“In the creation of comedy,” Charlie Chaplin wrote in his autobiography, “it is paradoxical that tragedy stimulates the spirit of ridicule; because ridicule, I suppose, is an attitude of defiance: we must laugh in the face of our helplessness against the forces of nature — or go insane.”
Which brings me to 30 to 50 feral hogs. (Sorry, but they really know how to sneak up on you.)
There’s not much to laugh at these days, and yet laughter is sometimes the only reasonable response. Take this Twitter thread started by musician Jason Isbell earlier this week.
“If you’re on here arguing the definition of ‘assault weapon’ today you are part of the problem,” he wrote. “You know what an assault weapon is, and you know you don’t need one.”
Hear, hear! Would be the reasonable response. (Yes, “the,” singular.) But among the thousands of replies to Isbell’s tweet was a very special one. So special. User @WillieMcNabb, one imagines, was certain he had a point to make — and oh, how he made it.
“Legit question for rural Americans — How do I kill the 30-50 feral hogs that run into my yard within 3-5 mins while my small kids play?”
Let’s take a quick water break here and think about this. Meet you back at the next paragraph.
If you’re still with me, you’re likely wondering why homeboy hasn’t installed, say, a fence to spare his children from this reliably swift onslaught of dangerous yard hogs. Or perhaps you’re wondering just how often McNabb must put down this veritable blur of hogs with a hail of machine-gun fire from the front door. Or perhaps you’re wondering why he didn’t just raise 30 to 50 feral children and settle this the old-fashioned way. Or perhaps you’re wondering. . . . I suppose there are so many things you could be wondering, really.
The Internet, too, was lost in wonder at McNabb’s suggestion that an assault rifle was the only thing standing between his family and certain hog mayhem. And, as it so often goes on Twitter, that wonder swiftly blossomed into righteous, widespread mockery — with perhaps a modicum of hope reserved for the slim possibility that he was joking. (Spoiler: He wasn’t). Anyway, here’s a sampling of the reception:
“It goes like this / the fourth, the fifth / fifty hogs / surround my kids.”
“My milkshake brings all the boys to the yard, nevermind it’s 50 feral hogs.”
“How do you solve a problem like 30-50 feral hogs in 3 to 5 minutes / how do you catch a hog and pin it down.”
And from the freshly launched hog-rating account WeRateHogs, “I got 99 problems and feral hogs are 30-50 of them.”
Within 24 hours of McNabb’s tweet, hogs overtook kittens as the Internet’s favorite animal. They were Photoshopped into memes and subbed into song lyrics. There were even “Pharrell hogs” donning oversize hats. (And, in a bid to attempt normalization of giving feral hogs the Rambo treatment, an assortment of colorful videos was shared of various anti-hog missions (also known as “extreme feral hog eradication efforts” from land and air.)
I can’t say I have a hog in this race, so, being honest, neither the efficacy nor necessity of blowing away invasive hogs with an AK-47 is (surprise) among my chief concerns at the moment — especially in the current context about the parameters of meaningful gun control, which is a chief concern of mine at the moment.
But what really stands out to me about the runaway popularity of “30-50 feral hogs” was the unity it cultivated in good old-fashioned mockery, the way it galvanized what appear to be millions of tweeters around the now-routine and routinely exhausting absurdity of the conversation surrounding the outrageously open question of whether weapons of war belong in the hands of your friends and neighbors. To kill hog mobs.
Of course, while mocking ridiculous, dangerous ideas on the Internet might trigger the same invigorating dopamine squirt that taking down a hog at 400 meters might, it doesn’t change or stop anything — least of all the hogs. I consider it training for the real thing, of which I’m also seeing a refreshing uptick.
Like #GreenShirtGuy (real name Alex Kack), the other viral sensation of the week, who became instantly Internet famous when captured on camera hysterically laughing at a disruptive MAGA-hatted anti-immigration heckler as she was escorted from the room.
Or take the assembly of citizens at another city council meeting earlier this month, this time in Modesto, Calif. Don J. Grundmann, organizer of yet another speciously justified “Straight Pride Parade,” was railing against council members for their lack of support when a Freudian slip (“We haven’t done anything wrong! We’re a totally peaceful racist group ”) sent the entire chamber into hysterics.
The Internet has trained us well in the art of mocking one another — iT’s EvEn TaUgHt Us HoW tO TyPe iN a MoCkInG vOiCe — but only lately does it feel like those skills might have some real-world value.
“It’s an incredibly dark time, and there’s a lot of hateful rhetoric that’s happening nationwide right now. But ultimately, I think the majority of this country, regardless of their political affiliation, understands that the loudest voices happening right now are kinda ridiculous,” Kack later told NBC News. “And I think the laughter is resonating because that's how people feel right now.”
There’s nothing remotely funny about America’s recent rash of gun violence, or the scourge of white supremacy and racism, or this administration’s abject cruelty to the most vulnerable people in our society. But what other response is there to the contortions performed by those who try to justify it? What but laughter can properly greet the clown car of such political nihilism? AND HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO KILL ALL THESE HOGS?
And while Chaplin understood the potency of ridicule in the arsenal of protest, he also understood its limits.
“The face was obscenely comic,” he wrote of his preparation for one of his most infamous portrayals, “a bad imitation of me with its absurd moustache, unruly, stringy hair, and disgusting, thin, little mouth. I could not take Hitler seriously.”
To be sure, no mean joke has ever stopped a dictator in his tracks — but mockery can help galvanize those for whom the stakes are no laughing matter.