Friday, June 13, 2008

In which the author is NOT amused.

I like to think I have a decent sense of humor. I mean, I know everyone THINKS they have a good sense of humor but I (like everyone) am fairly confident that mine is a cut above. Generally speaking I find myself on the guiltily snickering side of the line rather than the staring down disapprovingly side. I don't understand people who DON'T like to laugh.

Despite all of this, I found myself unsmiling today as a classmate whispered what he thought were jokes to a few other students in Spanish 321. Admittedly, there's no end of material in that class. It's smaller size and apparently dry subject matter belie the comic potential of our tiny professor and the absurdity of anything written in Spanish. Our largely inarticulate instructor is defined by her obvious disdain for white people trying to speak Spanish, her blind insistence that ALL of Latin America (and Spain) adhere strictly to the conventions of the Academia Real and that ONLY twenty something American males speak improperly in any language, for which I love her with a kind of paternal affection. She's clueless, well meaning, and cute in a hapless middle aged lady kind of way. I like her. Most of us do.

The kid sitting behind me does NOT. I don't know his name. I don't WANT to know his name. This would only give me something to hate, wheras right now, I got nothing. I hardly see the kid's face.

The words coming out of his mouth formed sentences, but not jokes. Not quips. Not banter. If we read an article about Argentina and the Malvinas, then he belittles the intelligence, military prowess, and judgment of the Argentinians. If our professor is reviewing a basic point of grammar, he ridicules her low opinion of us. If she teaches a more difficult to understand concept, he berates her teaching ability. He thinks it is funny, because a few people laugh. It is NOT. These people aren't laughing because it's funny, because he's not making jokes. He's making a statement.

Any form of 'comedy' that relies on the superiority of the comedian over his subject to achieve humor is not a joke- it is a statement. His criticisms of our instructor don't point out the absurdity of life or the ridiculous in a situation. He is merely insinuating- no, stating outright- that he is better than she is. Almost ALL partisan political humor works this way. It's not a joke, it's an indirect insult. There are few things in life more devoid of mirth, insight, or good fun than this kind of drivel.

So why do people laugh?

The laughter also loses it's normal meaning and abandons its function. The statement, when given to an audience perceived as supportive, changes from "I am better than she is" to "Aren't we better than her?" The laughter is an affirmation: yes we are. The quality of the laughter, ranging from nervous and reluctant to
scornful and derisive, dictates the exact wording of the response. For example, an "ain't that the truth!" belly laugh indicates that the laugher is entirely comfortable with the distinction being made one that has most likely been accepted quickly and without thought. These people like to be better, and generally assume they ARE. A more tentative, half-hearted chuckle might escape the lips of someone whose is not so much interested in looking down on a person as to escape being looked down upon. They want to be part of the club more than deny others entrance. NONE of these parties overtly grasp the significance of this call and response ceremony, nor (frequently) does the teller of the joke.

But it's there. The implication of superiority inspires the desire to be 'superior with' instead of 'inferior than'. Just because it's not explicit doesn't make it any less real.

It's NOT funny. It's not humor. It's a line being drawn by someone who needs to be better than others and can satisfy more of that need by taking others there with him. It is a sneer, not a smile. A demarcation, not an observation.

Mostly, it's hateful.

Or maybe I just have no sense of humor.


Laura said...

You have a really great way with words, Jake. You thought this was "dry and uninteresting" but I found it poignant and direct and completely applicable for a lot of the "jokes" I hear as well.
Thanks for posting! This was definitely something that "needed to be said."

Rachel Bingham said...

I stumbled across your blog while visiting my niece's (Chelsea). I am very impressed by your ability to write as a true artist. You are very talented with words as well as images. Although I don't like your first entry very much...I am not a Twilight fan, but I do really appreciate Public Education. Anyways...You are very good at what you do!

Anthony Holden said...

Wait, so now laughing is bad? Man, now I've got to make some life changes...
Or was this all some kind of clever joke?
Either way, I don't get it.

REM-Brant said...

Nicely insightful...makes me wonder how many of my own 'jokes' place me in the "I laugh to put you down" category...or is this entire post a thinly veiled criticism of me? I always knew you hated me, Jake ;) That's the last time I call you a fine artist.

Anyway, the real point of me posting is...HAVE YOU SEEN WALL-E YET??!! I think my wife is secretly getting tired of me gushing over it day after day, so I need someone else to gush over it to!

- eric said...

i always knew you had a tender heart.

koryface said...

Gotta be honest, I definitely am in that category at times. I have to disagree with you slightly, however, because I think sometimes it is funny if the person being ridiculed is being a jerk or hateful themselves. It can be hateful though. Oh, and what is that teacher's name?

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