Introduction: The Ethics and Aesthetics of Humour and Comedy
Two years ago, as we were planning this book, a story made the headlines. It was featured in all the major newspapers in Western Europe. Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian prime minister and billionaire media magnate, had begun his term as president of the European parliament in Strasbourg with an ill-judged and highly offensive remark. He had rounded accusingly on the German MEP, Martin Schulz, with the suggestion that he should take a part as a guard in a film about Nazi concentration camps. Most of those present were appalled, though Berlusconi beamed broadly after delivering his insult. Berlusconi is renowned for possessing the gift of the gaffe, but this was a comic blunder of enormous proportions. He was widely condemned for his crude national stereotyping and crass moral insensitivity, but he then managed to slip further into the mire by claiming that in his own country, Holocaust jokes have been ‘doing the rounds’ for years because Italians knew how to laugh about ‘that kind of tragedy’. His attempt at damage limitation only succeeded in causing offence further afield, among Italy’s Jewish community and Jewish people around the world. Even in his own country, the newspaper La Stampa pronounced Berlusconi’s remark poisonous, and said: ‘A joke can ruin everything.’
KeywordsFree Speech European Parliament Real Thing Jewish People Comic Discourse
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