I subscribe to A LOT of newsletters about development, NGOs, and international issues. Most of these groups talk about international development issues in 1 of 4 keys ways:
- Tell us about the bad news (usually the latest natural disaster or war outbreak) in very somber tones.
- Tell us about the great news (such as a country first holding democratic elections) but with a healthy dose of skepticism.
- Ask for our help (usually in the form of a donation) by telling us about all the great work they’re doing and showing us pictures of smiling (or poor, hungry) children.
- Criticize the aid sector (and say how we SHOULD be doing everything), usually in the form of a blog or op-ed
But are there other ways of starting a conversation? What other types of media can be used to engage with audiences and get people thinking? I think that humor and satire is definitely an option when it comes to commenting on society.
One example I saw of this recently was Trevor Noah (a South African comedian) performing a bit about colonialism and immigration on the John Bishop Show. He jokes about the treatment they give him at the airport when he comes to the UK, and how he wishes the South Africans had the same attitude when the British first arrived there. I actually thought it was really funny, and also a good way to start a conversation about a topic which might be a bit difficult for people to bring up. I think comedy can also be a way of bringing awareness about real, important events to a wider audience who might not follow the news or understand historical events.
However, how far is too far to push the line? Everyone knows at least a few comedians who purposely try to offend or at least tell jokes that people know are politically incorrect. But how far do you have to go before a comedy bit is simply making fun of another population (particularly one that is more marginalized than the one you belong to – think ethnic minority, lower socio-economic class, people with disabilities, etc.)?
For example, in another segment, Trevor Noah makes jokes about people in Zambia who are just learning to ride escalators. It may seem a bit off-putting at first (joking about how people in an African country are “backwards” and don’t understand technology), but it also opens up a great conversation about technology, and how Zambians have iPhones but don’t have escalators.
Does it make a difference that Trevor Noah is black? That he lives on the African continent? Or would it be okay if everyone said it? As a white North-American, I am always aware that the situation I am in is a very different (and easier) one than most people in the rest of the world. It is easy for me to accidentally offend, so I try to be as politically correct as possible. But maybe it’s time we start trying to create a larger conversation – and comedy just might be the way to do that!
I would love to hear your thoughts…
Is joking about important international issues (like colonialism) a good idea?