Humour as Politics: Parody, Irony, and Satire in Southeast Asia
Fri 09:00-10:30 Room 3.09
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Comedy and Satire in Popular Theatre: On Parallelism between the Italian Commedia dell’arte and the Vietnamese Chèo
Thuy Hien Le Università di Napoli L'Orientale
“If Chinese theatre is best represented by Peking Opera, Japanese theatre by the No, then the Vietnamese opera has its roots most firmly planted in chèo” (Huu Ngoc: 2017)
Humour and Laughter in the Malay World: giving a voice to the underprivileged
Jan van der Putten Universität Hamburg
After discussing a few approaches and definitions of humour, I will look into the premises of humour that one often encounters in Malay and Indonesian popular sources. It is quite often absurd, based in misunderstanding, allusive and acted in a clumsy way reminiscent of slapstick. It also is also common indexing social differences where the power of humour is with the underprivileged undermining the authority of the superior. However, eventually the social order will prevail and ‘normality’ will continue after some comical relief.
Humour as Politics in Contemporary Indonesia. Three female artists and their witty stories
Antonia Soriente Università di Napoli L'Orientale
This paper highlights the role of three contemporary female artists in addressing sensitive issues in Indonesia through the use of ordinary though parodic language, a writer, Feby Indirani, a stand up comedian, Sakdiyah Ma’Ruf and an actress and activist, Inayah Wahid. Feby Indirani is a young author whose stories talk about religion, dogmatism and fundamentalism in a surrealistic way. Her motto ‘Relax it’s just Religion’ is her way to fight against the rise of moral conservatism that is spreading everywhere in Indonesia. She takes a clear position in favor of multiculturalism, women, animal rights, minorities using magical and surrealistic stories. Each of the stories of her books Bukan perawan Maria and Memburu Muhammad the reader is faced by images that trigger laughter.
According to Terry Eagleton (2019) humor has a political function in the fact that it can censor, transform and dissolve social conflict through explosions of laughter. Drawing from Mikhail Bakhtin’s ‘celebration of the carnival, “full of ambivalent laughter, blasphemy, the profanation of everything sacred, full of debasing and obscenities, familiar contact with everyone and everything, humor is a reply to the official ideologies.” In today’s Indonesia Feby’s absurd stories represent a kind of revolution towards dogmatic truths like the ones told in her books. For example, a woman can become pregnant without having sex, a female pig cannot become a Moslem because she is impure, Arabic is the language of God. Feby in some way subverts the status quo that sees pious women covered in their head with a hijab when a terrorist blows himself to reach Paradise and has to face an ordinary metropolitan woman without hijab that smokes against his face. Again, following Eagleton, parody may be a fictionalized form of insurrection, “but it also provides a safety valve for such subversive energies.” This is what Sakdiyah Ma’Ruf does with her comedies where stereotypes try to destroy stereotypes. Her gigs try to subvert status quo about women of Arabic descent like herself and about Moslems who have to face religious conservatism and discrimination about women.
Daughter of Indonesia’s fourth President, Abdurrahman Wahid, Inayah Wahid has inherited the same sense of humor that was able to make ‘heads of States to break in wide smiles. In her role as a comedy actress, Inayah mixes wit with seriousness in her gigs meant to spread social activism on religion, multiculturalism, equality, democracy, and human rights. Through her positive Movements NGO Inayah drives young people to spread the values of happiness and positive enthusiasm in life and to raise awareness that all elements in the society have the power to make positive changes and create peace. Driving a motorcycle taxi in the OK-Jek sitcom on Net TV she declares to have fulfilled her greatest dream to become a television actress whereas in gigs like Apakah jalan mencari jodoh itu butuh google maps ‘Using google maps to look for a soulmate’ she engages with funny observations with the well known puppeteer Sujiwo Tedjo to reflect on daily social issues mixed to traditional wayang stories and characters.
The three female artists offer a pleasant break from the hard work of maintaining a sense of reality, of “congruence, coherence, consistency, logic, linearity” in today’s Indonesia. Incongruity is pleasant when and because it is funny, therefore it can become the key to easily reflect on reality.
Internet Memes, Politics, and the Pandemic in the Philippines
Eloisa May P Hernandez University of the Philippines
The Philippines has a long history of humour and/in politics - from the pusong (Filipino trickster) in comedia and sarsuwela, Juan Tamad folktales translated to films (e.g. Juan Tamad Goes to Congress directed by National Artist Manuel Conde in 1960), the films of Dolphy (known as the “King” of Philippine comedy, popular comic strips such as Kenkoy, Pugad Baboy and Ikabod, the Erap jokes during President Joseph Estrada’s term, the Gloria-Garci jokes, to name a few.
The Normality of the Crazy Family: Political Humor in the Old Order
Seno Ajidarma Jakarta Institute of Art
Semar, Gareng, Petruk, Bagong, are the local clowns from Java which negotiate the superiority of characters in the Mahabharata and Ramayana mythologies that dominate the Hindu-Buddhist narratives in the 9-10th century. Started as the entertaining entourage called “punakawan”, in the 19th century these punakawan characters take place as the dominant attraction in the contradictory sophisticated dance-theatre. Firstly, because they were funny, with the acrobatic logic of humor; secondly, as the catharsis of criticism for the ordinary people in the feudal culture environment. Politically their position also changed, from the status of servant to a double role as the advisor-gods inside the human body, that will act in the time of power crisis.
As pointed out by many scholars (Davies 1998, Hodgart 2009, Kessel and Merziger 2011, Tsakona and Popa 2015, Sørensen 2016, Davis 2017, Holm 2017, Le Breton 2018, Wedderburn 2021), laughter does not only have psychological, philosophical, or religious implications, but also includes social and political ones. Humour, in its various forms, including comedy, irony, satire, caricature, parody, etc., can help highlight social situations, dominant thoughts and opinions in a certain group and at a certain time. In Southeast Asia the use of political humour both as an art form and a mode of persuasive discourse dates back for centuries, and politicians and elites have been well aware of its powerful influence on public opinion, leading to the use of humour against foreign occupation, colonialism and imperialism in the past, or against limitations of civil and political rights in modern times. Though humour is rather common both in traditional and contemporary Southeast Asian arts and cultures, the field of humour in Southeast Asia is still relatively unexplored. The comparative lack of knowledge in the West of Southeast Asian arts and literature, and the scarcity of studies dedicated to them makes it difficult to draw an overall picture of the humourous production in the area. This may contribute to the Eurocentric stereotype according to which humour in the Eastern world is often obscure, incomprehensible, paradoxical, and even perhaps non-existent (Davis 2006). This in addition to the fact that humour is not always found in the same contexts and at the same conditions it occurs in European cultures. In fact, in Southeast Asia, humour is a powerful force just as in the rest of the world, and it is closely connected to both the language and the socio-cultural context in which it is produced. The papers in this panel address the role and politics of humour in Southeast Asia by exploring different humorous styles, including comedy, irony, satire, parody and the grotesque, as well as its various manifestations, including Southeast Asian folklore, literature and theatre, ritual performances, dance performances, the politics of performance, stand-up comedy, meme, media and journalism, etc., in different Southeast Asian contexts. By reflecting on various approaches to the study of political humour’s content, audience, and impact, this panel offers scholars multiple ways to consider the effects of political humour on individuals and society, and how humour helps understand better the socio-political complexities in this part of the world.