It's all good fun...till somebody puts a snarfblatt
I wonder what aliens would make of our sense of humor. It's probably not the most confusing thing about us as a species, despite Lt. Cmdr. Data's diatribes to the contrary.
I've heard that a possible function of humor, of laughter, from an evolutionary standpoint, is to alert the group to an unreal-threat. I like that, because it fits a lot of what seems funny. If it looks like someone is hurt, but people are laughing...it's probably ok.
Oh sure...it's all good fun...until somebody puts a snarfblatt out.
Primates (the short hairy kind, not the ones nearby on my family tree) seem to evidence a considerable, if straightforward sense of humor, generally assumed to center around banana peel incidents and other pratfalls. Personally, I never found the Three Stooges funny, but I'd like to know what Koko's opinion is.
Post 9/11, Time Journalist Roger Rosenblatt wrote that we had come to an end of irony (article). We could no longer afford the lack of reverence that irony embodies. I've heard that much the same was said after the gas chambers at Auschwitz were found, and I know for a fact that it died briefly after the personal and public tragedies in my life. Divorce, Columbia, the death of friends.
But it always resurfaces. I stunned myself by laughing at Columbia jokes, though I've yet to hear a 9/11 joke and nothing about it seems likely to ever be funny. Ironic...maybe. The difference, besides one of numbers wasn't that one group of people knew the risks and the other had no idea, but that there is no way we can separate ourselves from the victims of the latter.
I still feel guilty for laughing at any tragedy. And yet, it occurs to me that as a memory device, irony, tasteless humor, serves to keep alive the memory of horrible things...even while holding the horror at a distance, allowing us to experience it, but keeping us safe from pain at the same time. Which is better then, to forget the horrific things in our lives or to remember them with a smile? It seems that forgetting would be dangerous, but becoming inured to them might be more so.
Irony, as you can see in this month's review of witpunk edited by Claude Lalumiere and Marty Halpern isn't dead. In fact, it probably isn't killable. What has happened is that it's become socially incorrect. In our increasingly Orwellian society, it's becoming less and less acceptable to distance oneself from other peoples' tragedies.
Personally, I've never liked mean spirited humor. I'd be just as glad if it went away. I'll take Steven Wright over the Darwin Awards any day, but it's a freedom of speech issue. Go ahead and laugh when I fall down, as long as I don't put an snarfblatt out.