Thursday, July 13, 2006

Hammer & Tickle

Hammer & Tickle is a fascinating (and often hilarious) essay by Ben Lewis about jokes under communism. It traces the history and evolution of the seemingly simple topic of joke-telling in the USSR, and includes along the way some truly funny political jokes. Lewis makes the point that communism itself "produces its own punchline," creating an "absurd, laugh-a-minute reality." While I'm sure there are many people who would argue that communism is not all that funny, you can see his point - there's nothing like standing in a queue for hours and hours to make someone want to tell a joke to relieve the frustration. Take this example, which apparently Gorbachev himself told on British television in 1996:
A man is queuing for food in Moscow. Finally he's had enough. He turns round to his friend and says "That's it. I'm going to kill that Gorbachev," and marches off. Two hours later he comes back. "Well," says the friend, "did you do it?" "No," replies the other, "there was an even longer queue over there."
And then there's the jokes that criticise communism itself:
Why is the individual placed in the centre of socialism? So it's easy to kick him from all sides.
Or this one, which Ronald Reagan apparently told to Gorbachev (both leaders placed heavy significance on the importance of the jokes being told: Reagan received weekly memos of collated jokes):
Two men are walking down a street in Moscow. One asks the other, "Is this full communism? Have we really passed through socialism and reached full communism?" The other answers "Hell, no. It's gonna get a lot worse first."
Then there are the ones you feel guilty about laughing at, because well, they're funny because they're so damned true. Apparently Stalin himself loved to tell this one:
A Georgian delegation come to visit Stalin. They come, they talk to Stalin, and then they go, heading off down the Kremlin's corridors. Stalin starts looking for his pipe. He can't find it. He calls in Beria, the dreaded head of his secret police. "Go after the delegation, and find out which one took my pipe," he says. Beria scuttles off down the corridor. Five minutes later Stalin finds his pipe under a pile of papers. He calls BeriaƂ—"Look, I've found my pipe." "It's too late," Beria says, "half the delegation admitted they took your pipe, and the other half died during questioning."
Communism - it's a laugh a minute! [found via bb]

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