Jesters (Comedians) to the Rescue

Posted by on May 30, 2017 in Entertainment, Media & Arts with 0 Comments
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Alec Baldwin as President Donald Trump on “Saturday Night Live.” (Screenshot: NBC)

By Daniel C. Maguire | Common Dreams

Let’s hear it for the comedians.  We never needed them more than now in the age of Trump.  Historically, societies have learned with a stunning unanimity that power untamed by humor turns quickly despotic.  In what has been called a “universal phenomenon,” the jester found a place in the court of the king who was the prime target of his cleansing barbs and chastening foolery.  Our comedians are part of that history.

The jesters were busy in medieval and Renaissance Europe, as well as in China,  India, Japan, Russia, Africa, and elsewhere.  As Beatrice Otto writes: “A cavalcade of jesters tumble across centuries and continents, and one could circle the globe tracing their footsteps.”      There is a reason for this. Jesters are part of a society’s immune system.  They are important civil servants.  Jesters rise like white blood cells responding to an infection.vThe Trumps of history have all felt and resented their sting.

Today we call these civil servants Samantha Bee, Michael Moore, Tina Fey, John Oliver, Amy Schumer, Bill Maher, Wanda Sykes, Trevor Noah, Steven Colbert, Saturday Night Live, etc. And we the people instinctively look to them, even more than to editors and pundits for the fresh air of sanity. The cartoon may say more than the editorial. We know that with the magic of laughter comedians can change merde into merriment. They can, like lightning, cleanse the air bringing clarity and light.

The jesters were funny, but never just  harmless entertainers.  Like our comedians, they were busy relativizing the pomp and the power of the court and bringing perspective to a society that might otherwise be smothered by the pretensions of monarchical power run riot.

Societies institutionalize what they find important.  Beyond the historical jesters, medieval Europe also had the annual Festum Fatuorum, the Feast of Fools, a kind of Saturday Night Live writ large. The roots of this stretch back to antiquity, all the way back to the old Saturnalia, the yearly permission, usually in December, for a revolution of strategic buffoonery.  For these few precious hours, power and impunity were given to those ordinarily in a subordinate position.  Schoolboys and clerics dressed as prelates and magistrates and made fun of all “the powers that be.”  A line from Luke’s Gospel became a banner text: “deposuit potentes de sede, “he has cast the mighty down from their thrones.”  (It was even call the Deposuit Feast.) The political import of humor was and is obvious.

As with Trump, those on the thrones of church, state, and academe took poorly to this feast.  The Council of Basel in 1435 imposed severe penalties on participants and the Theology Faculty of the University of Paris in 1444 huffed and puffed about this alarmingly irreverent frivolity, only demonstrating their need for more of the same. These protests availed nothing; the practice lasted centuries.

Today’s power centers have screaming needs for jesters. Fact-allergic climate change deniers and humorless bankers who cook up witches’ brews of silly “sub-prime mortgages” and fuzzy “derivatives” are downright ridiculous.  Make room for jesters at all those corporate board tables.  Militarists who see kill-power not skilled diplomacy as the surest  route to peace are laughable.  All the power centers from the White House and the Kremlin to the Vatican and to the halls of the academe need the sweet exorcism of well pointed humor.

Indeed, so important is this social service of comedians that there should be a Nobel Prizes for the best jesters of our time.  Just imagine their acceptance speeches!!

Daniel C. Maguire is a professor at Marquette University where he specializes in religious ethics focusing upon issues of social justice and medical and ecological ethics.  He is the author of eleven books and the editor of three anthologies and is also the author of some 200 articles in professional journals and magazines, including Theological Studies, Cross Currents, Atlantic, The New York Times, Crisis: Journal of the NAACP, and Ms. Magazine.

Read more great articles at Common Dreams.

Tags: , , , , , ,

Subscribe

If you enjoyed this article, subscribe now to receive more just like it.

Subscribe via RSS FeedConnect on YouTube

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

FAIR USE NOTICE. Many of the stories on this site contain copyrighted material whose use has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making this material available in an effort to advance the understanding of environmental issues, human rights, economic and political democracy, and issues of social justice. We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of the copyrighted material as provided for in Section 107 of the US Copyright Law which contains a list of the various purposes for which the reproduction of a particular work may be considered fair, such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. If you wish to use such copyrighted material for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use'...you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. And, if you are a copyright owner who wishes to have your content removed, let us know via the "Contact Us" link at the top of the site, and we will promptly remove it.

The information on this site is provided for educational and entertainment purposes only. It is not intended as a substitute for professional advice of any kind. Conscious Life News assumes no responsibility for the use or misuse of this material. Your use of this website indicates your agreement to these terms.

Paid advertising on Conscious Life News may not represent the views and opinions of this website and its contributors. No endorsement of products and services advertised is either expressed or implied.
Top

Send this to friend