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PostPosted: Mon Jul 08, 2013 12:57 am    Post subject: The uses of HUMOUR IN POLITICS Reply with quote

I've been thinking of trying to write something about the use of humour and the following comments uopon it by the great Rhondda Risibler Gwyn Thomas finally starts off a thread before I mislay these links ... I've been questioning my own use of humour recently : in 2012 - 13 I have been under huge stress so it is understandable that I have seem to have turned into a sniggering snarling hyena for the time being. It is exceedingly unpleasant to be this angry - I am much more angry than I am displaying on the board about events not reported here - and this discomfort makes me pity those poor wretches that I see who can't shrug it off with a joke but have to get drunk to get up the gumption in order to feel licensed to start a fight ... but I feel that I am beginning to break my own rules of humour, taken from Ben Johnson ( Shakespeare's co-writer ) which are that the proper object of humour is immorality, the classic play demonstrating this being ' The Alchemist.'

As to whether humour should be directed against against named individuals for their moral and ethical failings, I am inclined to argue that in arguing against general problems it is legitimate to argue against the general kinds of people who cause them, in other words I'm recklessly ruthlessly absurdist in elaborating allegations against party politicians - but I faced a worrying criticism against this behavour recently, that this was what was done against the Jews as a stereotyped group against whom hatred and contempt was manufactured with such ridicule and that it was this that created a consent for others to then do criminal acts. She argued that I am proclaiming party politicians to be non-people whose dignity and human rights are not to be respected, that my loathing of democratic politics' corruptions is being directed at those people participating in it instead of the political system itself. Point taken, but my position is not likely to change much yet - after all I am fairly more mild and more funny that the comedians that the BBC broadcast, and I am doing it generally speaking to make a moralor ethical argument and not just trying to get laughs.

However, it is a pity that I am not as dry and human as Gwyn Thomas was : I have a feeling that my dad's brother's wife knew him slightly too -

Gwyn Thomas on ' Ideology and Philosophy ' - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s8yFtrQTdMY

Gwyn Thomas on ' The Importance of Humour ' - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0dIq2zdsKqE

Gwyn Thomas on ' Laughter in the Rhondda Valley ' - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cVxONhHSd9o

There are lots of links on youtube to clips featuring Gwyn Thomas and as he talks he'll usually be making some sort of dry and often hardhittng remarks, it is very familiar humour to me but he's not the wittiest man that ever came out of the valleys - more just respected for his Oxford degree I think .... or maybe he just does not come over so well on tv ?



Now I've come back to point out this one about Llanwonno which is all of a reflection, a reminiscence, a remonstration and also a raconteurotation by this lugubrious character that passed by the name of Gwyn Thomas ... and what I have been thinking off whilst watching these is " Yes - I know this humour, where I write something surreal and then I leave the reader to ... "

[ Incidentally, Gwyn Thomas' geographical sense was / is poorly tuned - Llanwonno is on the saddle in the mountain where the roads meet from Blaenllechau ( Cwm Rhondda Fach ) running across east to Ynysbwl ( Cwm Taf ) and from Mountain Ash ( Cwm Cynon ) zig-sagging up and down to Pontypridd ( Cwm Rhondda Fawr.) If you ever want to locate it on the Google satellite map just look for ' Old Smokey ' which is the nearby biggest feature of the area, one of the mysterious man-made hills raised in honour of the ancient pagan god of this area whose religious rites involved burrowing into the ground at the very bottom of the valleys in order to procure the material to carry triumphantly to the very tops of the mountains in order to make them higher. These burrowers were apparently such a quiet, diminutive breed that they would have been barely noticeable to anybody had it not been for their habit of getting up some people's noses and under other people's feet and so they have been recorded in the margins of our history books as 'trouble-makers.'

The communitiess which celebrated their religios convictions by raising these mounds were governed by very stern priesthood of burrowers who were all dressed in mole skins and very particular about the kind of material which they allowed into these man-made hills, banning anything that was black or even worse might threaten their structures with any kind of inflammability : all of such material once raised was hurriedly carted away to the coast to be carefully destroyed in as controlled a way as possible. The adherents of this religion gladly gave large amounts of their income to this priesthood of burrowers on account of their arranging for the safe disposal of this black stuff away from their communities: they even volunteered to work on these man-made hills when paid work was not available in order to ensure that their valleys were made safe by being kept free of this black stuff. Thankfully the replacement of this ancient religion with our modern one means that there can never now be any risk of this black stuff contaminating our valleys ever again : it has all been safely sealed under ground now. Unfortunately as a result these great religious monuments left by the burrowers are now sadly neglected because their faith in hard work and praising god has been subjected to an unwarranted prejudice that has spawned intolerance towards them and they have been the subjects of both persecution and television. The relics of their ancient religion are however often still kept, closely guarded in small family shrines lit by small familiar shines from old and odd-looking lamps ... ]

I'm not so sure that there actually can be said to be a ' Welsh ' or even more locational-cultural-educational-specific a ' Valleys ' humour, except that raconteur and singer Max Boyce whose books and albums have been decorated by cartoonist and social commentator Gren ( Grenville Jones ) and between them created a very strong brand image of Whacky Welshy-ness, but the humour that I was brought up with was more like Gwyn Thomas' dryness. I think that it works this way : if you have a large audience then there is no punchline that you can choose which hits everybody's funny-bone and so you create a surreal narrative rich in comic potential for everybody's imagination to feed on and then ... let everyone else supply the ending that they like for themselves, they will of course laugh at their own sense of humour as they make comic sense of the story as social convention tells them they ought to. The problem now arises from people watching television's comedy sitcoms or stand up comics who not only get told which bits of the stories are punchlines but also get instructed when to laugh if they do not understand the joke, so that they will not feel left out. The social activity of making humour is nearly utterly destroyed by television and radio and every other medium such as this which interferes with the interaction between the teller and the tolled, reducing everything down to wordy associationisms like that.

Word association is often something that draws my attention because if in any kind of conversation the participants have different associations yet think that they understand each other then disastrous consequences follow - " What do you mean when you tell me that when you said yes you really meant know ? " Despite appearances on repwblic.informe.com, I am predominantly inclined towards the visual not the verbal which is why readers will notice me playing with visual patterns of words at the expense of the meanings of sentences. I was put in a backward class for English at school aged twelve due to handwriting and grammatical errors, I slogged away for years at Latin and French ( compulsory and useless to me ) and I later slogged away, as an adult when I had a few times, at Welsh ( voluntarily because I actually encounter it in what I tend to do and furthermore because other members of my family have it as their first language.) Having struggled so often with the bigger dictionaries whilst trying to figure out what somebody is saying whose cultural associations with their words are radically different from mine, and apparently totally unrelated to what appears in the dictionary of the language which they claim to be speaking, I long ago became fascinated by the history of words in all languages. Words are not the sole possessions of those languages whose speakers created them because they are more or less re-created each time that they are re-used, even in the course of a single conversation by a single user - even in the course of a monologue even !

The most telling things about words and the associations that we give them from out of our personal experiences is how easy it is in manipulating them to manipulate those people who mistake words for reality, whose main sense of ' reality ' is got from words alone and not experience. Even more worrying are those people who retreat from any kind of encounter with reality by walling themselves all around with words, and then in not finding that to be sufficient protection these are the same sorts of people who often go into politics in order to make our collective social reality conform to their individual personal ideality. These are the people who deserve to be the subjects of the sort of absurdism that I like to deal in, to illustrate the potential consequences of irrational and unreasonable political decisions which make reference to word associations which generate such meanings as ' Democracy IS a good thing therefore if we say that it is Democratic then it MUST be good thing.' Nothing is ever that good, nor ever that bad as Republicanism is portrayed to be bad in the propaganda of the United Kingdom. Democratic Republicanism is not the business of bending the meaning of words in order to con people out of their votes - well, this is not the case in a Republican Democracy anyway .... note the order of words there please and the intended play upon the differing associations of the phrases " Democratic Republicanism " and " Republican Democracy " which refer to the differing emphases of the " American and Jeffersonian " and " European and Rousseauian " Republican political humours - no joke !

Last edited by dai on Tue Jul 09, 2013 2:02 am; edited 4 times in total
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PostPosted: Mon Jul 08, 2013 1:11 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Some quick notes before bed of Ben Johnson






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PostPosted: Mon Aug 29, 2016 9:38 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I suspect that this is dodgy in the eyes of others before I even begin - but please read the above so that you understand the aspiration ... The general principle at work in my humour is - as Ben Jonson recommended - to ridicule immoral sentiments and unethical behaviour, which is - I believe - a lot better than what is being done in the name of campaigning against racism by The Democrats who think that the criminalisation of people's minds is the way to stop racism ... In fact this is in itself a discriminatory practice which can amount to a form of racist behaviour in itself : it is a pre-emptive retaliation against those who make you feel uncomfortable because they think differently - and it is unsympathetic to those who upon encountering somebody who is different from themselves are struggling to make sense of the unfamiliar. It is simply a normal human reaction - or at least a common human reaction - when encountering differences with others to be anxious and to feel the difference as a challenge to our own sense of self ... So you can view racism as springing from this anxiety - that the fact of the difference infers that we are " wrong " and that the person who is different is in fact expressing this in their differences as if these are choices made in reference to others around them. A lot of humour of course which has been denounced as " racist " plays upon this anxiety - and the fact that The People in Ireland have been the subject of such humour in Wales reflects the anxiety associated with their armed struggles against The United Kingdom and their immigration into Wales which presented a face-to-face threat in the struggle for bread because of their poverty.

But racism against The Irish in Wales is not the whole of their history of their immigration into our society - " The People in Wales " is a phrase that I have chosen to use not merely out of the desire to be inclusive but to avoid that Nationalist sentimentality which leads into scorning things " Not Welsh " and then the hair-splitting arguments about how to correctly mutilate Yng Nghymraeg. Personally I just love trying to figure out who brought what into Wales and speculating as to how " The People in Wales " came to be who we are - and who we can become ... Everybody in Wales knows about the regional differences within this country in terms of the ways in which we speak Welsh and English, most people forget that Irish, Latin, French and Flemish were spoken here in Medieval times - but perhaps not many are aware that in The Black Klondike of 19c Wales so many unusual elements filtered into the thing which we now take to be our nation's culture that the cash in the economy in combination with this radically different urban society changed The People in Wales forever. Even though the cash began to ran out over a hundred years ago our society reflects the history of The People in Wales - and the present lot are different from all those who came before us and who will came after us ...

... So different that if we could borrow a time machine and travel a hundred years into the past or future we would most probably encounter a response from our own ancestors and descendants akin to " racism " because our " nation " is different to their " nation " - not just culturally but also genetically. Travel forwards and backwards a thousand years and collect a bunch of The People in Wales together in one room and they would all be asserting that they are " The People in Wales " and staring in disbelief at each other and saying " Who ? " ... They would also probably cope with the differences between themselves by making humerous remarks about their observations of each other ... This is simply a very human thing to do - and it might very well be that this is all that The People in Wales truly have in common : our humanity - which is exactly why that racism translated from individual anxieties into collective prejudices is such dangerous nonsense - because we ourselves are indivisible from " The People in The World." ... To return the business in hand - trying to construct a joke which hinges upon this individual anxiety about racial and cultural difference but addresses the business of or collective prejudices which is the problem of racism - I would like to explain beforehand that the following joke has its origins in a real historical event which happened in Cardiff over a hundred years ago : hundreds of thousands of tons of steam coal were exported from South Wales to Yemen where it was stockpiled in Aden ready for the steam ships to be able refuel on their way in and out of The Red Sea. The People in Somalia and Yemen and Egypt would see their sons set off across the oceans of The World as stokers in these ships - often never to return ... because they met this gearl ingh Ngheardiff see - an' ...

The tropical sun was beating down hard upon Aden - driving even the dogs into the sea - and The Black Mountains from Wales shimmered in the heat and beckoned those who knew that they would be treated like dogs to the sea ... Three men stood there on the quayside and awaited their dirty fate at the dirty hands of the dirty captain of the dirty coal ship whose dirty name was lost beneath the dirty dirt which covered the dirty hulk ... The dirty captain and his dirty engineer surveyed the three men before them in a dirty way from their dirty deck : they gave gave them dirty looks but hired them because they were dirt cheap ... because they were all " black " ... The three men spent the whole voyage to Cardiff not knowing whether they would be hired again upon this ship so that they could return to their loved ones ... they were sweated in the bunkers trimming the coal - they were roasted at the hearths shoveling the coal - they were choked in the boilers as they raked out the ashes of the coal ... they were harangued all day and all night by the engineer who sneered at them beginning and ending their shifts with the ritual of washing themselves and praying - " Why wash when you are always about to be made dirty ? - Why pray to your gods when you have already condemned yourselves into my hell already ? " ... The empty coal ship arrived back in Cardiff and after the rest of the crew had left the engineer had the three men bank down the fires, rake out the ashes and trim the bunkers before he took them to the captain to be paid off ... £2 to the Yemeni, a little Jewish guy with a light brown skin ... £1/10s to the Egyptian, a broad backed Christian gentleman with a brown skin ... £1 to the Somali, a tall strong Muslim man with a dark brown skin ... £0/10s to the Welshman, a muscular Atheist who insisted that his decision not to wash throughout the whole voyage was both rational and reasonable - and therefore logically he could not find any fault in the captain's reasoning.

The historical event to which that joke owes inspiration is a seaman's strike in Cardiff over a hundred years ago which threatened to cripple The British Empire because at that time Cardiff had the biggest register of ships - bigger even than Chicago's I believe - at least for a brief while during the peak in exporting coal before World War One which declined due to that empire then participating in the carving up of The Middle East in order to seize control of the oil fields in Arabia and Persia which then fueled it thereafter. The crews of these ships - and the workers in the docks which served them - were not paid on an egalitarian basis and this was not just about the colour of an employee's skin. The most favoured were English then Welsh then Irish then Other Imperial Provinces then Northern European then Southern European then downwards depending on the colour etc ... The Irish led a strike to obtain equal pay and The Welsh - to our shame - were happy to settle for equal pay for everybody " British " ... The Irish refused to settle for anything other than " same job - same rate " and I can not help but feel that it was the racism which they had suffered which led The Irish in Wales to hold to this principle and the consequences of The Irish in Wales twisting the arms of The Welsh in Wales to confront The English in Wales are still reverberating around The Politics in Wales and The World ... and of course the descendants of all involved are now The People in Wales ...

... So I hope that you will now understand what I am talking about when I am referring to" The People in Wales " in order to avoid talking about " The Welsh Nation " ... I am trying to address the reality of the society in which I live - but not by merely retreating into such statistics as how many of them have actually been born within this piece of geography or how many are native speakers of Cymraeg or how many of those living overseas are claiming some sort of identity which they label " Welsh." I am trying ... not to depict but ... to convey ... suggest ... explain ... the reality of the individuals with which I live - a really mixed bunch ... so to speak ... who all have stories to tell about their senses of identity ... and - in a sense - that is what " nationality " really is : a series of stories about ourselves ... Celts V Romans ... Britons V Angles ... Cymry V Saxons ... Welsh V Normans ... Princes V Kings ... The People V The Politicians ... The Republicans in Wales V The Democrats in Westminster ... but that series of stories merely traces out the kinds of yarns which I spin : the whole fabric of " nationality " can only be made good by inter-weaving together not merely many other stories but by accepting that those stories which are spun by others yet run in different directions to our own must not be rejected because they are necessary for the cohesion of the whole ... In fact the fabric of " nationality " is arguably less woven than felted : we cohere as a society because we have been gathered together, soaked together, beaten together and thus stick together - not to mention the fact that we have also been lyed and dyed together through the sharing of our own stories with each other as we ourselves become stories in our narratives of " nationality." ...

... In other words " The Nationality in Wales " is one hell of a long " Shaggy Dragon Story " - and in the telling of it we should provide laughter, tears and - above all - an entertainment for all of The People.


( I have to go out ) note - write about how racism can result in positive discrimination ? - give examples eg self-abasement, internalising inferiority, projecting aspirations onto others etc
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