Friday, March 10, 2006

No Joke

Two young people have been arrested in the recent rash of church fires in Alabama and according to police officials they started the fires as a "big joke." I think this points up a big problem in our culture that needs to be addressed: the serious danger posed by comedy, especially comedy that's not actually funny. Increasingly, young people are dismissing their actions and statements as "just a joke." Humor is being used more and more as an excuse for cruelty, venality and stupidity.

I am not against an occasional one-liner. But I think there is a reason Jay Leno is on late at night when young people are supposed to be in bed. We all recognize the influence that video games, movies and music have on our culture and especially on our youth. The teens responsible for Columbine played video games. The New York Times has reported that the movie Brokeback Mountain has led to a rash of "Brokeback marriages," where husbands go on long fishing trips with their buddies (not that there's anything wrong with that). Rap music has had a deleterious effect on the way many young men see women and the recent Oscar for "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp" will no doubt lead to the growth of Pimp Rights groups demanding recognition. But very little attention has been paid to the effect of inappropriate humor on young people.

Although I think Jon Stewart made great strides in this area by largely avoiding humor while hosting the Oscars, more needs to be done. Young people (and many adults) often don't have the capacity to determine the difference between funny and unfunny so I think that we need to start teaching our youth about comedy in the schools. They need to learn that the number one rule of comedy is that a "joke" should be funny. They need to be taught the difference between laughing at and laughing with someone. And they should be taught to avoid satire, which only confuses people and saps the national will. I don't think, however, that we should teach young people how to be funny, because I don't think they are ready for that, so I propose that we fund Abstinence-Only comedy classes.

Even adults, however, need to be judicious in their use of humor. The Bible has very few jokes and the Quran, I think, has none. President Bush has gotten into trouble at times with his indiscriminate use of humor, such as the time he made a joke about looking for WMDs. I also think that many people didn't realize that he was kidding when he said he would veto any bill that would stop the Dubai ports deal. Although I don't begrudge the President a joke now and then, I think that sometimes he needs to take his job a little more seriously. He could learn something from some of his opponents who sometimes don't seem to have any sense of humor at all and from Dick Cheney, who has never cracked a joke in his life, as far as I know. While people have occasionally accused me of having a sense of humor, I strive to be funny as little as possible. I hope that, while I may occasionally slip and make an inadvertently humorous remark, for the most part what I say will be taken seriously. The danger posed by comedy is no laughing matter.

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Patricia said...

You can see where humor leads you. One day you have a purple teletubbie and some kind of irregularity in a relationship involving Spongebob and then next day, Gay Marriage.

I'm not sure what kind of humor inspired the church arsonists. Maybe Wile E. Coyote?

In any case, humor does appear to be dangerous and if it gives the appearance of danger, it should be banned. You don't want your joke to be the one that helps the next terrorist, do you?

Marita said...

JS - I agree wholeheartedly. Satire should be avoided at all costs.

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