Besides laughter as weapon there is a secondary aspect of humor and laughter that feels to me like a cultural tool of manipulation. It is related. What about comedy, laughter-light entertainment as the only means of communicating? My son and I have recently bumped heads over Will Ferrel. He said I don’t like WF because I recently saw a ‘green’ video that was loathsome. In it rape and murder were a joke. I won’t look for it or link to it. This kind of humor makes misogyny, hate, greed and stupidity “no big deal.” I just don’t see what is gained? Presumably, the idea was that environmentalists are seen as weak (considerate) so this green team is going to show how tough (inconsiderate) they are.
Yet, this doesn’t even get to my point here. I am finding myself surrounded by this dumbed-down sensibility as the norm, even with my own family. Nuance is gone in American humor. So-called satire is now done with a sledge hammer. There seems to be a real disconnect simply being gross or rude are glibly labeled satire. Satire isn’t stupid or mean by definition. Our literary tradition has sharp wit as the language of satire. Not so now.
Back to Will Ferrel, my son’s favorite comic. I told my son the other day I thought WF was obnoxious as he only plays the same character over and over. Granted he is cast in these roles, but he accepts them. I admit I really laughed at Elf, and even chuckled at The Anchorman. What kind of drug is in everyone’s water that this is accepted as entertainment movie after movie after movie? I just suspended my cable (satellite) television after ten years – I don’t want to try to quantify the hundreds of thousands of hours I watched crap when I was in ‘watching mode’ and something better wasn’t available. I literally observed my expectations drop lower and lower over time. Hundreds and hundreds of stations of shit that I paid $50 a month to click past. Ultimately that is what helped me make the call, the new bill showed a $4 rate increase and I know for a fact I am getting less. Done.
Having said all that, humor is a precious link for my son and I. Whenever he visited New York (he lived in the Midwest with his father) we often spent time in the video store trying to find a movie we all could enjoy. Humor was one of the only themes that came close to bridging our tastes. I consciously learned to lighten up and let the goofy movies help us all bond. Hey, I remember fondly Big, Ghost Busters plus Planes, Trains and Automobiles with a real sincerity despite my initial boredom with the comedy format. He joined me in NYC at age 14. With this adolescent boy in my home full time, I learned to go along to get along with a lot more scatological, stupid comedy than I ever would have chosen without him there.
But now, eighteen years have passed. I was bummed out at this last Thanksgiving to sit down to a cable pay-for movie, Idiocracy. It was absolutely painful. I didn’t even pretend to enjoy it. I couldn’t. It was beyond the pale. Again, satire writ large in shit-smeared letters was the word of the day. It is now becoming painful to me to watch insipid nonsense, especially when I know the people of this nation must wake up in order to get ourselves out of war, into sustainable economies and back to our humanity. And, just to be clear. I think my son is funny and I enjoy our shared humor. I just feel embarrassed for him and his coworkers at the restaurant and the country at large who all seem to share the same low expectations. In my mind it simply isn’t enough to act stupid and fart to make a movie. There are far too many hilarious things in our lives. I want more humor, more laughter that stretches our imaginations and our expressions.
This trance-like addiction to dumb is insulting to the viewing public in both movies and television. Sadly, the monkeys flinging shit seem already to be in charge.