Politics

In a culture in love with humor, why can’t Mexico’s politicians take a joke?

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My kid cannot take a joke.

Don’t get me wrong. She’s plenty funny and great at making jokes in that obvious and exaggerated eight-year-old kind of way. But under no circumstances does she consider being a target of the joke acceptable (unless she’s the jokester, of course) — no matter how good-natured or lighthearted it might be.

This is too bad, as she’s growing up in one of the jokiest cultures I’ve encountered. “Lisa,” I tell her. “You live in one of the most bromista countries in the world. If you don’t learn to chill a little bit, you’re going to have a Very Bad Time, fair or not.”

In the meantime, I try my best (like we all do, right, fellow parents?) to find that balance between the two seemingly mutually exclusive facts that we know we must impart to our children: one, that they are unconditionally loved and exceedingly unique and special; and two, that they are no better than anyone else.

The jokes are usually in service to this second lesson, meant to be gentle and lighthearted reminders that none of us are actually perfect and right at all times.

Those without children might be surprised to know that most kids (in non-abusive homes, anyway) actually have to learn that they’re not naturally flawless beings. Frustration with that fact can be harsh, but a good sense of humor can help them to take at least some things in stride.

Humility isn’t a natural trait, but it makes the world go round, so here we are. A good-natured joke or two can help smooth out those jagged lessons.

Like most people, I’m a fan of comedy. It feels good to laugh! But boy oh boy, are we all ever on edge these days.

Laughter is a pleasant way of losing control. (Notice how people say “I lost it!” when describing a bout of uncontrollable laughter?) But as Will Smith learned after the Slap Heard ʼRound the World, the line between losing control in a positive way and a negative way can show itself to be exceedingly thin.

And as every comedian from medieval court jesters to Chris Rock and Mexico’s Chumel Torres can tell you, a joke might get a laugh or it might get you in serious trouble. And in this very sensitive and on-edge world where we’re all feeling pretty darn cranky (and about to “lose it” in a bad way) most of the time, comedy is changing. The types of jokes that people find acceptable to laugh at are shrinking.

This isn’t necessarily a complaint but my own personal “wow, so many things have changed — I must be getting old!” reflections of bafflement.

I came of age cracking up at the no-holds-barred wit of Sarah Silverman’s standup routines, Jon Stewart on The Daily Show, and celebrity roasts, as well as watching movies like American Pie and Scream that I very much doubt could be made today since they partially relied on tropes now seen as racist or sexist.

We can be funny, of course, without making fun of other people. And it’s especially a positive thing for famous people with large audiences to be sensitive to the feelings of others. But if comedy is truly about pushing boundaries in unexpected and absurd ways — then how do we both keep that going and follow all these newer rules?

Is simply not laughing and instead rolling our eyes not enough of a response when we hear a joke we don’t like?

I’ve been thinking about this question since it was announced that Chumel Torres, who became well-known for a sort of “Mexican Daily Show” program on YouTube, was being investigated for gender-based violence after making fun of Morena party Senator Bertha Alicia Caraveo Camarena on his show for supporting AMLO in the face of a scandal about his son’s opulent home in the United States. On the episode in question, among vitriolic humor at her expense, he referred to her as “mamacita” (cute chick). Caraveo acknowledged to the press this week that she had filed the report with authorities against Torres with the federal Attorney General’s Office.

My immediate response was to roll my eyes. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that I consider jokes about powerful politicians to be a necessary public service. It’s both a way of reminding those in power that we’re watching rather than ignoring them while they do as they please. It’s also a way of making sure average citizens have a notion of what’s going on in the political arena even if they don’t read the paper for three hours every day.

Not all politicians can take a joke, though. AMLO seems to have set the tone for his party in being particularly thin-skinned, although he doesn’t seem to have trouble personally with being flat-out mean in response — no humor-casing necessary.

That said, there’s a bit of nuance to unpack in the senator’s response: I personally think it’s fair to say that Torres was taking aim at her in her role as a politician; she responded, however, as if she were being attacked for being a woman, which I don’t believe was the case.

And anyway, she’s in the public eye. She’s one of the few people around here who is actually actively running the country. And people who say they’re our public servants when really they’re our rulers deserve major scrutiny and criticism when they mess up; it’s simply part of the job.

Perhaps she and AMLO could take a cue from President Obama, a master at knowing just how to deal with jokes at his expense — my favorite was when he announced he’d do even better than showing his birth certificate and would show a birth video … then put on the Simba presentation scene from The Lion King, to wild laughter and applause.

It’s OK to not laugh, and to feel hurt or mad instead. It’s good for jokesters to apologize when they realize they’ve hurt someone. But the real power move is when the target comes up with the perfect comeback that helps us all to take ourselves a little less seriously.

So let that papacito Chumel have it, Senator. Think of a good one. He can take it.

Sarah DeVries is a writer and translator based in Xalapa, Veracruz. She can be reached through her website, sdevrieswritingandtranslating.com and her Patreon page.



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