Friday, October 4, 2019

Parallel Worlds, Predictions, and Social Commentary Through Comedy

During the last several weeks I've been spending a great deal of time watching news reports and political speeches, conferences, and debates. I have been listening to radio programs, and reading papers and articles from think tanks, magazines, newspapers, and academic scholars in an effort to learn more about the issues facing our country, the United States, but also the UK, Hong Kong, Australia, and other countries around the globe. People everywhere are fighting to preserve, restore, or obtain democracy for themselves. We all seem to be living out similar issues in parallel worlds under very difficult social climates. Stress levels are running high and many people are self-censoring for fear of social repercussions, including those whose job it is to make us look at society's problems, to contemplate the magnitude, to laugh at the absurd, and perhaps learn something about ourselves.

In every country, the fear of losing or never obtaining basic freedoms tops the list of things the people are debating. Those who have freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of the press, and free and open elections don't want to lose them. Those who have never experienced them and who have long struggled to survive under communist or socialist regimes desperately desire to give democracy a try.  They all want to ensure they have a say in how their homeland is governed and what laws are made. People are also worried about economic matters, education for their children, healthcare, immigration, and our natural environment. These are all big thinks and every issue is one the incumbent politicians and those seeking office in upcoming elections are being confronted with.

I have been exploring these issues not only through written materials and videos, but also trying to spend time understanding them through other art forms, such as political cartoons, music, and more recently through comedy. The latter one has filled several hours today. What do the comics have to say about these present concerns, and what did the popular comedians have to say during the Bush years, the Clinton years, through Obama's two terms in office, and more recently during Trump's first term? There's a lot of material out there to wade through and that part of my search has only just begun. I became interested tonight in how those comedic personalities of the past foresaw the future of the biggest issues in light of the political environments when they began, and how their viewpoints may have changed over time. What did they have to say about the technology of their times and how did they perceive the changes that new technological advancements have brought? Some were young, unmarried adults when their comedy careers began, and today they are older, married, some with children, etc. Are they looking at society through the same set of "glasses" they wore over the years?

Tonight, I began exploring how the social issues, changes to freedom of speech, and the past and more recent news events are being handled in the realm of comedy. What restrictions are comedians experiencing, both real or perceived, with respect to their art? More than one seems to feel like the walls are closing in and that political viewpoints and jokes on social issues that were acceptable in the 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s have become taboo today, particularly with tighter definitions on what constitutes "hate speech." More than one seems to feel that their creative abilities are being stifled. How do the current societal upheavals around the globe affect or limit how comedians express their views and participate in the social conversation through their art? How is it changing where they present and are they being negatively affected financially because of their expressions? Some are, that is certain.

This exploration is proving to be a massive one. One of the comedians' work I was exploring tonight was Bill Burr. I have to admit that I had not heard of him before doing a search tonight on YouTube. Mr. Burr had some very interesting insights from past years, and some perspectives in more recent interviews he's given. He, like so many others in the field of comedy, seem to be fighting their own battles with respect to free speech, the desire to be heard, to be respected for their viewpoints. While I don't find myself agreeing with him on many things, I did find myself laughing now and then, and that was a welcome tonic to the increased stress and struggle that this venture into the deep issues of society has brought. He reminded me of something very important.

As frustrating as the world gets, as serious as the issues may be, it's important we keep our sense of humor, as laughter can be a great tonic for what ails us.

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