By Tim Wolff, Chief Editor of German satire magazine TITANIC
In light of the terrible murders in Paris it is obviously necessary to once again state something fundamental about humour and satire, because in our experience at the TITANIC, not only Islamist terrorists lack the basic understanding of their purpose. First and foremost, humour is a means to counter the seriousness of life, which weighs most of us down even if there aren’t currently rocket launchers fired inside editorial offices, and at best, to cope with it. The more serious the situation, the more important humour becomes. Humour creates a distance to depressing events, it allows to speak improperly about matters which are properly unbearable – and thus to deal with the horror. Many of those unfamiliar with humour, be they Islamists, racists or the average German journalist, often make the mistake to try and reduce a joke to an unfunny and serious core message (and more often than not, it is based on a misunderstanding). On the one hand there are those, who want to obliterate the joke, and on other, there are those, who believe satire and humour about serious matters are only appropriate if it’s “meaningful”, “witty” or whatever else.
Of course it is nicer if humour also conveys a clever message, but even without one, it has great value. Most people should actually know that because they practice it in private. Yesterday, for example, when about 100 journalists requested interviews and statements from me, the phrases “We didn’t want to ambush you” or “Shoot!” came up time and time again – and what did these people do, when they realised what they had just said as a matter of routine? They laughed. Not because they scoffed at the murdered satirists, but because their usual phrases suddenly stood in a different context and got another, unintended meaning. The important message behind this is that for a moment, it disarms the seriousness.
And that might well be the reason why fanatics, especially religious ones, despise humour. They contend a dead serious, eternal truth, and jokes – however clever or funny they may be – threaten this truth. Religions (and quite a few other convictions) are madness dressed up as rationality, while satire and humour are rationality dressed up as madness. One inevitably has to misunderstand the other. That is why representatives of the holy seriousness will always respond to humour with anger. And they have the right to do so. Just so long as they do it with the same weapons as satirists: with words and images. Not with machine guns.
Since yesterday, it is truer than it has ever been: long live the humour. The clever one. The silly one. Anyone who finds enough people who laugh about it. And for all those who don’t like it, it should apply now more than ever: tolerate it or ignore it. You won’t be able to control humour!
“As a satirist, we are beholden to the principle that every human being has the right to be parodied.”
Satire is a human right – Interview with Titanic editor Tim Wolff after the Charlie Hebdo attack | Marco Müller | DW
“Freedom of speech is a powerful weapon and one I have never fully had – but for those who do have it, I wish they would stop taking it for granted.”
“Satire can sometimes liberate us, but it is not immune from our prejudices or untainted by our hatreds.”
“In thinking about provocateurs and insulters, we want to maintain standards of civility and respect while at the same time allowing room for those creative and challenging folks who are uninhibited by good manners and taste.”
Titanic is a German monthly satirical magazine based in Frankfurt. Tim Wolff’s article was first published as a guest post at n-tv online before appearing at Titanic’s news ticker. Translation by Matthias Lehmann. Published with kind permission from Titanic. The image on top of this post is the modified header on Titanic’s website after the Charlie Hebdo attack.
*The linked articles do not necessarily represent an endorsement of their authors or all views they expressed. They are intended to encourage further thinking and debate. The fact that all articles were written by men is purely coincidental. I welcome any links to articles written by female authors that add to the debate.