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the laughter of authoritarians

"Jokes are risky; they are a game of percentages. That is why jokes are best left to professional jokesters. Certainly they are too dangerous for politicians to play with. Any joke that doesn't offend at least a few people is unlikely to be funny ... The professional politician, by contrast, lives to avoid giving offense."
- Michael Kinsley

Liberal politicians are invariably a bit shit at comedy. Compared to their authoritarian counterparts, the stakes are always lower when Dennis Skinner or Al Franken slips a quip in. Safe despots can afford levity; the desperate menace of a despot cracking a joke even underwrites their effect. (Nervous laughter is the loudest kind.)

"Am I a pure democrat? Of course I am, absolutely. But do you know what the problem is? Not even a problem but a real tragedy? The problem is that I'm all alone, the only one of my kind in the whole wide world. [...] There is no one to talk to since Mahatma Gandhi died."
- Putin

  • Medvedev shares Putin's dark mirth: in November 2010, he visited the Kuril Islands (some Russian territory which are absurdly close to Japan), followed by a masse of press. He tagged one photo of Kunashir: "There are so many beautiful places in Russia!" His office also recently deadpanned a Nobel Peace Prize recommendation for Julian Assange.

  • Idi Amin is the worst example as far as distorted memes go: we know him almost first as a comic. From his accordion, to his Scotophilia, to harrassing the Queen, to inviting foreign press in advance to his attack of Tanzania, and in 1977 gave himself a CBE (Conqueror of the British Empire). In more neatness, he called himself "Dada". Yes.

  1. A suspiciously sensible, tolerant, liberal op-ed he wrote for the New York Times. (I imagine he wanted us to shudder at realising that we agreed with him.)

  2. Takes a big-ass tent everywhere.

  3. NYT has made a list of his contempt.

  4. Right.

  5. Bling bling.

  6. Mock hangings at his 40th anniversary party.

  7. And pipers to "thank" Scotland for Megrahi.

  • And just last week, China's Central Committee must have been pissing themselves - the US defence secretary, visiting in concern over their recent massive militarization got their new stealth fighter flown over him.

"However President Hu assured the US defence secretary that the flight had not been timed to coincide with his visit."

";)", one feels bound to add.

These men are colourful, preening, outrageous, and often charming. It's not much of a jump from their brutal power to suggest that fun is a further calculation of the scheme: in this they mollify us, shield us from their crimes with a great halo of chuckling populism. Needless to say, this makes them more dangerous.