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Thoughts On And For A Structured Existence

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Social Commentary

The French Deflection: “Where Have You Gone Jean-Paul Sartre?”

France is currently experiencing a “crisis of identity”, where (the illusion of?) French Culture is increasingly less relevant in today’s distracted, anti-intellectual world. But the true origins of French malaise lie in a post World War II period first marked by liberation from Nazi occupation, then complicated by the Algerian War (1954-62).

Jean-Paul Sartre used the journal Les Temps Modernes (launched in 1945) as an instrument for the Existentialist “littérature engagée“:

“…an individual is responsible for making conscious decisions to commit socially useful acts.”

CV1_TNY_01_19_15Juan.inddSartre supported Algerian independence and the dismantling of French Imperialism, opposed the Vietnam War, and ultimately rejected Soviet Communism.

The terrorist assaults and the Charlie Hebdo shootings that have horrified the world in the past three years had as their precursor the French Government-sanctioned domestic attacks carried out by the paramilitary Organisation de l’armée secrète (OAS) in the late 1950’s and 1960’s.

Sartre himself survived bombings on his Paris apartment (shared with his mother) and the offices of Les Temps Modernes. The Algerian War saw the French government use torture against Algerian Nationalists and sympathizers, just a decade after being under Nazi domination.

The nightmares of past French extremism will continue sans Sartre’s dreamed for “Authenticity“.

“Too Many Notes”: Juggling Comedy, Satire And Social Commentary

  Your work is ingenious. It’s quality work. And there are simply too many notes…”
“Amadeus” (1984), Academy Award for Best Picture

    Malcolm Gladwell’s recent (and excellent) “Paradox of Satire” podcast (from “Revisionist History” series) has launched a necessary debate as to the place “Satire” has within televised comedy programming.

…it requires interpretation…”  

Gladwell makes the case that popular comedy shows, such as “The Colbert Report”, and comedians such as Tina Fey, simply overwhelm audiences with humorous “skits”. The Roman satirical poet Juvenal (late 1st – early 2nd centuries AD) echoed this almost 2,000 years ago when he wrote:

Honesty is admired, and starves.”.

Laughter can starve the effectiveness of satire and social commentary in the human brain through a psychological condition called “Cognitive Load“. This mental juggling, or multitasking, can overburden the working memory of most people. Thus, conservatives and liberals alike default to “stereotypes”, seeing their biases reinforced even when negatively portrayed.

The traditional purpose of satire is social criticism of abusive conditions in society, with the hope of bringing about change. And that takes courage. But comedians need ratings and laughs to stay on the air. Satire gives comedy a nice cache, but will wither before the bright lights and cameras.

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