No laughing matter?
The media has never had less of a sense of humour than it does today. They take everything equally seriously, whether it's overnight snowfall, an ex-Miss Switzerland in a helicopter or Federal Counsellor Leuenberger in a book club. And because they treat everything with the same deadly seriousness, they actually don't treat things with the seriousness they deserve. They fail to see the ridiculous side of everyday human life, which means they don't understand what's really going on in our motley world.
Take the latest chapter in the financial crisis, for example: Bernard Madoff, the suave stock market guru, confidant of the mega-rich and famous, hedge fund manager. He managed to fool them all - and with one of the oldest tricks in the book: a pyramid scheme. He wasn't multiplying his clients' money; he was multiplying the number of clients instead, using the new money flowing in to satisfy the expectations of his existing clientèle.
Isn't that just hilarious? A refined, 70-year-old, renowned member of high society who always talked about "ethical standards" relieving his golf buddies of a staggering 50 billion. Once upon a time this would have been the stuff of dramas, satires and comedies. Now it's just news fodder. You can see it in their faces, the open-mouthed journalists who simply can't grasp what they're being asked to report. It just doesn't fit into their childlike image of the world. A loveable rogue? Surely not. Doesn't make sense. And journalists just can't understand something that doesn't make sense.
But people with a sense of humour do. They get together in Internet chat rooms and newspaper on-line discussion forums - and laugh, joke and poke fun, so much so that it's often a joy to read. People with a good sense of humour have long realised that the world of human beings is a thoroughly ambiguous one. Human beings are ridiculous creatures, part intellect, part a varice, sometimes virtuous, sometimes malign. How do the people chatting away on the web know this? From themselves, of course. They're assessing the world based on their own experiences. On their own weaknesses. They know how much they have in common with the fraudster Madoff - and with those who fell for his pitch. Which means they're really laughing at themselves.
But aren't journalists people too? Yes, probably. But when they're working, they think like professionals. Real media types can't stand anything human - they want order, clarity, goodness. Employing humour would be seen as indulging humanity's failings, which is something that would have all upstanding journalists up in arms, and sometimes that would be exactly the right reaction. But having such a restrictive attitude means that it's impossible to understand mishaps. Mishaps are human. Greed is human. Deceit is human. It's been that way since time immemorial and that's how it always will be.
The world simply understands who it is we're laughing at when we laugh at humanity. Ourselves, of course!