Some thoughts about political humor

Barney Rubble figurine at the Ankara Public Amusement Park

It’s quite interesting how dictatorships of all shades, but also democracies in exceptional situations and periods of crisis, or a combination of the latter, produce very good political jokes, usually much better than those told when it’s business as usual. Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich and the German Democratic Republic (GDR) are excellent examples. Spain during the still ongoing coronavirus confinement is another.

My father, who was 12 years old when Adolf rose to power in January 1933, came from a conservative, rather monarchist family. They had lost basically everything by buying war bonds during World War I, and endured a lot of hardship afterwards. They weren’t particularly fond of the Republic of Weimar. Nevertheless the National Socialists, who had promised to make Germany great again, were seen as political parvenus and out of their minds most of the time.

When he heard Joseph Goebbels, Minister of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda, speaking on the radio, he usually asked himself: “Who is crazy? He or I”? A joke about Dr. Goebbels, a brilliant orator, but rather short, though nevertheless as womanizer, asked: “What do a tadpole and Goebbels have in common? Both only consist of head and tail!”

Nowadays, such a comparison might be considered politically incorrect, as Goebbels wasn’t only kind of chunky, but also had a clubfoot. So are we supposed to laugh at a disabled person, even if it’s an evil one? In this context, Argentine-born Communist Pablo Echenique, whose last name by chance rhymes with “Bolchevique” comes to my mind. He suffers from spinal muscular atrophy and is wheel-chair bound. Echenique became a leader of the extreme Spanish Left and is definitely not a nice person. Many of his political views are highly objectionable. But to make fun out of his physical condition would be going too far, right?

Anyway, the best crack that came to my attention was actually a visual one. Nissan recently announced that it would be closing three plants in and around Barcelona soon. As a reaction, the current leftist coalition government under Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez and Echenique’s buddy Pablo Iglesias proposed to keep the factories open by producing a green car. Well, Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble are called Pedro Picapiedra and Pablo Mármol in Spain. So shortly after it was confirmed that the Japanese would pull the plug, a new model apparently designed by a duo named Pedro and Pablo appeared on social media: it was the prehistoric one that the Flintstones normally drive, or better said, move with their feet… Truly ecological indeed!

As in all Communist countries, average consumer goods were of poor quality in the GDR. This of course included sanitary articles as well. The question therefore went: “Why is the toilet paper so hard in East Germany? So that even the last asshole would turn red!” I didn’t work out as the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, and the whole system collapsed very quickly.

Compared to that, calling former (West) German Chancellor Helmut Kohl “Birne” (German for “pear”) because of his body shape was a rather poor analogy that never sounded funny to me. At the end, he wrote history by reuniting in 1990 what was left of Germany after World War II. He who laughs last, laughs best!


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