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The Babylon Bee (ha, ha, ha)

Updated: Jul 29

The Babylon Bee is not funny. You know this is so, and you only say otherwise because it is in-group for rightists to support The Babylon Bee. “Look, things are so bad that the squares are the wacky humourists now—we’re countercultural, we’re cool.” It simply is not so. The first clue is the title, The Babylon Bee. Now, I ask you, do you think Babylon is funny? “And they were carried unto Babylon in chains, verily down to the fourth generation did they serve in Babylon—and their women lamented. Selah.” Yes, but try not to boast or we’ll lose our good spot when the crowds get here…

The latter comment is almost, though not quite, a Jewish joke; and, of course, the Jews are humourists par excellence. Why? Because they are, per Nietzsche, the slave race par excellence—they were in Babylon, after all. They can impress with their intelligence and become able court advisers, as with Henry Kissinger, or they can become humourists, as with Woody Allen, who are cute and pitiable. “Bring me my jester, bring me the Jewish funny man,” says some exhausted warlord—perhaps Mongol, perhaps Aryan—after a day out on the hunt. This situation provides us with a clue about humour itself: humour is for the slave, for the resentful—it is a way to cope, to cope with the chains in Babylon.

This is not to say that the master race is without humour; it is just that the greatest humourists will be slaves. The masters, per Nietzsche, have too much honour to be taken to Babylon in chains; they kill themselves instead—death before dishonour. “Yeah, but that depends on how much dishonour…let’s negotiate!…You’d be surprised how much dishonour I can take…yuck, yuck, yuck.” Only the miserable survivors, those cowards who would prefer to eat crow, end up in Babylon. Hence the funniest people will always be slaves, and the least funny people masters—indeed, if you ever approach anyone with real power you will find that you have entered a humour-free zone; all humour signifies is weakness—an attempt to manipulate without real power.

If you consult the histories of stand-up comedians, as I have done, you will find a common “origin story” that runs along these lines: “For a while I was bullied pretty badly at school, but then, one day, I found if I made people laugh they liked me—I could get my own back, ridicule the bully or make him laugh along with me; and that’s how I got started in comedy really.” So humour is a weapon, a weapon for the weak—whereas other people beef up or fight back, the comedian deflects and manipulates with humour (as with a woman, he dissimulates).

It follows that humour is suffused with resentment, and this is why comedians often lead miserable lives; they gain power through self-abasement, and it takes a toll. Further, they often end up with power—money and women and public adulation—that has paradoxically come about through weakness; they have the trappings of success, but inside still feel themselves a weak failure—and this often leads to excess drinking and drug-taking to dull the pain from the contradiction (“I don’t deserve this really…”).

So The Babylon Bee cannot be really funny; it comes from people, white American Christians, who are really too masterful to be funny—they still have too much dignity for that. Hence its humour only rises to what appears in the back of a parish magazine, usually under the title “It’s a Dog’s Life!” (complete with a little cartoon vicar with his dog—“dog collar”, “dog’s life” ya getit?)—similar humour used to be found in Reader’s Digest, although this publication disappeared long ago (a few issues undoubtedly float about in dental offices around the world). The basic humour, as gleaned from the copies I used to devour in my grandparents’ home, could best be described as mild—with sections entitled “Humour in Uniform” and “Life’s like That”. Humorous tales that begin, “Many years ago, I was on a business trip to Spring Falls, Iowa…<<duh-der-de-dur-content-content-content>>…and then when I got home my wife found it was the same brown slipper!”.

The wider category includes “dad humour” and “Christmas cracker jokes”—“I’ve got a good one…ready for my latest…” (collective eyes roll to the ceiling…how many times have we heard this one). The humour is really derived from the fact that you are meant to find it funny that it is not funny—and the teller knows it is not funny as well, but will tell it anyway “I say, I say, I say…my dog has no nose.” Groaaannn. He did it again—and that is the joke, itself a power play (the master’s prerogative, in this case).

The commonality between “dad jokes” and Reader’s Digest is that the humour is mild, almost juvenile—innocent. I used to devour Reader’s Digest at around ten and I found the humour hilarious, although this was a definite phase I grew beyond; actually, to read Reader’s Digest is a serious class tell, very Nixonian—a lower-middle-class to middle-class publication for people who are “too busy” in their day job as the manager of a shoe store to read a full novel, a “full novel” being an Alistair MacLean action adventure with a name like Alpha Point Zero. Basically, Reader’s Digest is exactly the publication type looked down upon by literate educated Guardian readers, people who know who Proust is and can really appreciate…The Onion.

Do you know what is sophisticated? No, what? Sin. You mean like a long-legged blonde in sheer stockings with little suspender hooks with a cigarette that she smokes slowly and seductively—a girl who is above it all, just like a cat? Yes, something like that. The Onion is sophisticated, Reader’s Digest is not. As with the experienced Hollywood impresario or the cool kid in the high school class, The Onion has seen it all—its tone is deadpan sardonic. It came from the ‘90s…it came from the ironic decade (“The world’s finest news source TM”). In fact, there is a certain irony in the fact that The Onion—to which The Babylon Bee is a self-conscious riposte—is finished. The Onion’s high point was around 2004 and it has been in recession since then—I have no idea where “the kids” are now, but it is not where the The Onion is. While Reader’s Digest is juvenile, The Onion is sophomoric: I discovered it just as I left school and then read compilations on the bog at university—and this is about the right place for The Onion.

Typical Onion story: Area Man delights in new McDonald’s Wi-Fi signal Spring Falls, IA | John Grumman, 22, expressed delight this Thursday when he discovered that the new McDonald’s Wi-Fi router at their Truman Drive franchise throws a signal to the far end of the restaurant’s parking lot. When our reporter spoke to Mr. Grumman, the college student said: “I always used to ‘steal’ Wi-Fi from McDonald’s on the way to work, but the signal was so weak I had to park really close to the restaurant and I always felt the staff knew, like, and that I should buy something…I felt kinda bad…one time I thought the manager was coming out for me, but it turned out there was just a homeless guy in their dumpster.” Grumman is relieved that, with a stronger signal, he can park discreetly at the far end of the lot and use the Wi-Fi at his leisure. “Yeah, I figure that now I could use it for forty minutes or more…it’s a real game-changer,” Grumman added.

So The Onion takes ordinary events and treats them as important news stories. In common with most humour, there is a strong narcissistic streak in these stories. Humour often derives from social discomfort. If you look at sitcoms, what writers often do is to take an incident that in reality is nothing—say a mix-up about drinks at a Starbucks counter—and then finesse it into an excruciating social dance, usually because the main character (again, think Woody Allen or, in Britain, John Cleese as Basil Fawlty) has an “image” that they want to protect. So incidents that in real life are nothing, just shrugged off, are turned into huge “issues” in comedy—totally awks, painful.

Yet healthy people do not get caught in such tangled webs—although, of course, people who want to be cool, be superior know-it-alls, find the scenarios put forward in sitcoms all too plausible and terrible to contemplate (“Imagine being caught out like that!”). Basically, The Onion is the clever teenager at the back of the class who acts like he knows it all and has seen it all because he is too proud to admit he is ignorant—and this attitude is carried over to The Onion’s serious sister publications like The Guardian that sententiously look down on, as was, “uneducated” and “unsophisticated” Reader’s Digest readers.

It is only people who think they are superior insofar as their image goes who really enjoy comedy—as with the teenager, “the image” hides serious inadequacies and lack of both self-knowledge and knowledge about the world. People with actual power have a more restrained attitude since they have been humbled by the process by which power is acquired; they know that is difficult to attain things—and they also have an idea that there is a force greater than themselves, whether that is nature or God. This is why The Babylon Bee cannot be funny; it is produced by people who take Christianity seriously—hence they have an automatically humble position as regards what is greater. In consequence, they do not have the necessary arrogance—not to mention the quintessential anti-Christian attitude, pride—to be truly comedic; they have definite limits. “Yes, very clever—I can see you’re very proud of yourself with your little joke, but how will that help you in the real world?”.

This is why the parish newsletter and Reader’s Digest and “dad jokes” are mild—they take place within very definite limits, there are things we do not joke about; and once such limits have been established you will never be really comedic, since you are awed. Ned Flanders from The Simpsons: “It’s just so darn-diddly-darned…”. Yet he is risible because he is decent, the Simpson family is actually disgusting—George HW Bush was right to find it an appalling TV show; and my mother refused to let me watch it, in fact. Yet impotent Flanders-style moralisation is just darn-diddly-darned ineffective (more grist for the humour mill, in fact).

This relates to my earlier observations about power relations, because to become a master you must have humbled yourself before the task—whether that is an implacable deity or an implacable mountain. This process has no room for negotiation, whereas comedy is a negotiation—it is the slave who tries to negotiate with the master to “get round him” with a joke, or tries to alleviate his own distress at his diminutive position with a joke. Humour is an attempt to save your ego, to save your image—whereas people with power have destroyed their image; they are not paralysed with fear about “a mix-up of drinks at the Starbucks counter”.

“But hang on! The Babylon Bee is funny because the progressives do have sacred cows—they have transgender people and blacks and women and gays; and so The Babylon Bee is here to correct the balance, just as every stand-up mocks ‘crazy evangelical fanatics and racists’ we’re going to mock people who worship at drag queen story hour.” The problem with this view is that it confuses an analogy for one-to-one representation.

It is often said—and I often say—that progressive liberalism is a secular religion in which “the oppressed” (racial minorities, sexual minorities) are sacred and can only be referred to with special words. However, this is an analogy—progressive liberalism is not like actual religions. How so? It lacks of a conception of the sacred. When we say “LGBT people are sacred to progressives” they are not actually sacred as in traditional religions, because progressive liberalism rejects the proposition that there is such a thing as “the sacred”—everything within it is justified rationally, not with reference to arbitrary taboos.

From within their worldview, progressives think that historically people have been “mean” and “cruel” to various protected groups for arbitrary and, therefore, unjust reasons; hence, today, we should be kind to these groups and show them deference by way of reparation. This is not the same as sacredness or genuine taboo, it is justified rationally (even if it is not amenable to rational critique)—Christians do not hold that a church is a sacred space for such rational or mundane reasons. The Christian would say “the Lord dwells here”, the progressive would say “you can’t show me this ‘Lord’, but I can show you a picture of a black whipped by the slave drivers—and that is why you must be a kind person to blacks today.” Put correctly, progressivism is an anti-religion or a counter-initiation.

Although the effect is very similar to “sacredness” it is not the same. For example, comedians—who are all progressives by default—will make risqué jokes about black people, women, gays, and so on; and what they say is far harsher than anything a Bible-believing Christian, if such a thing exists today, would say about his church if he were to jest about such things. This is because the “oppressed classes” are protected by politeness, not sacredness—and this is a fungible and flexible category. This is evident in progressive language, “a good person”—being a straight white man who obeys the rules—would not make a joke about black lesbians because that would be “punching down”. To put it in Victorian language, “That’s not the done thing, sport. Ladies present and all that.”

However, this is not the same as sacredness or taboo—concepts such as “racism” and “sexism” are much more protean than actual taboos; and this is partly because they derive from politeness and social fashion (intrinsically more flexible) and partly because the definitions are left intentionally loose to catch people out through power plays (so that the comedy performance that was “progressive” ten years ago is now deemed “racist”); such rapid movement is not present in genuine religions (Buddha is still sacred thousands of years on, Christ is still sacred thousands of years on—not much change there; the eternal things never change).

The Babylon Bee is built on a common conservative illusion that “we can play them at their own game”. However, this is not possible—for by definition what it is to be on the right, to be righteous, is to set limits. Comedy is funny, insofar as it is funny, because it has no sacred limits—no real element, just the social dance. This is why it is so vicious—as with the way revolutions eat themselves. The people who say there is no sacred, no limit, know no limits themselves—they think they can manipulate the world through rhetoric (humour) and are not bound by loyalty. So the comic and the Marxist ideologue both watch their contemporaries for “errors”—“racist jokes” or “bourgeois deviations”—so that they can spring on them and devour them, whereas loyalty is more ineffable and transcends wordplay.

Notions such as “racism” and “sexism” are non-concepts; if you examine them closely you find they are illogical and attempt to conceal reality. The question, “What is a racist joke?” is not a meaningful question—there is no agreed standard to judge it by. Quickly, do you think Joe Rogan is a racist comedian? Some will say, yes; some will say, no. Rogan himself accepts the parameters of the game, I have heard him on his show shrink with disgust when he overheard a “racist” discussion at a restaurant. Yet a substantial population chunk would level the same accusation at him—his show is “racist”. It is easy because there are no rules to a vicious narcissistic status game that is based on tone of voice, contextual reversal, attacks on the sacred, and so on to generate humour—and, ultimately, has no limits.

In turn, this is why The Babylon Bee is not very funny; it has very definite limits, sacred limits, behind it—nor can it assume the same smug complacency found in The Onion or Private Eye; and this is because, ultimately, contact with reality is not oh-so-easy-from-the-back-of-the-class clever comments—it is hard and painful. Unfortunately, certain sentimental ideas have sprung up around the idea that “humour can destroy tyranny” and so on. This view comes from men like Orwell, a man who famously said “every joke is a revolution”—yes, but remember Orwell was a very weak man and in some ways a pathetic man who never abandoned the left. The Soviet Union was not felled by jokes—the people in power knew all the jokes, just like the people in power in the contemporary West know all the “racist” jokes. It is itself narcissistic illusion to think “jokes will destroy tyranny”—satire, as with Voltaire, will liberate us.

Satire is sarky impotence—unreal; it expects perfection from people, but people are not perfect. The assertion “humour destroys tyranny” is itself inherently leftist, for what humour attacks is capable power—the masters—and the sacred space; so the way out of the current impasse is not “more humour”, for the people The Babylon Bee oppose hold nothing sacred—they are untroubled by hypocrisy, they will turn on what is called “progressive” today and call it “racist” tomorrow. “No sacred cows,” cries the comedian—itself a quasi-Christian appeal to reject idolatry; however, what “no sacred cows” means in practice is actually “no sacred”—no limits; no masters, no gods. I am sorry, but this is just not funny.

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