Humour is the greatest form of defence, but one man’s parody is another man’s poison.
Take the Fuhrer furore.
Blackpool’s Grundy Art Gallery has a crazy golf course which offers the chance to putt one over on Hitler – the golf ball triggering a stiff-armed Heil. Saddam Hussein is there too. Along with the tinpot tyranny of closed libraries.
It’s been condemned as “tasteless” by a British Jewish organisation. The humour is questionable. Of course it is. That’s the point.
For my money, as a Blackpool Council taxpayer, it’s a parody.
And the best of humour is not so much base as based on that combination of shock and sheer ridicule which hammers a point home.
I’d stand by the right of any artist, cartoonist, writer or entertainer to take pot shots at despots.
The Producers, directed by Mel Brooks, included the famously tastelessly funny Springtime for Hitler.
Mel, who’s Jewish, said tyrants and dictators are best opposed by ridicule.
You can’t stop a tank with a joke, cartoon, painting, poem, book or crazy golf course, but you can make people stop and think. And if they laugh so much the better. The rule of fear is undermined by laughter.
Ask squaddies who mine a rich seam of black humour to boost their personal armoury.
A well-aimed laugh can prick political pomposity.
Get the satirists on your side and you’re well on the way to winning any war. That’s been the case since minstrels and playwrights poked fun at other people’s pretension.
Words can turn into deeds. Even in the most oppressive regime humour can drive resistance.
But lampoonery needs to be on target. Sacha Baron Cohen can come across as scatological and cruel – a far cry from the master class delivered by Charlie Chaplin’s Great Dictator.
At about the time the Nazis were devising new methods of mass murder, a British propagandist came up with a song which went: “Göring has only got one ball, Hitler’s are so very small, Himmler’s are very similar and Goebbels has no balls at all.” Old soldiers sing it to this day. It was bang on target.
Of course the question is – does crazy golf as artwork actually work? I’d argue yes – because it’s within a cultural context. Stick it on the seafront and I’d beg to differ.
And I’d still rather see the cash spent elsewhere.
I’d hope that whoever’s in charge of the £3m Arts Council investment in Blackpool’s “stars of tomorrow” doesn’t squander it on overly indulgent arty projects which may alienate more than they include – or bemuse visitors following Alice in Wonderland characters through the Winter Gardens on tours which redefine curiouser and curiouser.
Spend it on stuff to get our kids off the streets, off computers and developing creative talents.