Stand up

To celebrate the 30th issue of Diaphragm, former editor Velislav Ivanov looks back at some of the highlights from the section’s eight year history.

comedy tragedy
Comedy’s a funny business. |  Photo: Phil Shirley (Flickr); Licence: CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Editing Diaphragm for more than a year was not just laughs. In between the witticisms and gags for me there was always an acute responsibility not present in the “serious” articles of the magazine – what we published in that section actually had to be funny. There is nothing as awkward as the leaden silence following a joke falling flat. What’s more, humour had to come from a European perspective, even when the tedious day-to-day politics of the EU provided little more than boredom and exasperation. E&M has also sought to avoid stereotyping European nationalities, something which had provided easy laughs in less tolerant days on the Continent.

Satire is sexy

We live in interesting times, with no sign of this changing in the long term. The eurocrises unfolded quickly with consequences that still reverberate in all parts of the Union. Yet a satirical take on these events was always necessary, not just for comedy relief, but also for a bit of perspective. The rise of UKIP and the doubt cast on Britain’s EU membership, for instance, were rationally ridiculed by T. Beyer in Seeking Solace in the European Hydra:

One might indeed think that if Europe did not exist, it would have been necessary to invent it. But then again, apparently that is just what those Eurocrats and crafty Germans have been doing wrong all this time.

The many features in the EUtopia column sought to define key aspects of being European today by imagining life without them. And all this in the best feuilleton fashion. Amongst the definite EUtopia highlights were articles such as Europe without the British, Europe without Law, or Europe without Brussels.

At times, we at E&M took a peek at what other EU satirists were doing. When sometime in 2012 a YouTube sketch on the Greek crisis called A Very European Break Up went viral, we interviewed the creators. This idea was taken further by another inspired crew who did the Eurobubble series, a tongue-in-cheek take on life as a Eurocrat in Brussels, following the mediocre misadventures of a newly-hired “policy officer”, that ultimate placeholder of entry-level positions.

“They are all doing the same things here, the same kind of jobs with the same kind of profiles. But at the same time they are so diverse – it is sociologically interesting to observe this.”, said producer, screenwriter and star Yacine Kouhen when Ragnar Weilandt caught up with him.

It was not all politics, however. In a brilliant piece by P.W., Work when there is no right in the wrong, he semi-autobiographically satirised the plight of a generation of social science graduates with distinctions and ideals who have had to settle for a mundane job. Or my very own The European Walkabout, which concerned young Western Europeans on their alcoholic journey of a lifetime to the eastern part of the Continent. Yet another clever piece came from Michael O’Keeffe who satirised feminism in The Struggle for Male Equality:

Brave pioneers have chained themselves to railings, starved themselves or burned their jockstraps in order that men may enjoy equality before the law and in wider society. However, many say that the work of masculinists is far from over; statistically, men are likely to receive far less paid leave than women; men are still around 83% less well-dressed than women and millions of men struggle in abusive, domineering relationships.

Laughs are legit

No-one could seriously object to the need for sillier, less satirical articles there just to elicit a laugh or two. One of the most ridiculous pieces in this magazine, for instance, concerns the Italian porn legend Rocco Siffredi and speculates on his driving force for international integration:

The culmination of such sublime love, and therefore the essence of what Europe is all about, we mere mortals may glimpse in the transcendence of the individual in a higher union, a ceremony performed by today’s high priests of the European idea – hardcore pornography.

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Richard Wagner has been a subject of our barbs… | Photo: Pierre Petit (Wikimedia Commons); Licence: Public domain

Recognising that the majority of E&M’s readers are – or have been – European students, the column Study like… was meant to giving them ludicrous advice on how to conduct their lives based on the outrageous actions of artists, politicians, and historical figures. These were as diverse as Serge Gainsbourg, Immanuel Kant, and Richard Wagner:

If you study like R.W., you are not a bohémien. You work hard. And don’t ever let yourself get distracted from your vision. Be it creditors, women, citizens protesting in front of your villa (in Munich), or be it even your own body (challenging Wagner through repeated heart attacks) – never lose track. Wagner managed to finish a 16-hour-long opera tetralogy over several decades while constantly on the road, or fleeing. Don’t spare yourself – and don’t spare anybody else.

The prospects for Diaphragm

There is no end in sight for the times of turmoil in Europe, or indeed for the need for a humorous perspective. Berlusconi might have stepped down, but that has not lowered the buffoonery in the news. As we see the full potential of figures like Hungarian PM Victor Orbán being realised nowadays, much of what we can do is limited to a caricature and a bit of banter. Let’s hope that E&M’s Diaphragm will long be the place for that.

Teaser photo: John Lodge (Flickr); Licence: CC BY 2.0

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