Monday, April 10, 2017

"Tickling Giants", A Film To See!

Don't cry for us, General Sisi
The truth is, we never loved you
- Only feared you -
We're sorry we made you cry!

You may be wondering who General Sissy is and - more importantly - why you should care. Well, I'll tell you why. He's the guy who kicked Jon Stewart out of Egypt!

Ok, so that's not exactly the truth but is in essence the truth. Egypt has (had) its own version of Jon Stewart poking fun at elected officials and general stupidity much like the Daily Show here. Now, you may have doubts as to the validity of that comparison because, come on, the Middle East lost its sense of humor sometime before Christ showed up with his Caesar joke tour. But, as it turns out, they have actual real people in Egypt!

Egypt's Jon Stewart is Bassem Yousef, and boy is he funny with his dead-on and good-natured satire breathing fresh air into a stale world. The film details his rise from a simple YouTube video to a full scale TV show. As the pressure rose and the stakes got higher and higher, I wondered if he'd crack, or compromise, or commit spiritual suicide in some other form. But he never does.

The world needs a million more Bassem Yousefs, to bridge the gaps and fill them with humor, to make us step back and realize our common humanity and silly insecurities, to ultimately make us closer together. His crew is of the same ilk, singing when the lights go out and bonding in the dream of truth's salvation. The behind-the-scenes clips were heartwarming and joyful and I kept finding myself with a smile on my face without even realizing it.

I was so happy to see my comedic prejudice be shattered (and God am I picky) by this delightful film. It was made by Sara Taksler, a producer for the Daily Show who became intrigued with Bassem after his guest appearance. I was privileged to see the film where she attended and gave a Q+A  showing the same qualities of humor and humanity as displayed in the film. The film is currently on tour at various festivals, college campuses, and community events. To see if it's coming near you, click here.

The wider story that puts everything into context is the Arab Spring of 2011. It was supposed to be a springboard to democracy (even as we eschew our own) and give rise to new voices and new attitudes - voices and attitudes yearning for freedom held in simmering containment for years. Bassem was the genie let out of the bottle and tens of millions rejoiced with him. But as Egypt is finding out so very painfully, there are two kinds of people who fight the tyrant: those who want to be free of the tyrant and those who want to be free to be the tyrant (see Wajda's brilliant "Danton").

Yousef is a thorn in the side to all forms of tyranny whether it's religious or military, he throws off the shackles of oppression. That's what the image up top represents: when the giant foot of oppression comes down to crush you, raise a feather to tickle it. When Mubarak's military regime ended and Mohamed Morsi was elected President new freedoms were expected to follow. In a sense, they did as Yousef's popularity skyrocketed. But there was much criticism from - you guessed it - the religious conservatives as Morsi inflicted his religious sentiments on the country while Bassem poked holes in it.

So Egypt decided they didn't know what they wanted but they knew they didn't want Morsi. In came general Sissy on his white horse to save the day! He rode that wave of popularity and now Egypt is stuck with a military regime all over again. Oops! Only this time the criticism of Yousef carried far stiffer penalties and the situation forced him out of the country and into America where he resides today.

"It's what people know about themselves
that makes them afraid."

Many are angry and frustrated by the ending of Bassem's show, something that can be understood even by us as we watch our alleged leader cry and whine about domestic comedy skits. If only these weakling leaders had the courage to resign and admit they are in over the heads, consumed with the self-knowledge of incompetence and committed treachery. We'd love to see power be broken when truth is spoken to it but alas, we fear too much to let control slip from our fingers however inevitable it one day will be.

But once something is known, it cannot be unknown. In Egypt, Bassem pointed out their dear leaders are basically walking around with their flies open. Many laughed as they realized this too and even the death of Yousef would not change that perception as he has forever altered the Egyptian consciousness. All of us in this world are being forced to make a choice on where we stand, to be divided as Jesus came to do. But all you gotta do is laugh to be on the right side. And if you watch this film, believe me, you will laugh!

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