TODAY is known in Catholic tradition in the Philippines as Dias de los Inocentes or Holy Innocents’ Day which is dedicated in memory of the unaccounted number of children killed on orders of King Herod to ferret out and put an end to the prophesy that the King of the Jews was born. He was informed of this prediction in the Bible and tradition of the Jewish people. Fearful that this King might create public disturbance and rise against the Roman Empire, Herod took the easiest and most convenient method – just kill any male child two years and under. He reckoned that is the time line from the day the three wise men from the East came and told him of the birth of the Promised King of the Jews.
Now why would tradition make fun of this massacre by concocting a game of making jokes with each other? I guess the “innocents” in the story make it excusable for people to be innocent of a prank – no harm intended, as it seems – only to play a game as jokers would with his audience.
So when somebody makes a joke with you as the victim, take it as part of the tradition in the similar way that we take dousing even strangers with water during celebration of the feast of St. John the Baptist. The joker plays the innocent.
Langston Hughes, a poet and social activists, makes it painless to be at the end of a joke when he said, “Humor is laughing at what you haven’t got when you ought to have it.”
A joke, however, has taken a new dimension in the Philippines. It has become an excuse for the inexcusable, a political tool that explains a gaffe and puts an end to whatever malice or damage one attaches to it. As Presidential Spokesman Salvador Paneloexplains it, the President’s statement implicating Mar Roxas in an attempted murder, the President merely said it “in jest.” Nobody can quarrel with that even when it was said before we have the Dias de los Inocentes.
The President then has inaugurated something that nobody had the courage to do – explain things no matter how serious a subject, as merely a joke. If one notices it, the people also accept the explanation. Who would lose tempers on a joke? Of course if one is the butt of the joke, he can take the matter seriously and be indignant about it and would swear revenge.
But no more frenzy over the joke. Mar Roxas laid down the rule in responding to the joke. He simply ignored it. Indeed, the President told the joke nonchalantly even if what was later described as a joke was serious as it involves the possible commission of a crime. He did not pursue the matter as he ought to have if his statement was indeed a grave matter. He was joking and poking it on Mar.
Samuel Janus, a psychotherapist, explains that there is a need between the joker and his audience and he can carry the absurdities to the point that he can make people laugh at them. The joke on Roxas is such a one – it was absurd for the former senator who is running again for the Senate to mastermind the attempted murder of a mayor but President Duterte made it so absurd that people simple laughed at them. In a way, Roxas scored a free media exposure and a view that he is not that onion-skinned as to bother about an absurdity.
The President has made a lot of jokes, the only President who have made unthinkable jokes that the absurdity of it all made them unbelievable. His spokesmen – from Harry Roque to Panelo understood this that they were able to describe what looked like an attack into an absurdity.
In the end, who are the joker and the butt? That takes time to answer, but since today is actually a Joker’s Day, we can perhaps ponder on the importance of presidential statements as they do in the United States and in other countries. Matters of state are not laughing matters because they define government thinking. But we have learned to take the presidential jokes in a different level than what could have caused a revolt in other countries. We are saner that way.