Using Humor As Nonviolent Action by Bill Timpson

In the Peace Science Digest, July 12-19, 2018, was an article titled, Using Humor As Nonviolent Action. As they write: “During U.S. President Donald Trump’s recent state visit to the U.K., protesters carried an inflatable baby Trump blimp to bring humor to their protest of his domestic and foreign policy. Humor, in various forms, has a long tradition in protest movements.”

“Humor, in the forms of chants, performances, satire, cartoons, theatre, jokes, memes and puns has a long tradition in protest movements. It acts as a vehicle to communicate ideas as well as to foster a sense of community – it can cut across linguistic barriers, and increase the resonance of the message. All protests have a target, something or someone to galvanize others to action. The goal of the crowdfunded inflatable is to annoy the famously thin-skinned president. The six-meter tall balloon depicts Trump as a snarling baby in a nappy with tiny hands and mobs. Its purpose is not to change laws or policies, nor to influence his decisions. It is meant to mock and to undermine, suggesting the president is infantile, full of hot air, cartoonish and ridiculous.”

“Humor is empowering because it establishes those who are in on the joke and those who are the object of it. The balloon signifies an attempt to take back control and to undermine Trump. Whether he is aware of the balloon – and surely this media-obsessed president will be – is neither here nor there because mocking Trump is not just about annoying him. It fosters a sense of belonging between protestors and invites others to join.”

When I asked my class of first year Honors students what they thought of this use of humor, the reactions were mixed. Some could see a level of disrespect that could hamper the good will that someone like Bishop Desmond Tutu advocated in building trust between previously deeply divided groups as South Africa began to move past the apartheid era of state sponsored segregation and oppression. Other saw the U.S. Veterans for Peace authors we have been reading applauding this kind of protest and enjoying its playful nature.

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