May 4, 2005


Is it time for a British revolution?: The last time acclaimed novelist Andrey Kurkov got involved in an election, it was to help feed the thousands of protesters who braved sub-zero temperatures for weeks to forge Ukraine's orange revolution. So we asked him to visit a constituency where just 34% of people bothered to vote. What was his verdict on our democracy? (Andrey Kurkov, April 26, 2005, The Guardian)

I got acquainted with Great Britain in 1988, and was immediately struck by the dry, national politeness and the fact that everywhere, or at least in my presence, people talked about money. I arrived from the USSR and was sure that money was not the most important thing in life. I still believe this.

I remember how, in June 1988, a London Rotary Club invited me to dinner. I was to give a speech on the subject of "How the British look to a Slave (or was it a Soviet?) Person". I already had a small store of complaints about the country and its national character and, for some reason I was under the impression that I should say what I really thought.

While I was speaking, the waiter filled the wine glasses and when I had concluded my speech, the president of the club stood up and proposed a toast to the Queen. I reached for my glass, only to discover that it was empty. This was the first revenge dealt out to me for my spontaneous criticism of the country's national character, but it was also my initiation into the British sense of humour and, I have to say, I liked it. Ever since, my regular trips to the UK have forced me to notice two clear trends: ever-increasing prices and the gradual disappearance of that subtle and, at times, black humour.

This visit has convinced me that it is time to put a protection order on the British sense of humour, because otherwise it will remain only in the history books and works of literature. I have tried to work out what is responsible for this disappearance. Is it global warming, crime or illegal immigration? Is it the drug problem or the MRSA bug? Or is there a specific political force behind this phenomenon? I seem to remember that humour was on the wane already during the Thatcher era, then it faded still more under John Major, and under Tony Blair it is clearly on its last legs. So, if politics is responsible, the Conservatives and Labour must share the blame. I don't think the Lib Dems have anything to do with it. Perhaps you think I am joking. No. It's a fact. People in England laugh less now and, what is more important, they have stopped laughing at the politicians. This does not mean that the public have started to take politics and politicians seriously. No. It just means that policies have become so blurred and, at once, so obvious that the British public has lost all interest in it.

No conservatives? No humor.

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 4, 2005 11:29 AM

I haven't laughed much since 9/11 and the last two presidential elections. I guess I have too many Democrat/closet Socialist friends, not to mention listening to Peter Jennings and NPR, the last two a bad habit I've managed to break.

Posted by: Genecis at May 4, 2005 1:55 PM