The Trickster and the Shadow

Quick, think of a joke, a really funny joke!

I know, it’s hard, isn’t it? Like, really, really hard. Almost as if it is wrong to make jokes, even mild ones, never mind the kinds of jokes that Milo likes to make.

I’m sure you’ve heard about Milo’s jokes. Everyone has.

Particularly how unfunny they are, according to some.

Here are some of the jokes that Simon & Schuster’s copy-editor Mitchell Ivers found particularly unfunny in the first draft of Milo’s Dangerous (Ivers’s comments in italics):
I can practically hear science fiction authors currently suffering an incursion of social justice feverishly writing stories about traveling through time to bump off [cultural Marxist] Antonio [Gramsci] before he wrote anything influential. —Unclear, unfunny, delete.
Did you notice, by the way, that these stroppy [whiny] celebs uniformly threatened to move to [overwhelmingly] white countries? ... If it wasn’t Canada, it was New Zealand, Australia or another [primarily] white, English-speaking country. Why not Mexico or the Gambia? It turns out that the Hollywood Left is even more racist than the high level Nazis, many of whom settled in—shock, horror!—South American compounds after fleeing Germany. — I don’t like using Nazi analogies. Ever. Let other people do that.
Apparently I’m more dangerous to women than Charlie Sheen, who accidentally shot women, pulled knives on them and put them at risk of HIV. What am I going to do to a woman, tell [her] them to drop 10 lbs and get better highlights? — Not worth the weak joke
Incidentally, why is it that America’s nanny state never controls the really unhealthy behaviors that plague our culture? They will ban large sodas, but not put a waiting period on blue hair dye. They check ID for alcohol purchases if you look younger than 35, but do they weigh feminists before serving them venti frappuchinos? Put a warning label on cigarettes but not on a Bikini Kills record. — Three unfunny jokes in a row. DELETE.
According to 2014 figures, American woman have an average life expectancy of 81.2 years. For men, it’s 76.4—and it’s not just because women are nagging men to death. — This joke feels OLD.
Do men’s lives matter? Apparently only if they’re good-looking enough to make a feminist flip the bean. — Dumb joke
Rather than being a twenty-first century version of Amazons, the mythical Greek warrior-women like Xena, modern day feminists are more like a revamped version of the Donner Party. They’ll eat their own at any point if they sense their ideology is in trouble. — Dumb joke
Rape is terrible. Well, I assume it’s terrible for most people. Personally, I’ve never gotten off faster than when I’ve had a gun to my temple. My boyfriend will tell you I can’t even get hard these days without a knife to my throat. That’s just me though. — Deleting this. It’s clearly the wrong joke in the wrong place. At a certain point, you have to decide that the importance of your message is more important than your irreverent side. 
I know, that last one went too far for me, too. Has he made you laugh yet? No? Here’s a few more:
Despite [my] the obvious degeneracy, I consider myself pretty right-wing. I like to mess with leftists’ heads by dressing up in drag and bragging about cum-soaked gay orgies on one evening, and unloading a pump-action shotgun into a placard marked “feminism” while “The Star-Spangled Banner” plays in the background on the next. If Madonna can do it, why not me? —Joke falls flat here.
For far too many young black adults in America the only dream they have of escaping a life of poverty is playing professional sports, [or] becoming a music artist, or dating me. — Again, joke falls flat here
You know, if I was fed a constant stream of articles telling me that the world hated me because of the color of my skin, I might burn down a city or three too. I would of course do it much more elegantly than Black Lives Matter. Why is it that no left-wing protestor knows how to rock a good pair of aviators? And why can’t they carry their Molotov cocktails around in a Louis Vuitton instead of a drab black rucksack? For God’s sake, lift your pinky when you’re throwing rocks at the riot squad! Act like a lady! My goodness, at least the political street thugs of the 1930s had a sense of style! I’d also have the good sense to burn down someone else’s neighborhood instead of my own. There’s nothing worse than having a good riot only to return home and find that your neighbors burned down your house too, not to mention the pharmacy where you pick up your grandma’s medicine. — Attempts at humor here are too weak and too long
Over a million Muslims poured into the Mediterranean to cross into Europe, but rather than opening the gates, the EU should have airdropped soap, shampoo, and conditioner into the sea and then shipped them right back. — Stupid ethnic joke diminishes any authority
They would have at least returned smelling better than the French, Italians, or Greeks. — Gratuitous
Of all the groups the Left desperately protects, Islam is the most inherently hilarious. I mean, even their outfits are hilarious. Ridiculous. Is there anything more comically sinister than the sight of a herd of women swathed in black bedsheets? — This isn’t funny enough to be used here
Islam preys on the most vulnerable in society, offering them a sense of higher purpose. It’s no wonder that gingers convert to Islam in such high numbers, and it might explain Lindsay Lohan, too. — These abrupt changes in tone in this particularly [sic] chapter do NOT lighten your message with humor. They simply diminish your authority
They have especially high conversion rates in jails, [which should be especially concerning to the left but is not.], making Islam and black dick the two things most likely to penetrate new inmates. — This is not the time or place for another black-dick joke
Too much? Yes, I thought so. Here’s the thing: why?

Is Ivers right about these jokes being unfunny? Or is it that they are simply too dark, so that laughing seems wrong, even as you stifle the guffaws?

*

I have written before about Milo’s jokes and asked my Random Laypersons about what they think of them. You may remember what one of them said:
Milo uses humor to force us to examine our deeply held beliefs—often erroneous beliefs. If you actually listen to him, that is. Those who don’t listen cannot possibly understand either what he’s saying or what he’s doing. Yes, he’s a troll, but he’s a self-aware troll. And he’s funny. It’s unfortunate that progressives have no sense of humor, no sense of fun, no notion of the absurd. They miss so much—in life and art.
Or what Milo himself has said about why it is so important to laugh:
Laughter is one of the first things to leave us when the authoritarians take hold. The thing that tyrants hate the most is the sound of laughter because it means somebody somewhere has gone off script. Someone has gone off message.... 
It’s often said that in order to find out who has power, who has control in a society, you have to find out who you're not allowed to laugh about. Today that’s feminists, Black Lives Matter and Islam. Those are the groups that will get you into trouble if you crack jokes about them. You’ll have your newspaper column taken away. You’ll be banned from Twitter. Of all these groups, Islam is the most inherently hilarious.... 
It’s easy to bleat about Christianity. It’s low-hanging fruit. It’s more difficult, and it takes more bravery, to criticise Islam with sincerity and seriousness. And with jokes.
Look at the jokes that Ivers marked as unfunny, weak, flat, dumb, and OLD. Can you rewrite them so that they would be less offensive? Say, if Milo were making fun of Christians for preying on the weak in society? Or if he said men were nagging women into early graves? Notice that Milo says nothing about the ethnicity of the Muslims swimming the Mediterranean, although Ivers assumes he is making an ethnic (as opposed to a religious) joke. It is the ethnic Europeans—French, Italians, and Greeks—whom Milo says smell bad. What if he accused male chauvinists of only caring about good-looking women? Or Christian women of looking ridiculous for refusing to cover themselves?

What makes a joke funny—and what not?

Try it this way: can you think of a joke that is funny while at the same time offensive to nobody? Can you think of a side-splitting joke that is nice? Of course you can’t. There aren’t any. Laughter is always at somebody’s expense. The question is, whose?

*

Back in February, now almost a year ago, Jordan Peterson was asked what he thought about Milo. His response: Milo is playing an archetype, that of the Trickster. I said, holy fool, but it amounts to the same thing.

But what is a Trickster? In Professor Peterson’s words:
Trickster figures emerge in times of crisis. And they point out what no one wants to see. And they say things that no one will say.... Carl Jung regarded the Trickster as the precursor to the Savior.... It’s a very complicated idea. What it basically means is that in order to find your genuine voice or even to move the truth forward, you have to be willing to be a fool. Because you don’t know enough really to speak on behalf of the truth. By even attempting to do so you’re going to put yourself in an awkward position and make mistakes.... And so you have to be willing to do that. And so that’s really Milo’s position. He’s a provocateur...a comedian.... And comedians say what everyone is thinking but won’t say. And that’s why people laugh.
So the Trickster is a kind of truth-telling hero, which sounds rather nice, yes? What Jung said was somewhat darker. Indeed, he associated the Trickster directly with the darkest elements of the human psyche, what he called the Shadow. In Jung’s words:
The so-called civilized man has forgotten the trickster. He remembers him only figuratively and metaphorically, when, irritated by his own ineptitude, he speaks of fate playing tricks on him or things being bewitched. He never suspects that his own hidden and apparently harmless shadow has qualities whose dangerousness exceeds his wildest dreams. As soon as people get together in masses and submerge the individual, the shadow is mobilized, and, as history shows, may even be personified and incarnated. 
And what happens when the Shadow is incarnated? He shows people who think themselves civilized things they would rather not know about being human:
A minatory and ridiculous figure, [the Shadow] stands at the very beginning of the way of individuation, posing the deceptively easy riddle of the Sphinx, or grimly demanding answer to a “quaestio crocodilina” [a question to which there is no answer other than death]. If, at the end of the trickster myth, the saviour is hinted at, this comforting premonition or hope means that some calamity or other has happened and been consciously understood. Only out of disaster can the longing for the saviour arise—in other words, the recognition and unavoidable integration of the shadow create such a harrowing situation that nobody but a saviour can undo the tangled web of fate.
In a word, the Trickster is dangerous because he shows human beings what they look like to themselves.

*

Do you still think Milo is simply being mean? Let’s look again at the targets of his jokes: cultural critics like Antonio Gramsci who believed that Western civilization ought to be destroyed, celebrities threatening to move to another Anglophone country if Trump won the election, celebrities like Charlie Sheen now infamous for their treatment of women, politicians who institute some legislation on health grounds but not others, feminists who make comments about killing all men, feminists who go after other women who challenge their interpretation of society, people who assume anyone thinks rape is good, people who try to put each other in boxes and expect them to behave only in certain ways, activists who seem not to care about their own neighborhoods or the effects of their activism on the people they purport to want to help, Leftists who insist that wearing a burkha is liberating, Europeans who do not want to acknowledge the change that their culture is going through. 

Still not funny? Again, why? More than likely, because you see none of these targets as actual threats. You think Milo is making a big deal out of nothing.

But what if you’re wrong?

Here’s my theory. To be funny, jokes rely on tapping into the Shadow. They touch on things that we would rather not see about ourselves, that, as Jung says, we have relegated to the unconscious, believing ourselves better than that. If we laugh at a joke—and laughter is almost always involuntary, it is very difficult to make yourself laugh—it tells us something about ourselves that more often than not we would rather not know. That we are cruder than we would like to think. That we are meaner than we would like to believe. That we are as much animals as we are divine. 

Again, Jung, on the Trickster-myth:
Anyone who belongs to a sphere of culture that seeks the perfect state somewhere in the past [he means a Golden Age] must feel very queerly indeed when confronted by the figure of the trickster. He is a forerunner of the saviour, and, like him, God, and, and animal at once. He is both subhuman and superhuman, a bestial and divine being, whose chief and most alarming characteristic is his unconsciousness. Because of it [in the stories] he is deserted by his (evidently human) companions, which seems to indicate that he has fallen below their level of consciousness. He is so unconscious of himself that his body is not a unity, and his two hands fight each other. He takes his anus off and entrusts it with a special task [thus the black-dick jokes?]. Even his sex is optional despite its phallic qualities: he can turn himself into a woman [remember Ivana Wall?] and bear children. From his penis he makes all kinds of useful plants. This is a reference to his original nature as a Creator, for the world is made from the body of a god.
On the other hand he is in many respects stupider than the animals, and gets into one ridiculous scrape after another. Although he is not really evil, he does the most atrocious things from sheer unconsciousness and unrelatedness. His imprisonment in animal unconsciousness is suggested by the episode where he gets his head caught inside the skull of an elk, and the next episode shows how he overcomes this condition by imprisoning the head of a hawk inside his own rectum. True, he sinks back into the former condition immediately afterwards, by falling under the ice, and is outwitted time after time by the animals, but in the end he succeeds in tricking the cunning coyote, and this brings back to him his saviour nature. The trickster is a primitive “cosmic” being of divine-animal nature, on the one hand superior to man because of his superhuman qualities, and on the other hand inferior to him because of his unreason and unconsciousness. He is no match for the animals either, because of his extraordinary clumsiness and lack of instinct. These defects are the marks of his human nature, which is not so well adapted to the environment as the animal’s but, instead, has prospects of a much higher development of consciousness based on a considerable eagerness to learn, as is duly emphasized in myth.
Can you believe the trouble Milo has gotten into just this past year? Riots cancelling his talks, journalists calling him the most appalling names, his friends abandoning him, his investors pulling out. Talk about being bewitched! And yet, throughout—by my own witness—he has been unfailingly eager to learn.

*

I have said it before, but I will say it again, just to be clear: I do not think Milo is anything other than a gifted young man, however much he may be playing with myth in the characters he assumes. But I do think that his gifts include an uncanny willingness to confront the Shadow both in others and in himself. How he came to this willingness is a question even I do not know him well enough to answer, although my motherly intuition tells me that it was not easy. Milo himself would most likely point to his being gay, never able, as he has often said, to make children with the person he loves.

In his book manuscript, of course, the way he put it was somewhat darker, as befits the archetype he is playing:
Gay men are chaos incarnate. We are gods of mirth, mischief, danger and subversion.... 
We have an energy and power over everyone else, a dark, innate perversion and malevolence that other would-be rebels like goths and punks would kill to have. Gay sex is a dark act. It is black magic—especially the way I like it. It defies biology, and as much as I enjoy it in every room of the house, the club or the public bathroom, it belongs in the closet.... 
When gay men exercise risk, they have an advantage—as the chosen ones on the outskirts willing to be the outlet for anyone and everyone’s fantasies. As society’s subversive rebels, we can go further than anyone else....
I do consider this part of myself to be wrong. But I also like being wrong. I get off on being a degenerate. And that’s why I don’t get angry when the alt-right use the phrase—on the contrary. I encourage it! Because society needs purity, and society needs degeneracy. As an agent of chaos, I’ll defend the agents of order, because I know I need them to exist.
Milo the Degenerate knows that he needs us, his civilized friends, in order to exist. Are we willing to admit that we need him, too?

Source: Carl Jung, “On the Psychology of the Trickster-Figure,” in The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, trans. R.F.C. Hull, Collected Works of C.G. Jung 9.1, Bollingen Series XX (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1968), 255-72.

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