You're an activist in Kenya. You're mad about corruption in your country -- with hundreds of millions of dollars meant to aid people in poverty being siphoned off by greedy officials. You want to speak out, but worry that doing so might put your life in danger.
What should you do?
If you're like us, hopelessly addicted to checking our smartphones every two seconds, you may think the answer is obvious: Use technology to spread the message. Post your thoughts to Twitter and Facebook and hope that others will follow suit. But of course that only works in a free media environment.
If you're Gado, Kenya's best known cartoonist, you'd take a more creative route [because you have to]... involving puppets. Gado was inspired by well-known British and French satire shows Spitting Image and Les Guigons, both of which use latex puppets to poke fun at political absurdities. For six seasons, he's been producing fifteen-minute episodes of The XYZ Show -- broadcast on Kenya's most popular television channel, and featuring likenesses of everyone from Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki to Barack Obama.
The results have been tremendous, with millions of dedicated fans tuning in each week (and more than a few ruffled feathers amongst Kenyan officials).
Parazit, which is billed as the "Iranian Daily Show" and shot nowhere near Tehran, but in the Voice of America building in Washington, D.C., still reaches millions of Iranians, despite extensive jamming and a heavily censored Internet. The creators of Parazit, Saman Arbabi and Kambiz Hosseini, have, for the past three seasons, delivered important humor to the Iranian people -- often using the very footage the Iranian government broadcasts daily on its state run television, as well as footage sent by Iranians from around the world. The Iranian government has attempted a copycat version of the show. Arbabi is currently unveiling his latest project, Weapons of Mouse Destruction, which is an international art and advocacy project against government Internet censorship.
Gado and the Parazit team are far from alone. In some of the world's most dangerous, politically-stifled geographies -- from Azerbaijan to Russia -- activists are using comedy to say publicly what would otherwise be unspeakable.
This is not new; political satire is as old as the Greeks. It's just that we've partly lost sight of it in our enthusiasm for new gadgets and gizmos that we're convinced are the next panacea.
In all the recent debates about whether social media was responsible for movements like the Arab spring or the Tea Part, we've forgotten that sometimes humor matters more than the straight news and information, especially in closed media environments. Those who have the ability to make fun of their leaders have the ability to lead a free life in many more aspects.
Here are six key examples from around the world to demonstrate how satire can move the needle on difficult issues that are otherwise unmovable.
This blog post was co-authored with Raina Kumra, Director of Innovation at the Broadcasting Board of Governors.
Africa's first political satire puppet show takes no prisoners, poking fun at figures as diverse as Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki to US President Barack Obama. 24 minute episodes air on Kenya's most popular television station. (Facebook page)
Parazit means "static" in Farsi. It is a half hour persian language satirical television show broadcast via VOA. The show pokes fun at Iranian politics and culture. Launched just before the June 2009 presidential elections, it became extremely popular in Iran reaching its audience via illegal satellite dishes, the internet, bootleg DVDs and USB sticks. YouTube channel is viewed 45,000 time a week and Facebook page is visited 17 million times a month.
Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty's Azerbaijan Service (Radio Azadliq) occasionally tries to lighten the mood of the news in Azerbaijan. 250 Plyus (250 Seconds +) skewers the absurd and offers political analysis that is at once funny and important. (video highlights)
Wildly popular podcast host Kim Ou-joon takes on any and all politicians, but his favorite target is President Lee Myung-bak. It's a daring move in a country with little tradition of political humor
TV political satire has been virtually extinct in Russia since the puppet show Kukly disappeared from the screens shortly after Mr Putin came to power. One of its brightest exponents on YouTube is Dmitry Ivanov, whose fast-talking stand-up routines on the Russian political scene have been growing in popularity for several months now. [Source: BBC]
Described as the Palestinian version of Saturday Night Live, Watan ala Watar ("Country on a String") launched as a nightly satire television program during Ramadan 2009, the show has earned its share of enemies. In January 2012, the city government of Ramallah overturned a government ban on the program, allowing the producers to continue to broadcast humorous criticism of all elements of Palestinian society.
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