Using Humor As Nonviolent Action

By Peace Science Digest


During Donald Trump’s recent state visit to the UK, protesters carried an inflatable baby Trump blimp to bring humor to their protest of his domestic and foreign policy. Humor, in various forms, has a long tradition in protest movements.

In the News

“Humour, in the forms of chants, performances, satire, cartoons, theatre, jokes, memes and puns has a long tradition in protest movements. It acts as a vehicle to communicate ideas as well as to foster a sense of community – it can cut across linguistic barriers, and increase the resonance of the message. All protests have a target, something or someone to galvanise others to action. The goal of the crowdfunded inflatable is to annoy the famously thin-skinned president. The six-metre tall balloon depicts Trump as a snarling baby in a nappy with tiny hands and moobs. Its purpose is not to change laws or policies, nor to influence his decisions. It is meant to mock and to undermine, suggesting the president is infantile, full of hot air, cartoonish and ridiculous.”

“Humour is empowering because it establishes those who are in on the joke and those who are the object of it. The balloon signifies an attempt to take back control and to undermine Trump. Whether he is aware of the balloon – and surely this media-obsessed president will be – is neither here nor there because mocking Trump is not just about annoying him. It fosters a sense of belonging between protestors and invites others to join.”

Insight from Peace Science

  • Humor can be an important component of nonviolent campaigns, especially the way it can challenge the language and symbols used by those in power, encouraging people to question what is considered “normal” and “natural.”
  • Humor’s ambiguity can catch audiences off guard, spark discussion, and bring attention to important issues in ways different from how logical argumentation would.
  • While humor may contribute to the effectiveness of nonviolent action along some dimensions, it may detract from it among others.


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