Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The irrevolution will be televised

The Colbert - Assange "interview" is remarkable for its confluence of horror and televisible humor. It offers suppressed information about an apparent war crime, which, moved into the open, is discussed with comedic flair. The revelation involves the deaths of Iraqi citizens, harmed children, chuckling US soldiers. Assange of Wikileaks is allegedly concerned for his personal welfare.

Something seems shared here, in the provocative binding of the release of forbidden knowledge with comedy. At the very least, there's a trust, both in emancipators of repressed realities and in comedy's preference for the vernacular, that bringing something out into the public light of day will be better than keeping it secret. Indeed Colbert riffs on that theme in the segment. For Freud, jokes find socially performable ways to liberate the hostile and the obscene.

One common element between intelligence leaks and laughter is surrender of control. As forbidden speech is uttered, those who wished it to remain unspoken lose their power over it, and over the conditions of ignorance enabled by its suppression. When a comedian climbing a ladder suddenly finds the ladder heading backward to the floor, his situation is similar -- the crash is the explosion of the unforeseeable surprise, the force of the punch line.

Though here, the force derives from the detonation of an artificial stranglehold on what is true. As Zizek has noted:
Truth has the structure of a fiction: what appears in the guise of dreaming, or even daydreaming, is sometimes the truth on whose repression social reality itself is founded.  

The rhetorical features of parody -- sober, straight-faced presentation of something too absurd to be real -- are pressed into the service of its inverse: This time, the truth is not a hoax, the tongue-in-cheek presentation strangely melds with the horror of war that is always unfamiliar to the public whose soldiers are waging it somewhere else. In all comic seriousness, it's not unlike an April Fool's jape coming home to roost.

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