The Power of Satire
Most Americans don’t recognize how lucky they are to be living in a free country where they can make jokes about their leaders. The power of satire shows when entire TV stations and various media outlets are solely dedicated to making fun of presidents. It is something that never happened and probably will never occur in any other country on earth. Even laws are set in place to prevent prosecution of any media personality who would mock the president. Everybody is welcome to say whatever they want, and no one could force them into silence.
The crucial role that satire plays in the political scene is its ability to humanize those who are in power, so it is easier to stand against them. In some way, satire brings down influential political figures to the level of everyday people. Therefore, those leaders are no longer god-like people who live in ivory towers, after all, they are just public servants albeit with tremendous amount of power.
What these “public servants” don’t understand is that their power comes with a lot of responsibility. It is not much of a privilege, but they must be prepared for heaps of criticism all the time because they are elected to do a certain job. In many countries in the third-world, and it looks like America has caught the flu, people who come to power think it is a privilege, and they insist that people must love, respect, and fear them. Satire is the complete opposite; it’s on a mission to expose that fake respect. It downplays that air of fear, it pisses them off and they hate it for doing that to them.
The Rise and fall of Bassem Youssef
In countries like Egypt, mocking the leaders is not just forbidden, but it is outright blasphemy. Sure, those leaders are supposedly “democratic,” they encourage free speech. However, that’s all just an outer layer hiding a much more horrible reality.
In Egypt, there is always a limit to satire. Nobody has ever managed to cross that limit because they either end up in jail or worse, killed. Nobody can really make jokes about Egyptian leaders, those who dare will be harassed by the government into submission or just flee the country altogether. Like Dr. Bassem Youssef who is considered the “Jon Stewart of Egypt,” the host of the most popular TV show in the history of the Arab world.
He started with a satirical YouTube channel during the Egyptian revolution of 2011. Just at the beginning of the Egyptian revolution of 2011 and the Arab Spring broke out, Youssef fiercely satirized the Islamists and the military which took power and his show ignited. Around 30 million of viewers waited for his TV show every week to watch him satirize the cosmic conspiracy on Egypt.
Bassem’s detractors belittled and ridiculed him, but the joke was on them all along. Ultimately, Youssef was censored and forced to flee Egypt. His collapse was triggered by a segment mocking Islamist president Mohamed Morsi’s hat in 2013. In March, a warrant was issued for his arrest because he insulted the president and Islam because, of course, the president is the representative of Allah on earth. Islamists cannot handle criticism; it is not in their playbook. They are hiding behind a religious ideology that demands strict submission and obedience.
Youssef turned himself in as he already knew it was just a matter of time, the funny thing is that prosecutors and security forces were his fans, taking selfies with him as he went willingly to the public prosecutor’s office. However, Bassem was released on bail, but his days were numbered because just three months later, the military removed and jailed president Morsi, deactivated the constitution, and enforced martial law.
He found it hard to continue his show, with the new regime taking over. In Egypt, the military is even more sacred than religion, more sacred than Mother Egypt herself. He wanted to stop the show but decided to go on with it as his fans supported him. However, it didn’t last long; he was crippled by a flood of lawsuits and abusive legal verdicts. The final blow arrived in the form of a whopping 100 million EGP fine, the largest penalty in the history of Egyptian media. He had to flee before he is jailed and put on no-fly list.
It’s all about the People
In third-world countries, whether it is under the military or religious rule the leaders are put on a pedestal. They are equated with God, religion, and homeland. Their pictures are put on everything and everywhere, the national media praise and portray them as saviors, and the thought of rebelling is bombarded by a general sense of futility. A futility that nothing make a difference, and all you can do is submit to the status quo.
It is up to the people to take the power of satire beyond the theater and TV set and translate into action in the real world. While satire is the most powerful antidote against dictatorship, if people don’t act then it remains just a healthy exercise of blowing steam. Satire, alone, is not potent enough to make a change. Of course, it can funnily expose the truth, but ultimately, the change comes from people taking action.
American Political Comedy
Finally, people in America are lucky because their leaders can take a joke. There’s a difference between waging war against satire and comedy that is not ill-intentioned. You only need to look at the recent case of Kathy Griffin to get the point. With all that said, there are still barriers to bring down, and more jokes to be told. Because people just need to lighten up.
Today, the authoritarian threat in America is quickly becoming a reality and one of the best ways to fight it is making fun of it through the power of satire. That’s what makes America different than any other country on earth, you can laugh at your leader, and it is something to be proud of.
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