America, Learn to Laugh Again…
If we can’t laugh at ourselves, we are stuck in digital chaos.
The healthiest laughter is at our own foibles. This thought struck me as I watched Dave Chappelle tiptoe through our modern verbal minefield during his SNL monologue last Saturday. His balancing act of mass self-ridicule was as exhilarating as any Cirque du Soleil or Olympic Games performance or D Trump debate. 2,600 years ago my ancestors, after they invented democracy and the Olympics, would weekly gather at the theater to learn how to process the wars and dramas of their time. The Athenian empire lasted 200 years but morphed into the Macedonian, then the GrecoRoman, then the Byzantine empire and its adaptability brought it to seed the U.S. Constitution. So when I woke up to news articles accusing Chappelle of stoking antisemitism, in a replay of the chorus that had branded him transphobic after his “Closer” Netflix special, the thought struck me again that if we could laugh at ourselves we would stop stressing about civil war over identity politics. If we can laugh at our excesses, we won’t demonize the excesses of others and won’t fall for warnings that democracy is on the ballot every time there are two sides to an issue.
America is the boldest experiment in community since the dawn of written history. America was multicultural, multifaith and multifaceted before those words had currency. Being a collective comes with failures just as being human comes with flaws. America’s survival depends on our acceptance of our differences. Cultural decline stems from self-righteous assumptions of perfectionism. Humanity’s darkest times of historic mass self-destruction started from the delusion that we know best and other humans don’t and they must be made to. War is nothing more than sinners condemning other sinners for sinning differently. Pomposity blinds us to that.
As a Greek immigrant who wrote a book about America titled Satyricon USA, I’ve thought long about satire, which reached its classical peak with Aristophanes who lampooned his fellow Athenians and desecrated the sanctimonious. His Satyrs offend our sensibilities by ridiculing all that civilization represents. Like Maenads, Satyrs represent precivilized universal human nature and its first principles. With the head of a horse or a goat and the tail of a goat or a horse and a telltale erection, the satyr is irreverent and foul for the sake of foul irreverence. His allure is apotropaic. He hits us at the herniated Gordian knot of our cultural hypocrisy, at the racist nationalist classist misogynist dowry seeded in our language. He reminds us that none of us escape our nature, so we might as well not take ourselves too seriously. We might instead embrace the extraordinary diversity and multiplicity of America that moved me to abandon the safe comfort of home and choose to take the oath of its citizenship.
Mr. Chappelle is a cultural translator. When he tells us how “Blacks” and “poor whites” see the rest of us, he is revelatory: he lifts the lid off the boiling pot of our frictions and lets us peek at what’s cooking in our depths so that we can recognize our holier than thou contradictions and release some social pressure. Irreverence is the healthiest antidote to fascism. I have often found myself vehemently arguing a point only to realize its fallibility mid-argument and break into laughter. Mocking oneself is more healing than prescribed pharmaceuticals. Mr. Ye should try it. We all should. We force ourselves to fast intermittently or eat greens or work out or sleep eight hours or myriad other practices we’re told are good for us. Laughing at our sacred cows will help us live longer. It may also help America survive and thrive another 245 years.
Eurydice Eve (@eurydiceeve) is the founder of Art Against All Inc. and the author of “Satyricon USA https://www.simonandschuster.com/books/Satyricon-USA/Eurydice/9780684862491” She writes the Universal Mother Income newsletter https://eurydice.substack.com/ and hosts the Speak with Eve podcast.