Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Can you joke about it, or does that make you evil?

With conflicts escalating daily in Afghanistan, the American people are still looking for an outlet for their feelings about the situation. People turn to the things they know can help in these times of trouble. For many, humor serves this purpose.

Throughout the history of war, humor has been used as an outlet to release rage and other feelings of anxiety. It also gives people a chance to look at these situations in a different light, which gives perspective and perhaps a better understanding.

“I think humor serves a number of important purposes, from catharsis to helping people better understand the world around them,” said Nathan Rabin of The Onion, a satiric weekly newspaper. “And I think this is particularly true during wartime, when people tend to understandably be on edge and looking for meaning.”

Catharsis, a release with the help of the arts, is important. People need a way to vent their anger, a coping mechanism.

American Wins, which released toilet paper with the likeness of Bin Laden on each square, bases themselves on the premise that humor is one of the best ways to bring healing to the American people.

“It is a way we can vent,” said Chuck Frank, spokesperson for American Wins. “It gives us a release to our anger and frustration.

Humor has been used in war for propaganda purposes and to critique various conflicts. Bugs Bunny, for example, fought the Nazis along side the GIs in his cartoons during World War II. These cartoons, specifically directed towards youth, used physical humor to express a view that Hitler was the enemy and was going to be defeated. If he couldn’t beat a rabbit, he could not defeat the United States.

Bob Hope brought his United Service Organization shows to GIs across the globe. They looked forward to his vaudeville acts to serve as relief from the horrors of war. Hope did not keep away from sensitive issues though; he often took verbal pot shots at world leaders.

The film “M*A*S*H” used dark humor to critique the Vietnam conflict, even though the film itself related to the Korean War.

Yet some feel humor does not give the necessary respect for these serious times. There is often a sense that humor is used merely as an escape and not as the honest social commentary it brings to an issue.

“I think people get offended because they think that humor inherently trivializes whatever it addresses,” Rabin said.

The satirical nature of humor can put topics in a different light, exposing issues not otherwise discussed. Straight journalism exposes the facts of the situation in an objective manner, while humor puts feeling into the situation, allowing the reader to become connected to the topic.

Frank said people should understand that they are not mocking the situation. Rabin also said in no way was The Onion mocking the victims of the attacks or their families.

“The people and institutions that it mocked were the terrorists themselves and their perversion of Islamic doctrine,” Rabin said.

Conflicting views on the value of humor pose the question of where to draw the line people should not cross when adding humor to a serious situation.

“Don?t throw caution to the wind,” Frank said. “Before we release a product we think of the response it would create.”

Yet others feel limiting the creative expression of humor is detrimental in itself.

“I think the idea that there’s stuff that’s off-limits for comedy is very dangerous,” Rabin said.

Rabin said there is a fine line between criticizing the government during wartime and not criticizing it at all. Yet he said discretion is necessary when joking about the world situation.

“Humor is a bulwark against totalitarianism,” Rabin said.

In general, humor related to the conflict has been well-received by the American public.

“The response is overwhelming,” Frank said, “You can feel the emotion.”

Frank said laughter releases steam; people are not forced to walk around with heads down and the feeling they cannot have some sense of humor about situations.

“Humor is more than just yukking it up at an Adam Sandler movie,” Rabin said.” It can be a survival mechanism, it can be a political tool, it can be any number of things. I think most people don’t really comprehend that, which is why I think a lot of humor is marginalized.”

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