Apocalypse humour: not the end of the world

Things are bad, aren’t they? On the day I’m writing this, Marine le Pen, the leader of a cast-iron, no-bones-about-it, they-literally-call-themselves-that fascist party, has been photographed in Trump Tower. Yesterday was the shower of shite that was Trump’s first press conference since winning the election. It doesn’t really matter though; you could be reading this in a week or a month and I’m sure something equally awful has just happened. Or maybe it’s something that’s making you think, “ha, they were worried about Trump meeting fascists! God, didn’t things like that seem worth worrying about back then? Those were the days!”, before you have to yell at your kid to stop playing with that bomb wreckage or he’ll get radiation poisoning, and that if he doesn’t pack it in right now he won’t get his ration of stewed rat.

The continual response to the torrent of non-stop awfulness that is the news is joking that it’ll be the apocalypse before we know it. “We’re all going to die! In an actual nuclear war!” everyone keeps joking. While that is a good joke, I’d like to suggest it’s unhelpful in a couple of ways. Talking about the end of the world seems an automatic response to the sheer shittiness of what’s happening at the moment. It feels like it is the end of the world, because everything’s changed. Nothing works in the same way it used to, racists are now the ones who deserve a fair hearing for their opinions and anyone left of, well, the far right is a free-speech denying Nazi if they don’t listen and go “hmm, yes, good point, hadn’t thought of that.” Apparently up is now down, the Black Death is now A Good Thing, and I’ve just heard that later this week, the land and sea will be swapping places. When what we thought of as logic goes out of the window, isn’t it already the end of the world?

Well, no. The racism and sexism that are so shocking to all of us didn’t suddenly appear overnight, it’s just now they’re in a position of power and are more vocal. And this is what we need to remember. Things are going to get worse for all of us, but for some of us, it’s going to be (even) worse than for others. For example, if racist views are legitimised, people of colour are going to suffer – as in, literally, physically suffer, in an immediate sense. Look at what happened just after the Brexit vote – while the ‘climate of intolerance’ was uncomfortable for (presumably) slightly more than 48% of the country, it was most uncomfortable for people who were spat on, told to ‘go home’, or physically attacked. (Disclaimer: Brexit not all about immigration, legitimate reasons for voting Brexit, not all Brexiteers racists, etc. etc.)

What I’m saying is that if we go “everything is terrible!”, we should remember it’s not equally terrible for everyone, and some people need prioritising because they’re going to get it worst. We need to recognise what is happening, specifically, to particular groups of people. (I’m deliberately vague about which groups because who knows what’s next.) Joking about it being the end of the world – something so massive that it can’t be comprehended, and can only exist as a kind of jokey idea in our heads – overlooks the fact that some people are living in genuine fear of immediate, physical violence because of this. Making it into “end of the world lol” ignores the particular problems happening right now.

Anyway, it probably won’t be the end of the world, because if Trump is buddying up with awful leaders (or leaders-in-waiting – dear God, France, please do the right thing), it’s much less likely they’re all going to nuke each other. As much as it seems incredible that a man who tweets angrily to call Meryl Streep a big stupid buttface with a stinky butt for a face [citation needed] has control of nuclear weapons, I don’t think we really need to worry about dying in a nuclear holocaust. Various leaders who rely on the rhetoric of intolerance all linking up together does play directly into what I mentioned above, though.

On the other hand, it might literally be the end of the world. I’ve always thought “the end of the world” is a stupid phrase, because what it normally means is “the end of civilisation” – the rest of the planet will carry on fine without us humans. However, climate change is, like, really fucking bad you guys, and yet the USA’s soon-to-be-government don’t even seem convinced it’s real, let alone a problem. At this point that’s not like seeing a hungry lion running towards you and saying “pfft, there’s no such thing as lions!”; it’s like saying that once your head is inside the lion’s mouth. The worst effects of climate change would be cataclysmically bad for all people and the rest of the planet. And don’t think this is just about a few jungles and that getting a bit smaller – it will be bad for people, too. It already is. Just to pick one tiny way the human world could be affected by climate change: Bangladesh is very densely populated and could easily pretty much disappear thanks to rising sea levels. Where do you think those 250-odd million people are going to go? You think there’s a refugee crisis now? Pur-lease. We really, really need to do something about climate change, and the idea of the most powerful government in the world not taking it seriously is really frightening.

Of course we should make jokes about Trump and Farage and Putin and le Pen and the rest of them. They are ridiculous human beings. Making fun of them is an important way to delegitimise them and make ourselves feel slightly less worried. It’s just that we need to take the problems they’re causing fucking seriously, too.

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