Hammer & Tickle: The Story of Communism, a Political System Almost Laughed Out of Existence by Ben Lewis, Hardcover | Barnes & Noble
Hammer & Tickle: The Story of Communism, a Political System Almost Laughed Out of Existence

Hammer & Tickle: The Story of Communism, a Political System Almost Laughed Out of Existence

by Ben Lewis
     
 

Q: Why, despite all the shortages, was the toilet paper in East Germany always two-ply? A: Because they had to send a copy of everything they did to Moscow.
Communist jokes are the strangest, funniest, most enchanting and meaningful legacy of the eighty years of communism in Russia and Eastern Europe. The valiant and sardonic citizens of the former

Overview

Q: Why, despite all the shortages, was the toilet paper in East Germany always two-ply? A: Because they had to send a copy of everything they did to Moscow.
Communist jokes are the strangest, funniest, most enchanting and meaningful legacy of the eighty years of communism in Russia and Eastern Europe. The valiant and sardonic citizens of the former Communist countries—surrounded by secret police, threatened with arrest, imprisonment and forced labor, a failed economic system, and bombarded with ludicrous propaganda—turned joke-telling into an art form, using them as a coded way of speaking the truth and coping with the absurdity of the system. In this poignant and historically revealing book, rare and previously unpublished archive material, including cartoons, caricatures, photographs, and oral transcripts take the reader on a unique journey through the real experience of the Communist era.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Marvelously original... a fine tribute to the joyous, humane anarchy of laughter, whose nearest political analogue is that ramshackle, chaotic system of political wishful thinking called democracy. And their favourite joke? "What stage comes between socialism and communism? Alcoholism." (Christopher Hart, Sunday Times [London])”

“An entertaining and thoughtful study. (George Walden, Evening Standard [London])”

“We find at long last the jokes only communism could produce. And while they may not have brought it down, they can still tell us something important about why it fell. (Sunday Telegraph)”

“Wonderful... this isn't just a joke book. Instead, Lewis embarks on a deeply scholarly examination and analysis of the communist joke... an excellent job. (Martin Rowson, New Statesman)”

“An excellent anthology of anecdotes knowledgeably linked into the history of the Soviet period... very enjoyable to read. (Elaine Feinstein, Daily Telegraph [London])”

“Gives a good flavour of that socialist-era humour. (Morning Star [London])”

“Explores the wealth of subversive humour during the long, bleak decades of communism. (Irish Independent)”

“Ben Lewis's grimly entertaining study is no mere joke compendium. (George Walden, The Scotsman)”

“Charming, highly original, elegantly written and valuable piece of cultural history... This is a very funny book. Like the best Communist jokes, it is funniest when it is grimmest. (Victor Sebestyen, The Spectator)”

“A fascinating attempt to get to grips with communism's rise and fall in Europe through its funny bone... their cultural significance shouldn't be underestimated. (Metro [UK])”

Publishers Weekly

This often enjoyable but flat-footed compilation and study of jokes from the Soviet bloc has a hard time justifying its existence. Journalist and documentarian Lewis (who made a film of the same title for the BBC) started by imagining Communist jokes as a subversive critique that undermined the totalitarian state, but concludes that they were a politically irrelevant distraction. He looks to them as a window into Communist society, but discovers that most probably they originated long before Lenin appeared. If truth be told, Communist jokes are often pretty lame. For every clever one-liner-capitalism is the exploitation of man by man, while communism is the exact opposite-Lewis unearths 10 clunkers like, "Why are the East Berliners dumber than the East Friesians? They built a wall and placed themselves on the wrong side." Lewis's explications of jokes are more interesting than the jokes, as are his fencing sessions with unapologetic ex-Communist apparatchiks and with his artist girlfriend, a humorless nostalgist for East Germany. The rueful punch line Lewis leaves us with, almost despite himself, is that Communism was no laughing matter. Photos. (Aug.)

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Kirkus Reviews
So, Nikita Khrushchev walks into a bar and says... What he says doesn't matter; what matters is that ordinary Soviet citizens accommodated themselves to the deprivations and difficulties of ordinary life by telling jokes. British TV documentarian Lewis has a million of them. What's colder in Romania than the cold water? The hot water. A Jew joins the Party just before dying, saying to his shocked friends, "It's better that one of them dies than one of us." How do you quadruple the value of a Trabant? Put a banana on the back seat. Officialdom doesn't usually smile at such things-"One more like that and I'll smack you one," says an East German guard to Lewis about the Trabant crack. But, writes the author, communist regimes have tended to be more tolerant of humorous criticism than have other totalitarian stripes-there are very few Nazi or Falangist joke books out there. In the end, humor is what helped bring down communist walls and regimes. So runs Lewis's compelling thesis, which he had heard repeated for years through the former communist world, wondering, sensibly, whether it might be true. He answers that question to his and readers' satisfaction, but not before spinning out hundreds of groaners and knee-slappers that speak to hard times under authoritarian eyes. Those authoritarians, Lewis writes, made a tacit deal with the people under their rule: Make fun of us, but remain apathetic and certainly don't protest against your lot. So effective was the deal, he adds, that it was the unfunny Mikhail Gorbachev who broke things up by making apathy impossible-to say nothing of hiding all the vodka. A slightly goofy book at first glance, but full of sharp apercus about the communist eraand its discontents. Agent: Claire Paterson/Janklow & Nesbit UK

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781605980553
Publisher:
Pegasus
Publication date:
08/26/2009
Pages:
368
Product dimensions:
6.20(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.40(d)

Meet the Author

Ben Lewis is a columnist for Prospect magazine. His award winning film Hammer and Tickle appeared on the BBC in 2006. He lives in London.

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