I hate ethnic stereotyping as much as any progressive man. In that I’m consonant with the zeitgeist, one of whose endearing features is a flat denial of any ethnic peculiarities.
Thus I reject out of hand any generalised notions, such as that Americans are obsessed with money, the Dutch with producing and consuming mountains of mediocre cheese, the French with pretending to be Italians while actually being Germans, Italians with pinching girls’ bottoms on public transport, Russians with vodka, Japanese with self-evisceration, Muslims with flying airliners into tall buildings and Australians with vomiting on parked cars.
Yet one stereotype stubbornly refuses to go away: the humourlessness of the Germans. This trait was neatly encapsulated by Mark Twain, who said that “A German joke is no laughing matter.”
I don’t know many Germans and have only been to Germany a couple of times, but flicking through TV channels at my hotel I did notice a certain lavatorial tilt to their comedy programmes. One, for example, featured several men sitting on loo seats and telling jokes about the activity suggested thereby.
That was too small a sample to jump to far-reaching conclusions, but it tallied with the widespread public perception – much as one hates even to entertain the idea that national characteristics exist.
However, if they lamentably do exist, the best way of correcting that iniquity is for other nations to adopt the same traits, thus depriving them of unfashionable particularism. Therefore I’m happy to report that Twain’s witticism can now be legitimately amended to “No joke is a laughing matter”.
Humour is now excommunicated everywhere, including Britain, where people used to crack bomb jokes during the Blitz. Yet even the British are busy issuing redundancy notes to satirists and comedians.
The former are out of a job because they can’t satirise modernity better than it unwittingly satirises itself. The latter are finding out that our unsmiling multitudes judge humour more harshly than even Jesus did. He gave his contemporaries the licence to mock everything including himself – provided they left the Holy Spirit alone.
Modernity no longer believes in either Christ or the Holy Spirit, but it has elevated to a similarly lofty status every intellectual, cultural, social and sexual perversion it extrudes from its bowels. Joking about them is now treated as heresy and punished accordingly.
The latest comedian to find that out is John Cleese, who got the full monty (as it were) for being irreverent about one of the most cherished perversions. Coming out in defence of JK Rowling, vilified for her transphobia, the octogenarian comedian said he identified as a “Cambodian policewoman”.
Monty Python thus met Harry Potter and sparks flew. The outburst of public indignation was as explosive as the one that ensued after Rowling’s outrageous suggestion that one’s sex has something to do with physiology.
A Christian might have been allowed to mock Christ, but a modern man will mock modernity at his peril. A smile has been wiped off the face of the world.
However, I can’t see what the problem is. If our cheerless, sanctimonious modernity insists on taking every joke seriously, why not do so in this case?
Mr Cleese is a skilled comedian, which means he knows that, for a joke to be effective, it must cut close to the bone. Reductio ad absurdum only ever works if there exists something that can be thus reduced.
In this case, we are happy to extend the sacrosanct notion of consumer choice to all races and a full menu of 74 sexes so far discovered and welcomed. Hence we don’t flinch when a man identifies as a woman, a woman as a man, a white man as a black woman or presumably a black woman as a transsexual Japanese geisha.
Fine. The progressive man in me exults. However, the egalitarian man in me refuses to put any limit on the available options. So if Mr Cleese wishes to identify as a Cambodian policewoman in all seriousness, it’s not immediately clear on what grounds anyone could possibly object.
The problem is, and here we re-grasp today’s thematic strand, that his self-righteous critics suspect Mr Cleese doesn’t really wish to adopt the suggested identity in all seriousness. He said that in jest – and that’s where his statement becomes unpardonable.
Today’s wokery hounds are indeed like dogs. They respond not so much to the words as to the tone, inflection, intonation. In that they bring back the unfond memory of my youth, misspent in Moscow.
There I seldom said demonstrably subversive things in public, and yet the reputation of an anti-Soviet vermin followed me everywhere I went – school, university, job. The guardians of fascist probity responded not to the words I uttered but to the odd derisory smile, an irreverent turn of phrase, an eyebrow raised above its normal supercilious level. Eventually, I did start saying demonstrably subversive things in public, on the assumption of damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
Censure immediately followed, jobs were lost, security services notified… Sorry about this trip down the potholed memory lane. You might say this has no relevance to today’s situation. The Soviet Union was after all a totalitarian country, whereas Britain…
Well, you said it, not me. Heil modernity, and don’t mention the war.