Today includes the International Moment of Laughter, according to my calendar. It doesn’t say when the Moment is supposed to be, so we’ll just have to be more or less giggly all day, won’t we?
Laughing at Climate Change?
There are those who blame our lack of progress on the issue on the negativity of activists, educators, and scientists. Apparently, one should never yell “FIRE!” in a burning building, as it will not impel the people to escape or to call the Fire Department. One should instead call, in a polite, upbeat way, “It’s pleasantly cool outside right now!”
As should be evident, I reject that premise, but I also believe in the value of humor.
As I’ve discussed before, climate denial is largely the deliberate creation of certain financially-motivated elites who have played on pre-existing cultural faultlines for their own gain. We’re not dealing with some intrinsic psychological phenomenon here, nor does the fault lie with overly negative activists. Rather, we are contending with a powerful and deliberate countervailing force.
But it’s also true that to counter that force, as we must, we need to avail ourselves of whatever tools psychology can give us, and if positive, solution-oriented messaging will help our cause, then so be it. And if goofing around will keep our own spirits up, then let’s get goofy.
The Case for Laughter
Seriousness and humorlessness are not the same thing. In fact, such serious topics as cancer and crucifixion have seen their treatments in comedy (for the latter, see the final scene of Monty Python’s Life of Brian). And while some jokes are clearly inappropriate when issues are real and raw, others help the raw places heal, or at least let us know where to put the Band-Aide. There’s even an article out there using scientific research to explain exactly how to use humor specifically for climate communication. Climate humor is A Thing.
(Just while we’re on the subject, though; humor can be used to say anything, including things that should not be said–mean jokes are still mean)
I wanted to have a whole, long list of climate change jokes, but it turns out I can’t think of any. Neither can anyone else, apparently, because when I looked up “climate change jokes” online I found three different sites purporting to contain said jokes, but the best they could do between them was “why does the climate need privacy? Because it’s changing.”
Really. That was the best one.
But the kind of jokes you can put on a bullet-point list aren’t usually that funny anyway. They are, at best, abbreviated notes for lines that might be funny if told with the right delivery, by the right person, or on the right day. If you want to laugh at climate change, or at least at the people who deny the existence of climate change, you really ought to see “Erik the Viking,” a wonderful movie occupying the penumbra of Monte Python (most of the Pythons are in it). There’s an island in the movie whose people love to sing but literally can’t (their attempts consist of atonally shouting “tee tee tah” in unison) and which is cursed to sink into the sea if blood is ever spilled there. Of course, blood is soon spilled, and the island begins to sink, but the locals won’t believe it. Erik and his ship-mates run around trying to convince them of the obvious to no avail. The Council takes a vote on the matter and concludes that the island is definitely not sinking. By this point Eric and the others have left and there’s barely enough land for the town council to sit on. The water’s rising fast.
“Uh, what shall we do while the island is not sinking?” someone asks.
“I know, let’s SING!” someone else suggests. And so the Hy-Brazilians sit around calmly shouting “tee! tee! tah! tah!” while they all disappear under the waves.
And then there’s XKCD.
The “mouse-over text” reads “‘You see the same pattern all over. Take Detroit–‘ ‘Hold on. How do you know all these statistics offhand?’ ‘Oh, um, no idea. I definitely spend my evenings hanging out with friends, and not curating a REALLY NEAT database of temperature statistics. Because, pshh, who would want to do that, right? Also snowfall records.'”
The future doesn’t belong to one-liners, it belongs to sketch comedy, long-form comedic monologues, and internet comics.