Kitchen Wars

In the West, Russians are often depicted as dour and humorless—but humor is one of the great weapons in fighting tyranny.

The best jokes—and the best music—come out in times of adversity, and all tyrants hate to be laughed at. From pocket-bullies like the orange man to proper meanies like Uncle Vlad, mockery is their kryptonite.

Never has so much fun been poked at an American president, but after he loses the November election, no one will ever laugh at him again—that’s the way of the world. Putin, on the other hand, has just achieved the ambition of every putative dictator—the lifetime award.

Xi Jinping pipped him to the post, but then no one in their right mind would call China a democratic society—and in their defense, the Chinese government makes no pretense of it.

In China, memes, video, and indirect references—particularly puns—are all the rage when it comes to political pushback—witness the banning of Winnie The Pooh, for obvious reasons, and the use of the number 2 in protest of Xi’s push for more than two terms, such as in the mathematical inequality N>2.

A classic, reproduced from my article over two years ago.

In the Middle Kingdom, the term is egao, or evil works, and internet egao is rampant.

In 2009, the ‘grass mud horse’ appeared, with Chinese characters cǎo ní mǎ. The word ma is one of the best known to Mandarin beginners, with its five meanings depending on the character tone: mother, hemp, horse, and scold. The final ma is the equivalent of a question mark.

Of the set above, I was unfamiliar with mud, or cǎo. A small change to cào nǐ mā converts the sentence into ‘fuck your mother’—the grass mud horse first appeared to poke fun at government censorship of vulgar humor.

Hu Jintao was very keen on harmony—dissenters often quipped they’d been ‘harmonized.’

In Mandarin, harmony is made of three characters: bèi hé xié, or simply hé xié. In this vein of humor, the Chinese speak of being ‘river-crabbed’, or bèi hé xiè. Note the only differences are the character river (), and crab (xiè).

The river crab is an ecological foe of the grass mud horse—at least to Chinese netizens.

This particular harmony takes the piss out of Jiang Zemin’s three represents: economic production, cultural development, and political consensus.

More on all that here, but let’s move east to the banks of the Volga. As you might expect, state TV paints a rosy picture of life in Russia that isn’t matched by the food in the kitchen. Russians call it the ‘battle between the television and the fridge.’

Putin’s robust approach to foreign policy, together with expert media manipulation and disinformation, is giving the victory to the TV, even if supplies are dwindling from the chiller drawers to the icebox.

Anti-government humor has no place in Russia, whereas it is used as a tool by the regime to great advantage. When the UK suggested Russian involvement was ‘highly likely’ in the Skripal poisoning, the typical Brit understatement grew wings and appeared everywhere as a source of mirth.

The Soviet Union gave us some classic anti-tyranny anekdoty, such as this gem.

On a sunny morning, Brezhnev goes out on the balcony of his apartment, looks to the east, and says, “Hello, sun!” The sun replies, “Good morning, dear Leonid Ilyich, the beloved leader of our glorious socialist motherland, the hope of all progressive humanity, and the guardian of peace on Earth!” In the evening, Brezhnev admires the beautiful sunset and fishes for a compliment: “Hello again, sun!” The sun answers, “Poshyol na khuy—go fuck yourself—I am in the West now.”

The Putin equivalents don’t seem to target the man himself, so much as taking the piss out of his counterparts.

Vladimir Putin is calling the White House. Hello, Donald? I would like to discuss Ukraine with you.”
Trump: “What’s Ukraine?”
Putin: “Thanks, Donald!”

There are, however, a good many jokes circulating about Putin that are not so flattering—the emphasis is on corruption and the president’s immense wealth, and on his strong-man foreign policy, predicated on occupation.

America’s strength comes to the fore when compared to the examples above—even a Fox anchor suggested to the Republican National Committee chair that MAGA should stand for Masks Are Great Again, and managed to get a smile.

Trump is physically incapable of smiling at something like that—I doubt he’d manage a grimace—but ever the opportunist, he’s now declared support for masks, even joking he’d wear a Lone Ranger one. Never mind that the famous radio show character from the 1930’s covered his eyes, rather than his mouth and nose—I prefer to focus on his Comanche sidekick, called Tonto—in Latin America that means ‘idiot.’

If the COVID stretch continues, you’ll soon hear the orang-u-tan tell you how he’s always loved masks, and that he was one of the great instigators of mask-wearing. Folks will gasp in amazement, and clips will be played stating the opposite, but none of that will count.

Everyone’s a sucker for the old reality show. Yet all the humor persists, from late show hosts to YouTube memes, and the virus insists on chasing Trump’s re-election into the grave.

The RNC is coming soon to a non-curve-crushed venue near you. After that, it’s a whisper to November. And on that day, the US will begin to recover from it’s worst mistake in decades.

I could write this article in the States. I couldn’t write it in Russia or China. And that makes all the difference.

By the way—what MAGA should stand for, if folks come to their senses, is Masks Are Good for America.

Trump will be defeated by a nanoparticle.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, Clear Eyes, and Folk Tales For Future Dreamers. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

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