The Power of Ridicule

In the aftermath of the July 2005 bombings, a friend and I discussed the appropriate response during the course of an afternoon's walk. We were unanimous. They could only be one response to such an outrage! A SITCOM.

We reasoned a security clampdown would be counter-productive. It would only frighten the public and glamorise the bad guys. No, prevention is better than cure. And so we thought the best way to stop young angry men from becoming suicide bombers would be to make the very idea of martyrdom ridiculous. Make the protagonists not shadowy villains, but hapless clowns.

We never penned our sitcom, after all, we were technologists not screenwriters. Fortunately, a group of far greater minds - Chris Morris and the writers of Peep Show - had the same idea. The result is a film called "Four Lions", recently premièred at Sundance. It is jihad as farce. Great work.

You can write essays on the folly of established religion. You can deliver impassioned speeches. But you'll never be as awesomely subversive as an episode of Father Ted. Belief can not be denied. Only ridiculed.

You may say: comedy is just bourgeois chatter. But how many satirical programmes are there in Iran, or China? Satire can't topple governments, but it still has the power to influence. That's why they ban it.

Postscript. One day, an angry old preacher tells a young lonely loser of the glory and heavenly gratification that await him in martyrdom. But our message got to him first. And he laughs in the old man's face...

Snow Joke

Transport chaos again in London today. Snowmaggedon? Not quite. Just a few hours of snow flurries, and a centimetre or two on the ground. But the train operators weren't taking any chances, pre-emptively cancelling most of their services, and introducing an 'emergency timetable'. The fragility of British transport infrastructure is a personal bugbear - but never mind, I'm sure "the market will fix it". At least this excellent Transport Chaos mash-up made me laugh.

What makes a message go viral?

The New Scientist has investigated, appropriately enough, by running an experiment. Through their article I stumbled Judith Donath's paper on "Signals in Social Supernets", which has a good explanation of why people are so keen to share things they didn't make themselves. (And that impulse to share is stronger than any fear of the law).

My professional life involves the study of social networks, and speaking from personal experience, I agree with Donath's explanation. Basically, it's about social proof. About demonstrating your position in the information food chain. You're In The Know. The truffle pig. Quality is scarce, but your effort filters and aggregates it. Sharing is, indeed, caring.
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