Countdown to Christmas
21 - Mocking the Powerful
- Rulers often rely on the fear of those who are under their power. They have powerful instruments to suppress criticism and resistance.
- But time and again, people find ways to express their displeasure, rejection and criticism and - at least partially - circumvent state repression. One important way of doing this is to mock those in power.
- A free society is characterized by the fact that it is allowed to make fun of those in power. In unfree societies, humor is an important weapon for questioning power and stimulating people to think and free them from a climate of intellectual and personal constriction.
The novel by Vladimir Voinovich (1932-2015) about the comical and often absurd adventures of an ordinary soldier in the Soviet army at the beginning of the Second World War is a twofold example of how rulers can be exposed through literature. On the one hand, through its plot and characters: they illustrate how the communist system and its representatives become increasingly detached from reality and fail to live up to their own standards. The system thus becomes its own caricature, but remains murderous at the same time. On the other hand, the history of its creation and distribution is an example of the power of literature and humor: although official publication was not possible in the Soviet Union, numerous copies circulated, which were produced and distributed by self-publishers (samizdat) at great risk.