FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Banal, Joking Murderers

by

The “evil” of banality: the complacent acceptance of everyday “life” in the U.S. as trivial, demeaning, laughable.  If “work” is often senseless and mind-numbing, the average, sublimely ridiculous American has plenty of panem et circenses—a cornucopia of snacks, amusements and games which may soothe his otherwise  beleaguered, suffocating self.  As part of a societal-wide, infantile regression, supposedly mature adults spend their “free” time playing with toys (gadgets) and sating their inordinate (“oral-receptive”) appetites for food, drink, and constant chatter.

A playful, flippant attitude prevails, both in the workplace and at home.  “Making a mockery” of everything, from financial mega-fraud to torture and war: both wildly comic entertainers and hyper-manic TV commercials project a wisecracking, smart-alecky “attitude.”  Nothing is to be taken “seriously.”

Mild satire and parody certainly help people to laugh at what they might otherwise feel depressed and hopeless about: feeling trapped in a Kafka-esque maze of daily frustrations and perplexing problems.  Yet, unlike defiantly scathing, morally activating satire—such as, for instance, Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal–such satire pacifies rather than mobilizes, providing a temporary relief which lulls citizens into taking “less seriously” matters which they should in fact confront with a fierce probity and unflinching lucidity.

TV sitcoms and the like can be said to offer a kind of low-grade therapy—if by therapy we refer merely to a temporary catharsis of tension rather than real insight.  Indeed, as Freud wrote in his book on jokes: humor, by suddenly juxtaposing incongruous thoughts, momentarily dissolves an inner inhibition–thereby providing a sudden release of tension (laughter).  By abruptly revealing absurdity or “non-sense,” a joke momentarily dis-inhibits the mental forces of tension and conflict —and, in so doing, provides a (temporary) release which may feel liberating.  Think, for instance, of the absurd wordplay and spontaneous dis-order of a classic Marx Bros. film.  Freudians have insisted, however, that catharsis alone does not “cure”—only a deep analysis of the causes of conflict may offer the real understanding that leads to constructive change (personal, socio-political).

When faced with probing questions about his war on Iraq, President Bush could often “dis-arm” his critics with a joking rejoinder or by turning on his roguish, Texan “charm.” No doubt the perpetrators at Abu Ghraib often laughed and joked as they tormented the victims placed at their disposal.

Lying mass murderers—the contemporary equivalents of Mussolini et al.—have in recent years appeared on comedic TV talks shows (Letterman, Stewart, ad nauseam).  They exchanged inconsequential platitudes with their hosts, who gently kidded them (or timidly questioned them) about their past policies and “mistakes.”  Think of Rumsfeld, Petraeus, and other unprosecuted war criminals.  Young military recruits—conned into “defending their country” against a non-existent threat—were deliberately sent to their deaths.  Bombs and missiles were rained down on tens of thousands of ordinary people and innocent children—pulverizing and burning their bodies.  And then, in the dreadful aftermath: their victimizers—having sent the torments of hell upon them—blithely went on shallow TV talk shows to “express concern” about vaguely attributed “mistakes.”  All in the lighthearted, bantering setting of a TV studio: the antithesis of a Nuremberg-type war crimes tribunal where they should have been sitting in the dock.

William Manson, a psychoanalytic anthropologist,  formerly taught social science at Rutgers and Columbia universities. He is the author of The Psychodynamics of Culture (Greenwood Press).

William Manson, a psychoanalytic anthropologist,  formerly taught social science at Rutgers and Columbia universities. He is the author of The Psychodynamics of Culture (Greenwood Press).

More articles by:
June 27, 2016
Robin Hahnel
Brexit: Establishment Freak Out
James Bradley
Omar’s Motive
Gregory Wilpert – Michael Hudson
How Western Military Interventions Shaped the Brexit Vote
Leonard Peltier
41 Years Since Jumping Bull (But 500 Years of Trauma)
Rev. William Alberts
Orlando: the Latest Victim of Radicalizing American Imperialism
Patrick Cockburn
Brexiteers Have Much in Common With Arab Spring Protesters
Franklin Lamb
How 100 Syrians, 200 Russians and 11 Dogs Out-Witted ISIS and Saved Palmyra
John Grant
Omar Mateen: The Answers are All Around Us
Dean Baker
In the Wake of Brexit Will the EU Finally Turn Away From Austerity?
Ralph Nader
The IRS and the Self-Minimization of Congressman Jason Chaffetz
Johan Galtung
Goodbye UK, Goodbye Great Britain: What Next?
Martha Pskowski
Detained in Dilley: Deportation and Asylum in Texas
Binoy Kampmark
Headaches of Empire: Brexit’s Effect on the United States
Dave Lindorff
Honest Election System Needed to Defeat Ruling Elite
Louisa Willcox
Delisting Grizzly Bears to Save the Endangered Species Act?
Jason Holland
The Tragedy of Nothing
Jeffrey St. Clair
Revolution Reconsidered: a Fragment (Guest Starring Bernard Sanders in the Role of Robespierre)
Weekend Edition
June 24, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Pilger
A Blow for Peace and Democracy: Why the British Said No to Europe
Pepe Escobar
Goodbye to All That: Why the UK Left the EU
Michael Hudson
Revolts of the Debtors: From Socrates to Ibn Khaldun
Andrew Levine
Summer Spectaculars: Prelude to a Tea Party?
Kshama Sawant
Beyond Bernie: Still Not With Her
Mike Whitney
¡Basta Ya, Brussels! British Voters Reject EU Corporate Slavestate
Tariq Ali
Panic in the House: Brexit as Revolt Against the Political Establishment
Paul Street
Miranda, Obama, and Hamilton: an Orwellian Ménage à Trois for the Neoliberal Age
Ellen Brown
The War on Weed is Winding Down, But Will Monsanto Emerge the Winner?
Gary Leupp
Why God Created the Two-Party System
Conn Hallinan
Brexit Vote: a Very British Affair (But Spain May Rock the Continent)
Ruth Fowler
England, My England
Jeffrey St. Clair
Lines Written on the Occasion of Bernie Sanders’ Announcement of His Intention to Vote for Hillary Clinton
Norman Pollack
Fissures in World Capitalism: the British Vote
Paul Bentley
Mercenary Logic: 12 Dead in Kabul
Binoy Kampmark
Parting Is Such Sweet Joy: Brexit Prevails!
Elliot Sperber
Show Me Your Papers: Supreme Court Legalizes Arbitrary Searches
Jan Oberg
The Brexit Shock: Now It’s All Up in the Air
Nauman Sadiq
Brexit: a Victory for Britain’s Working Class
Brian Cloughley
Murder by Drone: Killing Taxi Drivers in the Name of Freedom
Ramzy Baroud
How Israel Uses Water as a Weapon of War
Brad Evans – Henry Giroux
The Violence of Forgetting
Ben Debney
Homophobia and the Conservative Victim Complex
Margaret Kimberley
The Orlando Massacre and US Foreign Policy
David Rosen
Americans Work Too Long for Too Little
Murray Dobbin
Do We Really Want a War With Russia?
Kathy Kelly
What’s at Stake
Louis Yako
I Have Nothing “Newsworthy” to Report this Week
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail