Tuesday, February 16, 2016
The Stifling Of Humor - How We Have Become A Boringly Serious Nation
Progressives have no fun and they would be contrite if they did. Global warming, income inequality, the glass ceiling, and homophobia are far too serious issues to take lightly let alone to joke about. There is no room for hum0r in compassion, and at least as far as the writers of the Gospels and the Epistles are concerned, Jesus Christ never laughed once.
He must have found something funny when he was growing up – Mary spilling cold gruel on the dog; Joseph missing a nail, banging his finger, and hopping around the yard – but we’ll never know since the years from his miraculous birth until at age 12 he began preaching in the temple are a blank.
In other words, progressives wear this mantle of concern, love for mankind, and compassion for others with honor and pride. Jesus found nothing funny in doing God’s work, nor should they.
Unfortunately, this proud mantle has become a wet blanket. No jokes about dummies, cripples, cross-dressers, or feminists.
From this perspective, life is a nature preserve. Every animal is beautiful in its own right, unique and special, and an expression of the world’s diversity and majesty. In this human preserve, everyone is perfect – no misshapen noses, beetle brows, rubber lips, pimples, scaly psoriasis, comb-overs, hunchbacks, or clubfeet. All of us are like Adam and Eve, created in the image of God.
We are told not to laugh at Mary Arkin’s strange symmetry. Yes, her eyes were awkwardly placed. The carpenter’s level was off-kilter on the day she was made, and one eye was socketed in her face a good two inches above the other. Mary was a lovely girl, sweet, kind, and generous; and if it hadn’t been for those misplaced eyes, she would have been considered attractive. But try as her teachers might, there was no way to deflect attention away from that strangely misshapen face.
Mary kept her chin up throughout childhood and adolescence thanks to her parents who admitted that God had been in too much of a hurry when she came down the assembly line and he had inadvertently given her a cocky-wampus appearance. It was simply the luck of the draw, she concluded, nothing she could do about it; and besides, what was a set of slightly off-line eyes compared to the deformities she saw every day.
Bobby Billups’ eyes were so close together that it was amazing he had any peripheral vision at all. Betty Landers forehead was so big that she had half the hair of any of the other girls, so far back did it slope. She did all she could to disguise it – floppy hair, wide headbands, and crazy hats; but she fooled no one. Mary thought that only prize-fighters had cauliflower ears until Billy Hanks took his seat in Mrs. Thomas’ eighth grade English class.
Mary was unique not because of her strange eyes, but thanks to her precocious understanding that the world is full of freaks. If looked at in the right way, life was indeed a circus side show. If it wasn’t physical appearance, then demeanor. Mr. Jenkins, the pharmacist – a man with Hollywood looks - had a facial tic so bad that it jerked his head so far back that he could look over his shoulder. He snorted like an animal and blinked his eyes like a bird.
Then there were people’s vanities. Mrs. Peabody, for example, thought that she was God’s gift to men and yet none of them got closer than arm’s length. They found her overbearing, impossibly vain, melodramatic, and intellectually empty. Yet she entered every room with panache. God had given her an exaggerated view of herself but had also given her limited social vision. She went on from salon to salon without a clue.
Had she been born a few generations ago, Mary Arkin could have been on the Borscht Belt circuit. Ironically she had a Third Eye, an unusual self-confidence, and a sharp sense of humor. She loved watching stage performers of these old Jewish comedians who understood what was what better than anyone. They knew that you did not have to go into the big tent to see a circus. It was all around you.
Progressives have no sense of humor. That’s a given; but the fact that so many young people are losing theirs bothered Mary. When she went to Harvard, there were no holds barred. Humor – ironic, sarcastic, witty, acerbic, clever, and even mean – was considered the highest form of intelligence, and the ability to perceive and appreciate the smoke and mirrors, tricks and foibles, vanity, and absurd posturing of the human race, and to dismantle, disaggregate, and disassemble ever absurd bit was genius.
While Harvard has always been tolerant of geeks who keep their heads down and eyes on their equations, musical scores, or electrical wiring, it has always – up until recently – prized those who kept their heads up and looked around even more.
Now the campus like many others has changed. The culture of diversity and political correctness has cast a dark and humorless pall over the university. Everything that is funny is off limits. What is funny if human looks, attitude, and behavior is taken off the table? If religion, sex, and food are no-fly zones? What is left?
Some of the funniest comedians are mimics who have an uncanny ability to observe and to recreate oddities in speech and behavior. All of us have our peculiarities, and mimicked with exaggeration, they can be hilarious. It is our vanity that we think so much of ourselves; and if it weren’t for the comedians of the world, we would never it punctured. It is funny the way Professor Talmadge clears his throat and adjusts his pens before every lecture; or the way Ms. Perkins smooths her skirt like an old spinster before she sits down; but laughing at them is out of bounds. Bling can be funny. So can gay sashaying. Ghetto-speak can be parodied and pilloried – an easy target compared to Mr. Featherstone’s patrician Main Line Philadelphia accent – but both are no-nos.
The 2016 presidential election is indeed serious, and the political lines have never been more clearly drawn. The American electorate is likely to have a stark and welcome choice between a committed liberal and a revolutionary conservative.
Yet the primary season has been more entertaining than any circus sideshow. The Republican debate food fights, Hillary’s obvious feints and deceptions, Bernie’s pandering for black votes and prayer meetings with the Rev. Al Sharpton, the family feuds and blood ties of the Bush family, the sanctimony of perennial losers like Santorum and Huckabee are hilarious. Progressives are worried about the state of the union, the erosion of logic and the principles of the Enlightenment,m and are horrified by the antics of Donald Trump; but no one else is. The raucous circus acts are America. That’s who we are. We wouldn’t be so angry if the liberal Left had let us laugh a little. Trump makes us laugh and relieves our anger.
Eventually this pall of enforced sobriety will be lifted and America will not be such a desperately serious and punitive place. Humor, optimism, and enterprise go together. A morose society overly concerned about offending others, treading lightly down every corridor, checking in on the less able, giving way for those of little opportunity and above all feeling guilty will get nowhere. It will take no risks, jump over no hurdles, nor bulldoze competitors and enemies.
It’s OK to be funny; and the sooner we bring back the likes of Shecky Greene, Mickey Katz, and Jackie Mason, clone them, deploy them, and make them one of us, the better off we will be.