Laughing at the Castros, a Mortal Sin / Cubanet, Victor Manuel Dominguez

Eleuterio, character in the play “Crematorium” (archive photo)

For the Cuban government, when satire is against the “enemy,” it is useful and refreshing. Otherwise it is subversive

cubanet square, Victor Manuel Dominguez, Havana, 15 October 2015 – In a country where joking, sarcasm, satire, mockery, in sum, any kind of humor, are more daily than our stunted, acidic, furry and greenish daily bread, the authorities become tense and wage war on any joke large or small that unleashes laughter.

Apparently, political and economic control, leftovers for citizens and other deeds by a Revolution in power, prevent them from chuckling, laughing or even cracking a smile that allows them to resemble a human being and not the miserable lout who fears a raspberry more than the Devil on the cross.

According to the article, A Very Serious Joke, published in the State newspaper Granma by Sergio Alejandro Gomez, the Office of Cuban Broadcasting (OCB) from the United States, is prepared to finance an act of subversion in Cuba, in the form of a satirical program.

Mocked Mockers

For the information and serenity of the “de-humarized” spokesman, if “humor is the gentler of despair,” as Oscar Wilde said, we Cubans are the friendly gentlemen of the joke, the courteous knights of mockery, and the attentive guests of parody, in a country where one laughs in order not to cry.

And if not even Jorge Manach himself, with his Investigation of Mockery, could prevent us Cubans from laughing at ourselves, still less will a bitter dictator be able to do it, a lap dog with an anemic smile or anyone who publicly censors humor because of fear and locks himself away in order to laugh.

Besides, there is no one like the Cuban authorities for inciting mockery as long they are not mocked. From the beginning of the Revolution, the magazine Mella and the Juventud Rebelde supplement, El Sable, began to satirize the American people, their government and their way of life.

Marcos Behmaras, in his Salacious Stories from Reader’s Indigestion and Other Tales mocked them with “a fresh and suggestive humor, a tone in keeping with our character, but always provoking reflection by means of accurate, witty satire through a sense of humor that always attacks deeply, not remaining on the surface,” according to “joke-ologist” Aleida Lilraldi Rodriguez.

Which is to say that when satire is directed at the other, the enemy, it is useful and refreshing. Otherwise, it is subversive. If Marcos Behmaras had trained his satirical guns at olive-green prudishness and excessive modesty, the salacious stories would have fallen on him like a flood of party membership cards.

His brilliant satirical articles Is It Worth It Having Money?, Those Happy Ones Dead from Hunger, by “Miss Mona P. Chugga” Eisenhower’s Trip: Failure or Triumph? by “Mary Wanna,” or Are You a Potential Psychopath? by “Doctor John Toasted” would have gotten him condemned to death for joking.

A Hanging Offense

To illustrate even further what a joke, satire or any other kind of humor costs when it is aimed at a totalitarian regime, let’s remember, incidentally, that The Joke (1961), a novel by Czech writer Milan Kindera, was described as “the Bible of the counter-revolution.” Another of his works, The Book of Laughter and Forgetfulness, got him stripped of his nationality. Tolerant, no?

But Cuban rulers do not lag far behind. Like imitators of any system or religion, they consider laughter a relaxation of good customs, a lack of seriousness and from other priestly poses that bring on death by boredom, they contribute their grain of bitterness against humor.

In the 1960’s, the comedy duo Los Tadeos was expelled from Cuban television and exiled for the simple crime of asking on a live program: “What is the crowning achievement for a president?” and answering: “Starving people to death and giving them a free burial.”

Around the same time, but in the Marti Theater, a comedian as great as Leopoldo Fernandez (Three Skates), in a scene where he had to hang several paintings of famous figures on the wall, on seeing that one was the image of Fidel, he pointed at it with his finger and said: “Look, I hung him.” It was the last straw.

That joke sufficed to have him shut out of the theater, and the humorist had to leave for exile or starve at home. And although other cases right up to today attest to the rulers’ fear of mockery or satire, none remained in the popular imagination like those.

All except for a popular and prescient joke that was attributed to Cataneo, a singer with Trio Taicuba, who on seeing the Caravan of Liberty with the bearded ones pass along Havana’s Malecon on that distant January 8th of 1959, he was said to say: “Only those who know how to swim will be saved.” And so it was.

Translated by Mary Lou Keel