As the heat of summer beats down and the last days of vacation fade away, the serious business of whatever will start again. The campaign for President of the United States will begin in earnest, the economic situation within the European Union will once more make front page news, the civil war in Syria will increasingly spill over to other countries, Israel will more and more threaten to attack Iran and the Dow Jones index should retreat from its artificial summer high. Those returning to the office from the mountains or shores will open piles of letters and e-mails, and once again bear down to work. Children will put away their bathing suits and dust off their schoolbooks long hidden under some pile in their rooms. In other words, we should start being serious again.
Or should we? In the 1960's, a group of young Oxbridge academics staged "Beyond the Fringe." It was a show of political satire that made its way from Edinburgh to London to Broadway and even onto the television screen. The sketches poked fun at political authority with a charming dose of British humor, much of which was also evident at the recent Olympic spectacular spectacle. How marvelous to see James Bond with the Queen jumping out of a helicopter! How clever to have put Mr. Bean performing with a symphony orchestra! How very British to be able to be poke fun while at the same time being serious in presenting the greatest show on earth. The Olympics were all part of the summer reprieve.
Since we are not all British, I keep wondering how to read the news and maintain a sense of humor. Mort Sahl, Lenny Bruce and Dick Gregory were all funny during the Kennedy era until the Vietnam War and civil rights movement took the humor out of satire. Gregory stopped satire, he said, when Henry Kissinger won the Nobel Peace Prize. There was nothing more absurd, he said. Jon Stewart does get in his jabs and Patrick Chappatte's cartoons are consistently right to the point. The Borowitz Report in the New Yorker regularly makes me smile. But, is there sufficient room within our global technology to maintain the distance necessary for satire or humor? CNN brings us right to the fighting front, right to the latest disaster, right to the hungry and impoverished. We are on the spot with the latest catastrophe. The "latest breaking news" can break your heart.
The last days of summer are fading. Time to be serious again. Hopefully with some distance and humor.