Autopsy of an Unappreciated Joke

As the sky cracks and the earth burns, our hearts are afroth with Pokémon Go. I hate the sneering dismissal of pop culture – it’s elitist, patronising and hypocritical. But with a world in crisis from Baton Rouge to the South China Sea, it is important prioritise where we invest our attention and energy. And as I look at the the levels of interest different topics receive on social media, I can’t help but think that that something is amiss.

To take an example completely at random, the other day I posted a status to Facebook about the new British Prime Minister, Theresa May. It was a three word joke – “Yes We May.” Hardly the funniest thing ever written, though at the time I thought it was pretty sharp and accessible. Twenty four hours later, it only had one like. Now obviously I don’t care about how many likes my statuses get on Facebook, but doesn’t that say something interesting about the trivialisation of our cultural discourse? Here was a well-crafted nugget of timely political satire, and people were too busy catching Jigglypuffs to notice.

One problem is that the giddy centrifuge of social media punishes nuance, allowing only the most superficial content to thrive. This is very clear on Twitter, where the symptoms of our societal decline are especially advanced. For instance, while #PokeomonGo trended worldwide, my “Yes We May” tweet got no traction at all, even though it works on a number of subtle levels.

Yes We May

Most obviously, the “Yes We May” joke is a pun on Barrack Obama’s 2008 election slogan and Theresa May’s name, but it’s also a wry bon mot about transatlantic cultural differences when it comes to grammar prescriptivism. This feeds into a deeper observational riff that juxtaposes the charismatic tenor of American politics with its comparatively uninspiring British counterpart, and lampoons the streak of cringing neuroticism that pervades Commonwealth culture.

But I don’t say all this to explain or talk up my “Yes We May” joke – I don’t think it was very good anyway. To be honest, I’m pretty indifferent about whether or not people dig my posts, which is why I deleted the “Yes We May” joke off Facebook. Not everything I create is going to be a winner, and I’m pretty mature when it comes to receiving feedback. The only reason I’ve even brought it up is to illustrate how tragic it is that people seem more interested in children’s games than they are in serious art. And when I say “people” I do include my friends.

People in reality are suffering, and all the drooling masses care to do is augment that reality with their silly little digimons. At its heart, that’s what the “Yes We May” joke is all about. A scathing attack on the born-to-rule attitude of the bourgeois elites Theresa May represents, the “Yes We May” joke is a profound exploration of the dark interplay between presumption, permission and power. But don’t listen to me – I’m sure you perfidious ingrates would rather wallow in your narcissistic fantasy world than deal with real issues.

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