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KAOS and The Invasion of Ukraine: Humour as a Coping Mechanism

Writing by Isabella Henricks.

Lots of people are making jokes about the invasion of Ukraine in bad taste. However, if there is one account that’s allowed to make jokes about Russian aggression, it’s the official twitter account of Ukraine. As such an appalling war develops in Eastern Europe, there is a fine line between comedy that trivialises and ignores the suffering of Ukrainians fleeing conflict, and comedy that is used as a coping mechanism for the people impacted. Memes published by Ukraine’s twitter include “Living next to Russia” as a type of headache, and a Workaholics gif making fun of Russian claims that they had no intention of attacking Ukraine.

Almost 60 years ago, Get Smart first aired in 1965, a comedic take on Cold War tensions between the USA and USSR. American spies working for CONTROL fight (often incompetently) against the (also incompetent) international organisation of evil, KAOS. KAOS is vaguely eastern European with specialist departments such as the League of Impostors, the Contrived Accident Division, and the League of Bald-Headed Men. Maxwell Smart, the protagonist of Get Smart, calls the KAOS dominated Europe a “not-so-free world”, and according to the Get Smart online fandom, KAOS embraced a form of global economic domination in the 1990s, abandoning its former pursuit of political domination and terror.

During the height of the Cold War in the USA, television comedy was a way for people to cope with geopolitical tension and to re-conceptualise ideological conflict. In its mockery of espionage and its humorous portrayal of KAOS and CONTROL interactions, Get Smart paralleled anxieties about the Soviet Union and its communist agenda. In a more direct way, Ukraine and whoever is running its Twitter are using humour to cope with a different sort of Russian expansion and aggression. Humour that is public, self-aware, and engaging seems to have been employed by enemies of Russia for over half a century. This is obviously not to say that suburban Americans in the 1970s were under the same real threat of death and destruction as today’s Ukrainian refugees are. It is interesting, nevertheless, to consider why Ukraine began joking about Russia on the international stage just months before a deadly invasion began. Is humour in the format of popular memes the only way that Ukraine’s Twitter personnel feel they can make themselves heard, relatable, and understood? Are they following the Get Smart blueprint to reach a wider audience and diffuse tension? In any case, the only people who should be making these sorts of jokes are the people genuinely impacted by this terrible war, not those safely at home on TikTok.

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