Blog Posts for Humor and Social Change

Looking for the Punch Line

Posted by Joanna Chin, Dec 09, 2013 0 comments

Animating Democracy’s December blog salon explored how artists, comedians, and other cultural commentators employ humor in the heavy work of social justice. Starting out the salon, I posed several questions to bloggers including the seemingly simple inquiry, how does humor work? When is humor a strategic choice and toward what social effects? Similar to other art forms, humor is fundamentally about emotions and human connection, which makes it simultaneously risky and inviting; relatable and inexplicable. While their methods and approach vary greatly – from slapstick to satire; political cartoon to YouTube musical number – the bloggers for this salon all seem to agree on the aspects of humor that make it so effective in social justice work:

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In A Field Walking: Reflections on the Importance of Humor in Our Lives

Posted by Estelle Enoki, Dec 09, 2013 2 comments

Lovebirds Lovebirds

Laughter is the other side of sorrow.  The arts explore this relationship in various forms, perhaps most poignantly and concisely in poetry.  An understanding of this relationship forms the basis for healing.  Artists are known to explore the dark side of human nature through art, an encounter that yields no assurances or promises.  Some experiences yield discoveries that hope, goodness, light and love are attainable.  In Galway Kinnell’s poem, Wait, written to dissuade a friend from suicide, he says, “You’re tired.  But everyone’s tired.  But no one is tired enough.”  Such renderings rejuvenate us; tell us to hang in there.

In the old days before language was studded with acronyms and technology a cloud over intimacy, people were moved by spectacle.  Truths were profound and the process to determine them, mostly known and practiced by the devoutly religious or the highly educated (i.e., not something arrived at through Googling).  In the virtual world, you don’t have to be “Somebody” to access many things simultaneously; conceptually; quickly.  The effortless speed of this process is powerful, seductive and fun. We have always pitted our mortality against the fast and furious (i.e., invincibility vs. vulnerability).  Wit at a clip is a reflection of intellect.  Intellect is fast. Feelings? Not so fast.  It takes time to experience them.  It takes time to let go.

Physiologically, laughter is a spontaneous release of energy and a momentary letting go of our defenses.  So when we take our next breath, we are in that instant vulnerable to the realization we have just experienced.  A grain of truth is juxtaposed with how we see ourselves or how we see others.  Our unexpected exposure to the truth causes uncertainty and invokes laughter.  In this way, humor is an effective tool for teaching, encouraging understanding between people, building relationships - and it is universal.  Pop art was a successful international movement that still influences artists today.  A Claes Oldenburg sculpture of a giant inverted ice cream cone melting over a department store roof comes to mind.  Everybody laughs. 

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"The Holy Fool" as a Tool

Posted by Ed Holmes, Dec 06, 2013 0 comments

EHolmes_headshot Ed Holmes

Is there too much humor in religion?  Can comic analysis of the last great taboo help save Humanity? Does this parade make me look old?

I’d answer….no, maybe, and yes.

I fell into the professional Fool business forty years ago, by accident. Too much education, seven years of college, and living in one of the wackiest areas in the world--San Francisco Bay--led me to instigate a gathering of like-minded extroverts to take to the streets for the purpose of sacrilege. A show of comedic, historically correct  insubordination in the face of the dominate religion of America…free market capitalism.

There is a movie, The Hunchback of Notre Dame (the Charles Laughton version) in which he is crowned King of Fools. He is paraded past the cathedral in raucus style till the fun is stopped by a church official and he is sent back to the bell tower. A classic movie from a classic book. The street party, the Feast of Fools, was a safety valve for the populace. In medieval European times the peasant worked for the crown or the cross. A little springtime paganism was allowed to let off steam for those whose life was grim and short. Today, the true temples and cathedrals of modern times are the towers of finance. The dollar is King. The canyons of the financial district of San Francisco became the focus of my/our frustration with the ‘way things are’. The first Saint Stupid’s Day Parade took place April 1, 1979.

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Changing Habits With Humor

Posted by Caroline Ceniza-Levine, Dec 06, 2013 0 comments

Typically, if I ask my 12-year old a question, I’ll get a short answer that I’ll need to probe with many more questions to get the information I need. If you’re a parent of an older child, you recognize that scenario. But when my daughter mentioned her math class was working on integers, I asked, “do you mean positive numbers, the ones that say ‘You go, girl. You can do it!’ and negative numbers, the ones that are sad and discouraged?” She laughed, and we had a free-flowing conversation. If humor can wrestle information from an adolescent habituated to clam up rather than share, what other habits can we change with humor?

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The Power of Humor

Posted by Liza Donnelly, Dec 06, 2013 2 comments

Liza Donnelly Liza Donnelly

Humor is a wonderful way to get ideas through to people. As a cartoonist, that is what I do. Sometimes the ideas are silly, but sometimes the ideas are difficult. Everyone loves cartoons; most people grew up with them and are drawn to them instinctively as if a child. Because of this, the cartoonist is often able to catch the viewer off guard and express an uncomfortable idea. Cartoons—particularly wordless ones—can cross boundaries and succinctly make a point.

Primarily, it is the job of the political cartoonist to give opinion. We are artists and we are observers like many other artists. But our job is specifically to observe the world around us and spit it back to our audience. I often say we are sponges: we soak up the world around us and squeeze it back out. With humor, usually.

Humor works in tandem with culture. Humor relies on culture—it can either solidify or break down cultural traditions. And because these constructs are often very tenuous, humor feeds off of people’s anxiety and manipulates it. Humor is created out of the unexpected, the twisting of the norm, and that’s what elicits a laugh. Humor also solidifies groups, nations and societies, as to common practices and beliefs. Humor can also enlighten as it exposes wrongful stereotypes and traditions.

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From the Seats of Power in Brisbane City Hall

Posted by Beth Grossman, Dec 06, 2013 0 comments

Beth Grossman Beth Grossman

In the small town of Brisbane, California, just outside of San Francisco, I was invited to create a special art exhibit in honor of the opening of our new City Hall. This provided an important opportunity to welcome Brisbane citizens into City Hall, to engage the public in a dialog about social commitment and encourage their involvement in local politics. After years of building relationships with Brisbane City officials as a local community environmental activist and arts champion, I wondered how far Brisbane City officials would go to support the arts and encourage public participation.

“The chairs have heard it all,” I thought as I endured interminable meetings at City Hall. In keeping with my artistic practice of creating site-specific work, I wondered what the view might be like from the City Hall conference room chairs’ perspective. It is in this very conference room that we speak our minds, fight for what we are passionate about, work together and laugh together. I decided to convince our Mayor and the entire City Council, Police Commander, Fire Chief and Harbormaster to immortalize their derrieres as “Seats of Power,” all in the name of Art.

In order to photographically capture the impression of City officials’ pants sitting on their chairs, I asked them hold a piece of plexi-glass firmly against their derrières. “Bend over, this won’t hurt a bit.” And from that position I chatted with them about their passions for being involved in City affairs.

I came to appreciate Brisbane officials from a perspective different from that of the Council Chambers or City Hall offices. The posterior photo images were later woven into textiles and upholstered onto chair seats.

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