - and they don't care if this government does not have your back, as long as it has their backs. And they deserve to have someone watching out for them, for they did nothing wrong; they're honest people screwed over by foreign destabilizers and oligarchs and people who do nothing but complain because they want that, whatever that is, for themselves.

I don't know. Maybe someone has to start? Maybe someone has to go beyond the hyperpartisan space of social media - to break out of the meme, which increasingly feels too serious to begin with - and spread the message through other means? If they can fashion curated mixes of music to lure people into hearing their so-called #RealNumbers, why can't we? But then, "partisan" means "against us", and those fists are hard to avoid - and will be harder to avoid in the coming years, or perhaps decades, I really don't know. Whose back does the tyrant ultimately have? Expect him to be president at this rate.

So, again, just how do you make fun of a tyrant? Your ideas on the comments section below, please. If you're tough enough, that is. Don't worry, I won't take it against you if you don't.

And your responses...

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