I have decided to go ahead and post my comments to point out the idea that it is just possible that we, as a society, have lost a good deal of our sense of humor in an attempt to avoid any possible sense of impropriety and that, it seems to me, that that’s too bad. I think that there is a difference between recognizing that cultural, social, racial and ethnic differences can, and have been, a traditional source of humor and healing, and the choice to use those differences as a means of hurting and demeaning others. In that light, I have decided to go ahead with the posting of these ideas as I had originally written them.
The other day, I picked up a copy of Christopher Moore’s new book, Noir, because I wished to keep my collection of his works up to date, being something of a fan. I am especially fond ofLamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal, and I do make it a point to reread The Stupidest Angel: A Heartwarming Tale of Christmas Terrorjust about every December. I really like Moore’s weird sense of humor.Anyway, as I started reading Noir, the first thing I encountered was an Author’s Note which read “This story is set in 1947 America. The language and attitudes of the narrators and characters regarding race, culture, and gender are contemporary to that time and may be disturbing to some. Characters and events are fictional.” My first reaction to this was that this statement just MIGHT be the funniest thing in the entire book (unlikely, but possible)! I thought it was hysterical (and a bit sad) that Moore felt it necessary to state something which seemed so completely obvious to me. Of course, dialogue and attitudes should reflect the period in which the story takes place. Isn’t it self-evident that that should be the case? And, yes, I am aware of the fact that socially acceptable expressions of opinions and attitudes have (and do) change over time.
Then I got to thinking about Michael Bogdanov’s book, Shakespeare: The Director’s Cut, which I had read not long ago, and which seemed to me to be a bit obsessed with the idea that the current political lens provides the only acceptable way to view (and therefore interpret) Shakespeare’s plays for production. Thus, the marriage of Catherine of Valois to Henry V should be viewed as infamous because she was (historically) forced into the marriage for political reasons. He also seemed quite convinced that Katherine (the Shrew) was forced to marry that money grubber, Petruchio, because her father just wanted to get rid of her and that Petruchio only wanted her for her money. Hence, he seemed to suggest that these ideas were intended to justify Petruchio’s “misogynistic” treatment of her which makes up much of this play and leads to what he seems to see as her total capitulation of her personhood.
I think that The Taming of the Shrew CAN legitimately be interpreted in quite a different light. The fact does remain, however, that for most of Western history women were assumed to be the property of their families (generally their fathers) to be married off for political, social, or financial reasons as the fathers saw fit. The idea of marrying for love is, after all, basically a product of the Romantic movement, so it’s only about 200 years old; not all that long, historically speaking. We may not accept the older idea today, but it was quite acceptable for centuries. And, it was a common subject for humor, as was the idea of marriage for love.
All of this got me to thinking about the nature of humor and the fact that for a long time we have seemed to have difficulty dealing with the idea that much (perhaps most) humor, if you look at it deeply enough, has something to do with some sort of pain. Some suggest that by acknowledging and sharing this pain and recognizing that it’s not (or shouldn’t be) the normal state of affairs, through laughter and embarrassment, we are simply expressing something about the fundamental nature of humanity; that Man is the animal who laughs. It seems to me that humor is one of the more effective ways which humans use to share our common humanity. Consider some “jokes:”
I told my son "I want you to marry a girl of my choice!" He said "NO!" I told him she’s Bill Gates daughter!!!! He said "OKAY!"
I got in contact with Bill Gates & told him "I want your daughter to marry my son!" He said "NO!" I told him my son was the CEO of the World Bank! He said "OKAY!"
I went to the Chairman of the World Bank & told him to make my son CEO of the Bank! He said "NO!" I told him my son is Bill Gates' Son in Law! He said "OKAY!"
And that, my friends, is the essence of how politics works…
This story is about lying (at its core), but it’s funny because we can identify with the idea that there is a certain degree of truth in it about the “wheeling and dealing” which we associate with politics and politicians. Another one;
Reverend Boudreaux was the part-time pastor of the local Cajun Baptist Church and Pastor Thibodaux was the minister of the Covenant Church across the road.
They were standing by the road, pounding a sign into the ground that said: “Da End is Near. Turn Yo Sef ‘Round Now Afore It Be Too Late!”
As a car sped past them, the driver leaned out his window and yelled, “You are religious nuts!”
Then, from the curve in the road, they heard screeching tires, and a big splash…
So, Boudreaux turns to Thibodaux and asks, “Do ya tink maybe da sign should jussay …’Bridge Out?’”
So Cajun ministers are too dumb to make a simple sign, but are we always simple, clear and direct in our own communication? Another;
There’s an Irish Proverb which says:
“May those who Love us, Love us;
And those who don’t Love us, may god turn their hearts;
And if he doesn’t turn their hearts, may he turn their ankles,
So we’ll know them by their limping.”
Does this really mean that the Irish are just vengeful and stupid? Or, does it express the common desire to know who is truly our friend, and who is not, and the difficulty in knowing that? Another;
A Creation Story!
God said, “Adam, I want you to do something for Me.”
Adam said, “Gladly, Lord, what do you want me to do?
God said, “Go down into that valley.”
Adam said, “What’s a valley?”
God explained it to him.
Then God said, “Cross the River.
Adam said, “What’s a river?”
God explained the to him, and then said, “Go over the hill….”
Adam said, “What’s a hill?”
So, God explained to Adam what a hill was.
He told Adam, “On the other side of the hill you will find a cave.”
After God explained what a cave was, He said, “In this cave you will find a woman.”
So, God explained that to him, too.
Then God said, “I want you to reproduce.”
Adam said, “How do I do that?”
God first said (under his breath), “Geez….”
And then, like everything else, God explained that to Adam, as well.
So, Adam goes down into the valley, across the river, and over the hill, into the cave, and finds the woman.
In about five minutes, he was back.
God, his patience wearing thin, said angrily, “What is it now?”
And Adam said, “What’s a headache?”
Isn’t this just another variation of one of the most classic “humorous” situations? Perhaps because we’ve all found ourselves in some sort of comparable position?
The old TV show of “Amos and Andy” had characters who were: George Stevens, the henpecked husband, who got most of his sense of importance by being the “Kingfish” of the Mystic Knights of the Sea Lodge; Andy Brown, who was rather gullible and was frequently caught up in the Kingfish’s schemes; Sapphire Stevens, the Kingfish’s wife who was always catching her husband trying to pull a fast one to get rich; Calhoun, the lawyer, who was more than a bit on the shady side; and Amos Jones, the owner/operator of the Fresh Air Taxi Company, who seemed to be the only one who actually had some common sense. Over time, this show got a lot of bad press because it was said to portray “Blacks” in a bad light. I thought (still do) that that was a stupid idea, although one should never underestimate the power of human stupidity. These characters were not funny because they were “African-American,” they were funny because they were easy to identify as “type” characters which can (and have been) found almost everywhere in almost every society. And they were funny because of their behavior, not their skin color.
Much the same could be said of “The Honeymooners” where bus driver Ralph Kramden was something of a self-serving blowhard, but he loved bowling and pool and was an enthusiastic member of the “Loyal Order of Raccoons;” Alice, was his more level-headed but sharp-tongued wife; Ed Norton, his sewer worker buddy, lets Ralph take the lead on various schemes, but seemed to be better-read, better-liked, more-worldly and certainly better-tempered than Ralph was. Again, these characters were “types” we could all identify with as we all knew people somewhat like that. And, they were funny because they did silly things and got caught at it, not because they were “working class.”
Much the same sort of thing could be said of many of the characters in most television sit-com series, then and now.
So, what’s my point? I think we have lost a good deal in these days of “Political Correctness” by allowing society to become so sensitive to anything which can be construed as being “offensive” that we have reduced most humor to stupidity. Comedy (humor) is supposed to be a way of bringing us together. The insistence that it’s “anti- American” to say or do ANYTHING which might be construed by anyone as being offensive is to limit humor to the pratfall, which is only funny when the guy who slips on the banana peel immediately jumps up obviously unhurt. After all, it’s not funny if he just lies there in a pool of blood. I think that there’s more to comedy than that. Sure, people do, on occasion, do stupid things, just as we, ourselves, sometimes do. But, pointing out that social, cultural, or linguistic differences do exist among us and that these can be seen as amusing to others is not, necessarily, intended to demean others. It’s just possible that it’s intended to identify with their common humanity with us. After all, most of the best “Polack” jokes I’ve heard have, generally, been told by people of Polish extraction, the same with “Jewish,” or “Irish” jokes, or, even, theatre jokes. (see post #118)
I doubt that this post will have much of an impact on our greater society, but I think it’s probable that a good deal of the divisiveness we see in so many aspects of contemporary life can be traced to the idea that we tend to take ourselves a bit too seriously too much of the time. A good laugh (especially if it’s at our own expense) every so often is not necessarily a bad thing; and it will probably help us, too.