A sentient species that cannot laugh at itself is doomed. Humour is wholly subjective, so when people jump up and down screaming “foul” I wonder if they’ve forgotten that just because someone said it, doesn’t make it true.
When we filter out the kinds of humour that may offend a certain group of people, we may think we are exercising non-discrimination, but is that really the case? Aren’t we just discriminating in a different way?
Take for example, people with special needs… [pause for collective sharp intake of breath]
We are conditioned to be very careful not to say
(or laugh at) anything that might be considered offensive… that in order to ensure we’re careful, we’ve already had a quick think about all the things we might want to avoid being offensive about.
Doesn’t that defeat the point?
I grew up with a special needs sister… and boy did she make us laugh.
For one thing, she is naturally very funny and the times when she mimicked her school friends, she did it with such sincere authenticity that it was impossible not to double over laughing. For another, she is so literal that even her behaving normally was comical.
During her teens all she ever seemed to have were epileptic seizures… sometimes four or five in a day and after a while (many years) we become almost nonchalant about it all … it was exactly almost always like this, “okay double her over, keep head down, mind the china, hold her arms away from that shelf, “no thanks, we don’t need a glass of water… that’s very kind… yes, she has epilepsy… yeah, she does this often… there, are you feeling better now? Here let me wipe your chin… right let’s go home… oh drat… I think she’s having another one… “”
There were moments that were so fraught with stress that without a united sense of humour, I don’t think we would have coped as well as we did.
There was one time my Mum and I went out, I don’t remember what we were out doing but when we got back, I took one look at my sister.
“What’s wrong with your face?”
I scanned her features — eyes… nose… mouth… ears… fringe… hmm, what else is there on a face? eyebrows… oh my…. eyelashes…. uh, Mum, she’s got no eyebrows or eyelashes…”
Turns out, she used a large pair of sewing scissors to demonstrate whatever she was feeling at the time… and I still shudder when I think that it could have been a complete disaster had she been a single micrometer out!
But it was one of those moments when it truly wasn’t too soon to laugh. More to dissociate from the horror of the what-ifs, than for any need to poke fun… my Mum and I burst out laughing…. what else could we have done? If we’d overreacted, she might have done it again… laughter defused whatever tension there was within her that caused her to do it in the first place.
My sense of humour prefers the observational, situational and the eccentric ridiculous… I dislike insult humour … but people who enjoy insult humour may not like it for the same reasons I don’t. I’ve come to realise that subjectivity is as broad as it is long and it extends out over the horizon and beyond.
I think humour is healthy for dealing with stressful times and by tracking popular memes… useful to gauge more authentically how people are feeling, generally. My simple rule of thumb is — focus on what I find funny and find even more of it to laugh at. If I don’t like a comedian, or find a particular point of view nasty and debasing, I just won’t support it by lending it any attention. I call it Capitalismocracy.