Monday, July 27, 2015

Humore Me

All humor has a target.  If there were no target, there would be the total anarchy of launching missiles of ridicule or witticism or IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices) of scorn with no thought to where they might land.  

Such resulting anarchy might occur from time to time, but as behavior, it cannot be thought of as humor, perhaps instead the complaints of the privileged and the bored.

The more you look at the mechanics of humor, the more one observation moves to the head of the line.  There is no such thing as victimless humor.

Humor can be as deadly a device as the IED, its goal to topple someone or something from power or ascendancy, to in effect level the playing field by humiliating its target.  Returning for a moment to our mythic past, we recall somewhere within the sock drawer of our culture the story of the emperor with no clothes and of the one brave individual who gave voice to the observation.

"The emperor has no clothes" is an early trademark of humor, calling our attention to the niceties of protocol and politeness, where nudity may be expected among the peasants but is in no way to be spoken of in relationship to the royalty.

Historically, targets of humor have ranged from class distinctions to gender distinctions, regional and ethnic differences, institutional differences, and the highly charged implications of marriages.  

Going as far back as Aristophanes play, Frogs, there is a social dynamic in the plot that reaches us across the millennia,  A noble needs to be coached by his slave in order that he might pass for being a slave.

The slave gets to call his master out.  "No, no.  You're getting it all wrong."  The humor comes from the need of the master in the first place and from the audience's growing awareness that the slave may be at least the intellectual equal of his master,

Moliere takes on an impostor in his play, Tartuffe, wherein an individual known to be a role model is revealed to be nothing of the sort.  One of the first plays performed to allow a woman character to be portrayed by a woman, we see a wife being smart enough to see the hypocrisy in the eponymous Tartuffe.  She gets her husband to agree to hide under a table, while she engages Tartuffe in conversation and he begins to hit on her, demonstrating at least one of the wife's allegations about the man.

The real humor for the audience must have been electric.  Here is a front rank character, a male, down on hi knees before a woman as he hides under the table and the woman drapes a tablecloth over it.

Wherever there is convention, there is fun to be made of it, and most ethnic/racial humor has to do with one culture's sense of superiority to another.  At one point when you had a student you knew to be from Poland, you reminded him of the nature of ethnic humor with Poles as targets.  You started with the Polish actress who was so dumb, she slept with a writer to advance her career, thus two zingers, a racial slur and a gender slur in one observation.

"Whom do the Poles jump on for their ethnic humor?"  you asked.

Without hesitation, he had an answer.  "Finns.  We take it out on the Finns."

Not surprisingly, humorists are often moralists; Jonathan Swift author of the epic essay, "A Modest Proposal," was a clergyman, satirizing by masking his humor seem an actual sermon that might have got a bit out of hand.

Stephen Colbert has this same quality of seeming to speak toward a conventional tenet while at the same time mocking it.  Who else had the humorist's vision of going at a sitting U.S. President by heaping such lavish praise on him that even the sitting U.S. President began to realize sport was being made of him.

The better humorists of modern times are those men and women who turn the light of inquiry on themselves, allowing us to laugh at their foible while conveniently forgetting our own of a similar nature.

The joke is always on us.  The more we attempt to make this any less than the truth resident within it, the more we emphasize the  truth of the observation.

You may not be an emperor, but humor is at least in this sense democratic, neither are you clothed.




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