Good for arts and grim laughs

Published 10:26 am Thursday, March 16, 2017


By Rheta Grimsley Johnson

A short woman strutted in an enormous sombrero with a brick wall painted beneath the wide brim. A trio with shower caps and clear umbrellas pranced as “The Golden Showers,” carrying signs that read “We’re all being hissed on.” Except the word was not “hissed.”

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A group of revelers distributed green lapel ribbons and admonished us all to “Remember the Bowling Green Massacre!” A Truth Fairy used her wand to zap alternative facts.

Trump may be good for the arts.

Mardi Gras morning’s St. Anne parade has a history, since 1969, of being funny, political and daring. It doesn’t roll, it walks. There are no spectators, only hundreds of costumed participants.

This year it set the creativity bar high. The parade began in the edgy, artistic Bywater neighborhood and headed merrily toward the French Quarter. Soon it had more marching Trump jokes than a year of Doonesbury.

Yes, despite his apparent lack of a sense of humor or irony or aesthetics, Trump may be good for the arts. Consider the revival of “Saturday Night Live” and increased ratings for late-night comedians.

In an administration providing so much fodder, comics and artists and musicians have their tools ready. You can’t make this stuff up. And you don’t have to.

In my trade, it’s called “gallows humor.” You laugh to keep from crying.

Sigmund Freud had a run at defining gallows humor. It’s what the oppressed do to ease their own suffering and to undermine the will of the oppressor. “Witticism in response to a hopeless situation” is another definition.

Reporters on deadline use it. Morticians use it. Prisoners use it — remember “Cool Hand Luke”? Jews in concentration camps used it. Soldiers use it.

When times get tough, the tough tell a joke. Paint a mural. Write a book. Compose a song.

The material is there for the picking.

When federal dollars could be spent on so many useful things, we’re looking for at least $15 billion to build a wall.  George W. Bush, of all people, is defending the press. The president of the United States refuses to release his tax returns. The White House is too shabby a residence for the First Family.

Not only can you not make this stuff up, if you have a creative brain, you can’t ignore it. The hard part is settling on what to satirize, draw, sing about.

The poorest Trump cabinet member is worth around $800,000. Congressmen with great federal health insurance are doing their damnedest to kill the only insurance plan millions of their constituents have ever had. The administration is rolling back environmental regulations that have gone a long way toward cleaning up our cities in past decades. In a competitive global economy, we’re talking about killing public education and picking fights with trade partners.

We are laughing all the way to a morally bankrupt nation, one that uses race and religion to profile its citizens. One that thinks it is OK for the most senior and disadvantaged of its citizens to lack medicine and basic health care.

I looked up “gallows humor” on Wikipedia. One entry mentioned Oscar Wilde’s last words. When he found himself on his boarding-house deathbed, stone broke and without hope, the writer and wag told a joke.

“Either that wallpaper goes or I do.”

There was a man who could die laughing.