At the website of the magazine Pacific Standard, Evan Fleischer writes about satire under dictatorships, and why it's not only more dangerous, but also more effective, than satire under nominal democracies. While comedian's like John Stewart receive praise for their political courage, it's really comedians like Bassem Youseff of Egypt who are true to the political essence of satire. Here's an excerpt:
Americans tolerate bullshit even when we know—we know—it’s bullshit. At the best of times, there is something luxurious about this, Christmas lights of irony left up the whole year round because life is good, because, somehow, we can afford to tolerate annual political hackery and all manner of internal division. When John Steinbeck wrote that “Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires,” he was getting at the deceptively momentary nature of American bullshit, too. It’s bullshit, after all. Why would it bother lingering? Bullshit, by its very name, suggests a lack of seriousness or danger.
But bullshit is dangerous, and Americans can better understand the full political power of satire by watching its most courageous practitioners in action. And that interrogation is all the more important in a world where—as Ben Schwartz wrote in the Baffler—satire has been requisitioned by the state, as “the established culture seeks to inoculate itself from the complaints of the satirist by appropriating the satirist’s voice.” So look at Youssef's work. Watch or listen to old clips of Werner Finck. Look at how genial he seems in the video, like he’s just on the verge of popping next door and asking someone if he could borrow some sugar—in Nazi Germany. Look at the work done by Kianoush Ramezani, who—as Sonia Tamar Seeman has written—“now lives in exile—in France.” If we do that, if we look beyond Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, or John Oliver, if we look outside our borders and self-imposed comfort zones, then the truly muscular work of truly dangerous satire will come to inspire the next thing, the next wave of corrosion and comic critique. And that will be fascinating to see.
Image of John Stewart and Bassem Youseff via Hollywood Reporter