Claude Paris/AP
French President Nicolas Sarkozy poses with a supporter holding a satirical portrait.

Satire Enjoys Renaissance Amid Economic and Political Adversity

February 10, 2009 10:30 AM
by Anne Szustek
Humor is taking center stage as an outlet to deal with stress during this latest recession.

Laughing at Financial Upheaval

A current exhibit of economics-themed cartoons from magazine The New Yorker at New York’s Morgan Library, planned during the flush market months of 2007, now packs an added punch of dark humor during the current recession.

Curator Jennifer Tonkovich told Reuters and was quoted as saying by Forbes magazine, 'There's a cartoon in the show by Lee Lorenz—it's a group of businessmen talking and one of them says 'Why don't we just say we have 91 percent full employment?'' She continues to point out that while the cartoon was published in 1976, it is just as timely today.

“Being able to smile, or laugh, or recognize a thought articulated through a cartoon, is actually a really cathartic thing right now,” Tonkovich said.

But the Morgan Library doesn’t hold a monopoly on tongue-in-cheek financial humor. “[P]eople the world over kept a sense of humor in 2008 despite financial woes,” wrote Reuters in late December 2008.

Among the punches pulled include a Canadian brewery’s “Bailout Bitter” beer with the slogan “bitter ale for bitter times,” and "Sarah's Smash Shack" in California, where for the recession-friendly price of $10, customers can spend 15 minutes smashing dinnerware.

Insurance broker Adam DeWitt and his wife availed themselves of Sarah’s smashing services after getting rejected for a home mortgage. "It was the best $50 we've spent in the last two years," he told Reuters.

Across the ocean, French political satire is seeing a revival thanks to French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s apparent idiosyncrasies, both public and personal. "Satire is definitely back. It pretty much stopped in the 1980s - [French] politically engaged comedians haven't been in vogue for 20 years," comedian Stéphane Guillon told The Observer. "But now, what with the [financial] crisis and Sarkozy ... we comedians haven't worked so hard in years.

Whether it’s perceived flippancy to the recession as he is seen partying with his former supermodel wife Carla Bruni, or his “inability to take a joke,” as The Observer writes, Sarkozy has proven ample fodder for satirists and caricaturists.

But Sarkozy’s apparent petulance has also made some wary of poking too much fun. “There is a lot to worry about,” Guy Bedos was quoted as saying in Le Nouvel Observateur by The Observer. “[C]ensorship has become very insidious.”

Related Topic: Laid-off financiers take up comedy

Amid massive layoffs, financial professionals are finding themselves chasing deferred dreams, becoming teachers, ranchers and even comedians.

Michael Terry was an executive director at Morgan Stanley who performed in comedy shows at night. When the company announced layoffs last February, Terry decided his severance package would give him the security he needed to work at becoming a comedian full time. Nearly a year after leaving Morgan Stanley, Terry has been featured in two skits for the Onion News Network and secured a spot for his sketch group, Party Central USA, at the Chicago Sketch Comedy Festival. 

Harry B. Weiner, a partner at On-Ramps, a recruiting and consulting firm targeting financial professionals, told The New York Times that he believes the economic atmosphere is conducive to taking risks and seeking out new opportunities. “[E]specially when you have a résumé that says ‘banking’ and no banks are hiring,” Weiner said.

Reference: Guides to U.S. economy, comedy


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