Staunton, March 27 – Tom Lehrer said there was no room left for satire after Henry Kissinger was given the Nobel Peace Prize. Satire simply had no place to go given the absurdity of the world. Something similar happened recently in Russia with anecdotes: the regime had become so ridiculous that no one could make more fun of it than its leaders were doing.
But now, Ivan Davydov, a Snob commentator, acknowledges that anecdotes couldn’t compete with “state insanity” but adds that the coronavirus has trumped the regime and restored what has long been a precondition for anecdotes among Russians – a sense of hopelessness in the face of forces beyond anyone’s control (snob.ru/entry/190722/).
He gives several examples, but perhaps the best one is this. According to reports, the interior ministry is addressing his colleagues in the government. He says it is time to stop shillyshallying and to send all available forces into the streets and to shoot on the spot anyone who in anyway resists.
The prime minister breaks in and asks “And this will help defeat the coronavirus?” To which the MVD chief responds “What coronavirus?”
Davydov says that more such anecdotes are to be expected as long as the pandemic is taking place, although he worries that the powers that be in Russia will give even that plague a serious run for its money as far as anecdotes are concerned. And he reminds everyone that “the epidemic will end [and with it the anecdotes it is spawning] but the bosses will remain.”
In all too many ways, this recalls a Polilsh joke from 1991 about two Russians walking through Red Square as the Soviet flag is being pulled down from over the Kremlin. “Heard any good political jokes lately?” the first asks. The second replies “no, not a one.” And then the first offers an explanation: “when times are bad, people tell political jokes; when they get worse, people stop.”