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Seriously, we need jokes more than ever now that we’ve lost GE13 to corruption!

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When the going gets tough, the tough get laughing, says Douglas Teoh.

Cartoon courtesy of Zunar/Malaysiakini
Humour is another valid form of political engagement – Cartoon courtesy of Zunar/Malaysiakini

From 6.00pm to 2.00am on 5 May 2013, I was caught in the midst of the ‘Mother of all battles’ on Facebook, and one new Facebook update caught my attention – “Official: Rosmah is still Najib’s wife”. In an intense, stress-inducing, rapid-refresh Facebook environment, I burst out laughing.

These jokes were a much-needed relief, and indeed have helped me to press on (literally, on F5) to update myself and spread information. We are all mourning the death of democracy; however, I hope to urge all of you to reclaim one thing that’s been lost in the war against corruption – our humour.

So the question I anticipate (maybe not from you, but from the people around you) is, “How can you be joking at a time when our election has been allegedly hijacked by the 3Bs*: BN, Bangladeshis, and Black-magic Ballot Boxes?” Two main reasons come to mind, and I hope that these arguments will convince you to reclaim humour as part of our battle plan in the (political) ‘war’ to come.

Impact of laughter on your physical and psychological health

Laughter is the best medicine …. unless you have asthma. Well, not necessarily. It’s a valid enough point that with medical conditions, you probably wouldn’t want to risk substituting your medication with laughter as a form of therapy – but humour, it seems, does have some positive effects on asthma. A researcher claimed that asthma participants who viewed a humorous film had reduced responsiveness towards house dust-mites. Laughter is good for your health, and you need good physical health to fight a five-year war against the 3Bs, no?

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In terms of psychological health, an entire field is devoted to having an optimistic outlook on situations, called positive psychology. It’s really just as simple as laughing, feeling happy, and having better psychological health as a result. Optimism keeps us going, and this translates to how well we fight our battles – and this of course, includes political battles.

Reclaiming our political weapons: Joking about political issues

While we can “sing the song of angry men” and take our frustrations to the street, my opinion is that there are also alternative forms of civic engagement that we can participate in every day. The most crucial one, of course, is social media. People familiar with the utility of social media will realise that it is not just a space for information sharing – it’s also a sphere for criticism (and entertainment, when it becomes ‘fun’ criticism). Jokes are a legit and fun way of sociopolitical criticism, which has been evolving with technology, and is likely to remain so in the far future.

I see jokes as a form of political resistance that provides us a strong justification that can help us get away from repercussions – “all in good humor”. It is also the ridiculous incredulousness of the situation exaggerated by our jokes that emphasise the sociopolitical issues and contexts that lie beneath it. What better way to highlight the dangers of our looming corrupt days than using a picture of a certain MP’s wife with the caption “The Shopping Spree Continues”?* In the gag, we can gain some insights, such as:

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1) the fact that a certain politician’s wife has been spending a lot of money to shop;
2) that with the win of GE13, she would continue to spend, and perhaps in a more far-reaching manner;
3) that corruption will still continue to feed politicians, cronies (and their wives).

Disguised as funny and harmless entertainment, jokes are in fact sociopolitical criticisms injected with an often-lethal dose of sarcasm and/or irony. By sharing jokes, we are indirectly participating in a democracy that deliberates and discusses social issues that warrant our attention, particularly for its ridiculous nature.

The use, spread and if you can, creation of humorous messages are likely to make a difference in some ways. Of course, the effects of humour are not well documented in terms of their reach and influence on politics; however, the fact that humour promotes civic engagement, a sense of community and improved well-being as a whole reminds us that it is our means of resisting the evils of corruption in Malaysia.

*Details censored to protect the individuals in question (and more importantly, myself) from any harm.
**Credits to Politicalgags for allowing me to use their published gag.

Douglas Teoh is currently a psychology tutor in a local private university who intends to pursue his postgraduate degree in politics.

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