Right off the bat, the profile avatar of the @eweNitedNations Twitter account lets readers know what to expect in its mordantly satirical jabs at the United Nations Security Council.
A sheep, photoshopped into wearing the blue beret of UN peacekeepers, comes with a tagline that reads, “Member states are gregarious.”
But what is eweNitedNations (eNN) and who is behind the anonymous Twitter account — numbering 999 followers this week — and its accompanying blog?
More important, how does the account make the Security Council and the inner workings of the UN actually humorous? Or at least get them to squirm? (And perhaps someone forgot to tell all the ambassadors on the council that they are supposed to be “gregarious.”)
Stéphane Dujarric, spokesman for Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, tries to follow all the social media accounts covering the world body. That time drain alone would support his claim that while he appreciates @eweNitedNations, he has no idea who is running it. Still, he appreciates the laughs.
“Political humor is a valuable tool,” said Dujarric, “in focusing the discussion of the world events.”
Indeed, comedy at its sharpest can educate and broaden perspectives, said Andrew Heaton, host of “Mostly Weekly,” an Internet news show. “People can get a glimpse of a new worldview, and leave a situation with more knowledge than they came in with,” he said.
The potential humor — or weeping satire — of an American Trump presidency and how that will affect the UN will likely provide the blog and the Twitter site with enormous material. For now, one of the top stories on the eweNitedNations blog is “UN Now Giving Away ‘No Excuses’ Cards to Peacekeepers.”
Recent tweets show that no function of the UN is left unscathed, like announcing monitoring of last week’s US elections: “Council members will travel to the capital to meet w/the govt, & then to the south for mtgs w/opposition leaders in a McDonalds in Tampa.”
Through eNN’s anonymity, unlike mainstream media, it can address a wide range of issues facing the UN, without sacrificing the good graces of sources and suffering the agony of the lost scoop or icy shoulder from a permanent council member. They have been known to disinvite reporters to a holiday party after an article that didn’t reflect their better selves or otherwise exclude you, especially if you dare to point out their hypocrisies.
But who, exactly, is behind eNN? Richard Gowan, a UN expert at the European Council on Foreign Relations and a frequent commentator of the UN’s foibles and strengths, established at the start of an interview with him that he was not the person behind the account.
“I’ve always assumed that it was a member state diplomat, just judging by the meetings that he or she tweets about,” Gowan said. “The secret is impressive that it’s been this well kept.” Gowan claimed he didn’t have that kind of immediate access, which would requite constant attention and attendance at Security Council open meetings, which are webcast live.
“I think that diplomats and UN officials need to laugh at themselves a lot more,” Gowan said on the role of humor at the UN. “Behind the scenes, they often have this black sense of humor, very mordant, about the challenges they face in solving conflicts, peacekeeping and other issues.”
Some camera people for UN Web TV also denied being the brains behind the account and contended they were not on Twitter. These are the folks whose impeccable timing to cutaways during the recent opening debate session of the UN General Assembly in September made for fine entertainment. There was the perfectly timed panning to US Secretary of State John Kerry tapping his fingers incessantly during President Obama’s speech, which took place during a day of ultimately futile negotiations on the war in Syria.
And to Vitaly Churkin, Russia’s ambassador to the UN, and Sergey Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, when Obama said that Russia was trying to recover “lost glory” through force.
PassBlue spoke, via covert messaging, with eNN about its Twitter page and its more recent launching of the blog, which extends the satirical jabs with photos and more text with a decidedly Monty Python flair.
“Honestly, I started the twitter account as a coping mechanism,” wrote the eNN principal, “for the tedious and often depressing work that happens around UN Headquarters.”
Using top-shelf comedy rules — good joke, solid set-up and hard punch line — can be applied, of course, to any political topic. That includes global security and international development at the UN. The world body, so beleaguered and accused of so many wrongdoings in a world of constant chaos, presents endless opportunities for dry if not lethal wit. And eNN serves it up often.
The UN employs hundreds of thousands of people across more than 200 acres of land globally, addressing, among hundreds of problems and challenges, the 17 sustainable development goals to better humanity and diffuse current and future conflicts. The UN’s central mission, though, is the maintenance of international peace and security, as set out in the founding Charter (19 chapters, in case you were wondering). If, out of tragedy comes comedy, this is the place.
The eNN Twitter account covers the UN with an insider’s awareness, expertise and up-to-date knowledge, as if embedded in, or close to, the daily proceedings of the UN and its meetings and missions as well as all the diplomats walking in UN corridors and recouping in cafes. But eNN prefers not to say what precisely is his/her day job, except that he/she has several different professional perspectives on the UN.
At the UN, eNN points out, there are many talking points, many meetings on very important subjects and much self-congratulation, along with a bureaucracy that comes with an organization of the UN’s size: 44,000 people alone employed in the Secretariat, the policy-making core of the UN, managed by the secretary-general.
Comedy is at heart formulaic and also unifying; at the UN it can mean a chortle at the absurdity of the world’s major and minor dysfunctions, on display in every possible permutation: in Security Council “debates,” for example, among its 15 members from 15 wide-ranging countries. (Currently consisting of the “P5” of United States, Britain, China, France and Russia, and elected members: Angola, Malaysia, New Zealand, Spain and Venezuela through the end of 2016; Egypt, Japan, Senegal, Ukraine and Uruguay through 2017.)
“When you’re dealing with anything that has strong emotions behind it, comedy is a terrific tool,” Heaton of “Mostly Weekly” said. “It’s especially useful dealing with people, particularly people who have different opinion.”
Laughter, Heaton pointed out, releases dopamine into the brain, and for a brief instance, those who are laughing are attracted not only to the ideas making them laugh but also to the person expressing the ideas: instant accord.
As eNN wrote to PassBlue, “The twitter acct was a way to vent some of that frustration by talking about things more bluntly.”
Gowan agreed. “UN statements and UN debates are all awfully serious, but actually, if you look at a lot of the discussion, it’s really hollow,” he said. “A sense of irony and willingness to laugh at some of the hollow prose and rhetoric is really, really important. One of the reasons I like what eNN is doing is that they — he or she — is very good at taking the catch phrases in UN debates and pithily poking fun at them.
High five! Congrats on getting people to commit sex crimes less often. https://t.co/QKEMnP3eeZ— eweNitedNations (@eweNitedNations) August 25, 2016
Started in 2012, the account, eNN explained, makes “a lot of the jokes my colleagues and I were already making, just not publicly. The UN can crush idealism pretty fast and humor seems like a great mechanism to deal with the ridiculousness of what it takes to get stuff even on the table, let alone achieved there.”
Pretty much anything is fair game to eNN except for those involved on the ground coping with issues that the UN is trying to solve; that is, “the people who are suffering because of the awful situations around the world.” The eNN account works to respect these situations. “I try really hard to make sure nothing seems like I am belittling the situations the UN is working on, or the people who are living in those contexts.”
But Security Council meetings? The nearly yearlong process for selecting the next secretary-general, which finally ended on a jolt in October? Addressing gender and geographic equality at the top levels of the UN food chain? All are open to a closer public look.
“Over the top diplomatic ceremonies, pettiness, that kind of thing is fair game to my mind,” wrote eNN. “In general, I try to look at how work is being done, not the work itself.” The person behind eNN stressed that the process was what was under examination, not the people who are deploying the process. But that doesn’t cover the top, very public echelon.
“No leader, official, ambassador is off limits though — these people are in [public] positions of power and we should be able to talk about what they’re doing honestly.”
Occasionally, an event or situation at the UN is, of course, so big that it transcends 140 characters. As an expansion on the Twitter account, the blog eweNitedNations was created in 2015. Think you have what it takes to be UN secretary-general? Try the SG aptitude test. And then there’s eNN’s favorite post, where the content basically just writes itself — a Security Council work retreat with the secretary-general’s office — the smiles, the laughter, the awkward family photo.
While “Last Week Tonight With John Oliver” is broadcast on cable, it is also tailored to be how millenials, those under 35 years old, get political and international news, parsed in short, satiric segments easily viewed on social media. According to both the Pew Research Center on Journalism and Media and the Media Insight Project, more than 60 percent of millennials use social media as their primary source for hard news. By bringing coverage of the UN into the millennial media consumption banquet, eNN is surely increasing coverage of the UN and elevating its transparency.
As typical goings-on of the Security Council show — consensus and stalemate all in one day — there is still enough tragedy occurring across the world to keep the laughs coming for a good long time. With a Trump presidency relating to the UN, the laughs may rise to a shriek.