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Satire under Siege (blog)

Three questions for Peter Wierenga

Why does a Danish cartoon of the Corona Virus spark outrage in China? Don't Chinese have a sense of humor? Or is their sense of humor simply not ours? In our series Laughing Matters, journalist Peter Wierenga explores how satire functions in different parts of the world, from China to Brazil and from Kenya to the USA. 

Wierenga is a writer and freelance journalist and writes mainly about politics, philosophy and the freedom of speech. For his latest book Raak! (2019), he interviewed several prominent cartoonists about their current ordeals. In the run-up to his lecture Satire under Siege on 12 February, we asked him three questions:

Q. How come you started to do research on this subject? Is there a personal link?
I started my research on the subject of satire after the attack on Charlie Hebdo in January 2015. Having studied Ancient Greek comedy at university, I realized that much more could be said of the function of satire in the history of Western culture. But it also fed my curiosity about how satire functions in different cultures, in other parts of the world.

Q. You looked into satire all over the world. What is the status of satire in the Netherlands?
A. Actually, the status of satire in the Netherlands is quite good, due to the fact that the rule of law functions well and the freedom of speech is deeply engrained into the Dutch constitution. The major threat over here still is jihadi islamism, as shown by the assault at Amsterdam Central Station as a way of revenge for Wilders’ proposed Mohammed Cartoon contest, which he already had cancelled.

On the other side of the political spectrum, political correctness may limit the space for cartoonists and comedians, though not in a direct way.

Q. What is a good example of satire you really love, and why?
A.  I really love the animation show South Park, because it eschews no taboos whatsoever and often finds a brilliant way to parody the embarrassing aspects of politics, whether that is Trump in the USA itself or China’s ban on Winnie the Pooh. In the Netherlands “Zondag met Lubach” is my favorite late night show, because of its very creative songs and “sketches“. The song about the Dutch “Golden Age” shows the dark side of history in a funny, entertaining way, while the great song “Woke” pokes fun with people who take their own “awareness “ much too seriously.


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