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Humor as antidote to fake news, bad gov’t

By: Joel Ruiz Butuyan - @inquirerdotnet - Columnist/Philippine Daily Inquirer | March 08,2021 - 08:00 AM

Did anyone notice how the tone of criticism against the ruling administration has shifted from angry condemnation to humorous protestation? We see this from the proliferation of jokes, hilarious memes, and sarcastic commentaries that expose our leaders to constant ridicule.

During his first four years in power, criticisms against President Duterte’s controversial statements and deeds were dripping with anger. But two years to the end of his term, expressions of disapproval have taken the form of hilarious denunciation. It’s not a black and white demarcation, but expressions of dissent have largely swung from anger to laughter. What has been the reason for the shift?

When the levers of presidential power were transferred from Benigno Aquino III to Rodrigo Duterte, the changes were completely jarring to skeptics of the new administration. From a previous administration that tried to keep human rights violations to a minimum, the new dispensation openly encouraged policemen to trample upon human rights in its war on drugs. From a past administration that restrained sexist views and sporadic disparagement against the Church to private conversations, came a new administration that publicly used vulgar language against women and church leaders. From an earlier administration that treated China as an enemy, came a subsequent administration that embraced China as bosom buddy.

With these night-and-day differences, the current administration antagonized sectors of society that have the means to voice out dissent. The ensuing expressions of protest were naturally scorching. But dissenters have shifted gears. Instead of working to portray our current leaders as objects of hate, they now mock them as caricatures and objects of laughter.

The shift was not resorted to intentionally. It’s the outcome of the natural progression of protest. Dissent starts out with angry expressions of outrage. When it reaches boiling point but nevertheless fails to achieve the desired leadership change, the heat needs an exit valve to diffuse the simmering anger. It’s at this point when anger undergoes transformation, and the resulting byproduct is humor as the new method of protest.

“(H)umor can be one of the most effective tactics for challenging power,” write Adam Gallagher and Anthony Navone. “Humor is a particularly effective tactic to undermine a regime’s pillars of support. It disrupts dominant discourses and challenges power ‘by disrupting the language and symbols used by those in power to represent reality in a particular way and providing alternative interpretations of that reality.’” The writers further argue that humor is “key to attracting more people to a movement and expanding participation.”

Government dissenters have untiringly thrown genuine grievances against the Duterte administration, but the free market of ideas is inundated with fake news generated by trolls, which can confuse or mislead people. This could be one reason why the Duterte administration’s reputation has hardly been dented, as survey results show.

Humorous protest is, however, upending fake news. Humor is turning out to be the antidote to fake news. This is because jokes have the capacity to transcend both real and fake news. By cleverly combining reality and fiction, humor exposes the absurd reality that the current administration has been responsible for. It’s becoming clearer that the more effective way of achieving regime change is not to make the people angry at their government. It’s to make them laugh at their government.

If government dissenters want to stand a chance at achieving change, they must set up their factories of humor in order to capture the attention and imagination of the electorate in next year’s elections. The writer George Orwell fully understood the immense power of humor in social protest when he said:

“Every joke is a tiny revolution.”

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TAGS: Duterte, humor, jokes, memes

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