Friday, February 03, 2006

A Laughing Matter

Lately Humor has been a huge political hot button. The Tom Toles Cartoon has everyone in an uproar, especially the state department who is trying to censor him. Muslims are protesting portrayals of the prophet in Danish Cartoons (which have been re printed in a huge F-U by the French ). The US has apparently sided with the Muslims in this case, soooooooo the first amendment is a no then, cool.

And then today the Instapundit's Wife Dr. Helen posted on what she felt is overly partisan/anti American humor on the show Will and Grace.




On this one, Grace mentions the "uppity Canadians, what with their free
health care and gay rights." The message? Americans refuse healthcare to
many and are hung up on homophobia. And the digs about homophobia continue
in another scene, while at a resort of some sort, Jack tells his son not to
hug him on a street corner since one corner is named Murder and the other
Homophobia.

She takes a very measured view of things, observing that this might be the reason there are fewer viewers of prime time. Personally I just think it is because people are tired of scheduling their lives around TV. But that's a whole different topic

The same series however is mentioned on CNN in an article about Britney Spears and religious groups protesting an episode involving a cooking show called "Cruci Fixins" hosted by Britney Spears as a Christian and Jack which... Is freaking hilarious, and if they can't see that, I feel bad for them.

Obviously humor is frequently political in nature, but being overly sensitive about it is silly. The point of making jokes is so we can laugh and make certain situations less painful, to make the situation less serious so we can look at it in a different way. We do this by exaggerating, or understating a situation, making the situation funny, so we can laugh about it.

Sometimes, like the Tom Toles cartoon, we might go a little far. The situation in Iraq is painful, but by exaggerating it, and then understating the perceived reaction we get kindof a funny dichotomy. Right now though this situation may be too serious to joke about. Tom Toles was attempting to make a statement about the treatment of soldiers by the state department, and use humor. But it went a little far. That doesn't justify censorship however, he has a right to make that point, even if the situation isn't really funny.

The same goes for the aforementioned Will and Grace incidents, they are exaggerating when they talk about Murder and Homophobia. Let's face it, there ARE places in this country where gays are not welcome. So why not laugh about that and move on? Or we can get all uptight that they are makin digs at America. Maybe they are, but it's funny! And it is political too, because it is unfortunate that there are still places where gays aren't welcome. But we can at least laugh about it if we can't change their minds.

Humor is achieved through exaggeration, through understatement and through reactions to certain situations. It isn't easy, and sometimes you make a joke, and it isn't funny. Sometimes a joke you make will be funny for some people, and go too far for others. This obviously has to do with an individual threshold. But that doesn't change the intent of the joke, to make you laugh!

And we need to laugh, Why? This quote from this WaPo article about a DC area children's entertainer is an interesting take on laughter:


Even before they respond to a tickle, most babies will laugh at peekaboo.It's
their first "joke." They are reacting to a sequence of events that begins with
the presence of a familiar, comforting face. Then, suddenly, the face
disappears, and you can read in the baby's expression momentary puzzlement
and alarm. When the face suddenly reappears, everything isorderly in the
baby's world again. Anxiety is banished, and the baby reacts with her very
first laugh.

At its heart, laughter is a tool to triumph over fear. As
we grow older,our senses of humor become more demanding and refined, but
that basic, hard-wired reflex remains. We need it, because life is scary.
Nature is heartless, people can be cruel, and death and suffering are
inevitable and arbitrary
. We learn to tame our terror by laughing at the absurdity of it all.



Israel has set an amazing example in embracing a production of The Producers which features heavily a musical entitled "Springtime for Hitler" and makes light of the holocaust. This might still touch tender areas for some, but for others laughing about it is probably a welcome relief from the pain.

I know for some groups, and some people it is too soon to laugh, the world is still turned upside down, they are scared or upset. But other people need it. They need to be able to express their relief or cope with their terror through laughing. And it is their right to do so in a free society. If you don't think it is funny, fine, then don't laugh, but don't take the opportunity for laughter away from someone else.

As final note I will refer you to the Bill of no Rights, (via Chez):


ARTICLE II: You do not have the right to never be offended. This country
was based upon freedom, and that means freedom for everyone-not just you! You
may leave the room, turn the channel, express a different opinion, etc., but
the world is full of dolts, and probably always will be.

2 comments:

Pat said...

I remember someone lending me "Stranger In A Strange Land," which said that we more or less laugh to avoid the pain. The person whom lent me said book is a genius. She knows who she is.

"The Aristocrats" is hilarious and I recommend it if you haven't seen it. The comedians deconstruct a joke that, when told right, can be the most outrageous thing ever said. It can involve incest, molestation, the Holocaust, racism, Jim Crow, slavery and all sorts of other taboo subjects. The joke can be so bizarre and "offensive" that people can have no choice but to laugh.

And then I found five dollars.

Pyrrho said...

I missed The Aristocrats when it came to our local art theatre, but I see it's coming out on DVD, looks great.

I think nothing is off limits... an old example that says it all is "Why are there no jokes about the Jonestown massacre?" "b/c the punch line is too long"... of course maybe that's dates, mass suicides being so common now...

otoh, while I don't get offended by humor, that means I have to find it funny, and "it's just a joke" means little to me... my belief is when you navigate difficult waters humor-wise you are on your own them you come crashed upon the rocks... no one owes you the benefit of the doubt just as you don't owe them carefull avoidance of their sensitivities.

And I really hate that excuse as a way of pretending you don't think the way the humor might convey... if you tell me a racist joke I can in fact think you're racist, tell me I misunderstood the joke, or tell me the comedy in it and I'll listen, but say, "it's just a joke" and um, I already knew that.

interesting post shinobi... and when in doubt, joke about it.