Thursday. 20/1/2022

The Monocle Minute

Image: Shutterstock

Opinion / Andrew Tuck

Going on the offensive

The February issue of Monocle, which is about to hit newsstands, looks at the dangerous world of satire, comedy and cartooning – especially the people who tug the tails of the powerful. But as we put the issue together, another topic kept surfacing: where the hell has the office joke (and joker) gone? We tried asking many serious folk – business leaders, academics and politicians – to give us their favourite rib-tickler; while some obliged, others panicked. “The minister does not know any jokes and would rather not be asked about this matter ever again,” was the gist of many a reply. Asking for a naked picture would have likely garnered more positive responses.

It would be easy to dress this up as a matter of a new generation of people having no sense of humour or who have been silenced by wokery. But people still like a risqué joke or a story so shocking that it makes them squeal. What has happened is that we have outsourced the right to be truly funny to the professionals: Ricky Gervais, the Saturday Night Live team, Katherine Ryan (pictured), Bill Burr. The same people who will happily quote whole scenes from these shows and acts cannot be persuaded to repeat as much as a knock-knock joke of their own. Professionalising humour also allows for the cop-out, should anyone be offended by the use of, say, the C-word, of: “I didn’t say that! It’s a Gervais joke.”

Sigmund Freud, the old funster, said that there were two types of jokes: the innocent and the tendentious. And we need the latter, often a bit obscene or hostile, because it changes the way we think about the world. While it might be easiest just to go for the innocent variety, something is lost when the dangerous jokes stop. And, dear reader, you also become complicit in protecting the status quo. So exercise the right to make people cackle until they cry (in a good way). It’s the grown-up thing to do.

Image: Getty Images

Health / Japan

Mixed messages

Japan’s tough restrictions on foreign nationals entering the country might have delayed the spread of Omicron but – as with everywhere else in the world that tried the same trick – the strategy has ultimately failed. Starting tomorrow, the Japanese government will put Tokyo and 12 other prefectures into a quasi-state of emergency, after the nation’s daily infections surpassed 30,000 for the first time on Tuesday. There will be no forced closures but until 13 February governors will have special authority to introduce new measures, such as shortening opening hours and limiting alcohol service at restaurants and bars. Like so many other global leaders, prime minister Fumio Kishida needs to work harder to strike a healthy balance between the economy and the pandemic. Clear communication is crucial but things aren’t off to the best start. “We don’t need to have eateries close if people dine in a group of about four and speak quietly while wearing face masks,” said Shigeru Omi, the government’s top coronavirus adviser. It’s surely time for all countries to start learning to live with the virus.

Image: Alamy

Transport / Egypt

Changing tombs

Since taking office in 2014, Egypt’s president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has been trying to reduce traffic congestion in the country’s capital. Often this has come at the expense of Cairo’s historic sites and currently in the crosshairs is the City of the Dead (pictured). Government-appointed surveying teams are conducting a review of the Unesco-listed necropolis to determine which tombs could make way for a proposed motorway, which would cut through the site’s southern section; some 2,000 graves are under threat.

Conservationists say that the entire area, which dates back to the seventh century and includes mausoleums for many of the country’s rulers, must be preserved for its historical and architectural significance. What’s more, the highway might only temporarily reduce congestion before it too is packed with cars. Opponents can point to past successes: a flyover that would have cut in front of a historic basilica was put on hold last year after a public outcry. Here’s hoping for a similar rethink this time around.

Image: Getty Images

Culture / South Korea & Turkey

Counter culture

Global audiences are so thirsty for South Korean entertainment that Netflix has announced that it will produce an unprecedented 25 films and series in the country over the coming year. But the move is not going to go down well in Turkey, where president Recep Tayyip Erdogan keeps a close watch on culture and the arts, and for some time has had Netflix in his sights for its supposedly over-liberal content. This week, Turkish newspaper Hürriyet reported that the Family and Social Services Ministry has also been researching the potential negative effect of South Korean music on Turkish youth. “There is this scaremongering that the young are moving away from conservative values,” journalist Ruth Michaelson told Monocle 24’s The Briefing, adding that the government’s TV-policing role has caused “quite a big schism in Turkish society”. It’s hard to imagine what dangers the president sees lurking in, say, the light-hearted bubblegum sounds of K-pop; perhaps it’s all those perfectly co-ordinated flash-mob dance moves.

Image: Anda Chu/Getty Images

Urbanism / USA

Away with murder

Green laser pointers will be distributed to residents of Sunnyvale, California, to help them drive away a flock of more than 1,000 crows that have been gathering in the town over the past five years. The corvids forage for food in the city’s South Bay area and, for reasons that remain inexplicable, return to the city centre at dusk to roost. They begin cawing well before sunrise, swoop down on alfresco diners and leave fouled pavements in their wake. The green light of the lasers is said to mimic other animals running over branches and residents such as Ken Ibbs (pictured) have taken to the scheme, using pointers to scare crows from homes and gardens. But the plan has ruffled feathers. “They may leave for a while but will likely return,” reads a statement from the Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society, which also warns of the risk of blinding the birds. “We question the legality of this tactic.” Sunnyvale staff will also use a boombox to play the sounds of crows in distress. In the quest for a bird-free downtown, the city still seems to be winging it.

Image: Giuseppe Santamaria

M24 / Monocle On Design

Menswear special

We head to Florence for Pitti Uomo and Milan for Men’s Fashion Week. Plus: we catch up with Giuseppe Santamaria, the photographer behind the book Men In this Town: A Decade of Men’s Street Style.

M24 / The Foreign Desk

The Foreign Desk Live: Russia invades Ukraine – week one

On 24 February, Russia commenced a full invasion of Ukraine. What is the latest? Can Ukraine continue to defend itself? And what is likely to happen next? Andrew Mueller speaks to Ukrainian MP Lesia Vasylenko, former Nato chief Richard Shirreff, as well as Russian journalist Ekaterina Kotrikadze and Russia expert Mark Galeotti.

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