The surest sign of age is the loss of the vital powers that once came with ease. The mind may be the first thing to go, as my wife has been telling me for years, but weakening flesh is the cruelest harbinger of failing vitality.
I well remember the first unmistakable sign that things were slipping away too quickly to notice. We had a tree stump in the backyard that had to be removed. So, manly man that I used to be, I buttoned up my sleeves, pulled on a pair of gloves, policed up a long crowbar and a rock to serve as a fulcrum, and set out to show that stump who was who. I got the bar lodged underneath the stump, pushed down with all my might, and…the stump refused to budge. I grunted and groaned, kick and cussed for about twenty minutes, unwilling to accept my ignominy. Fortunately, my nephew dropped by and, seeing that I was in great distress, offered to help. Now Nate is a giant of a man and a kill trained Marine who’d served three tours in Iraq, so I figured he’d just add his muscle to mine. Instead, he wrapped his arms around the stump, let out a groan, and pulled it up roots and all.
I learned a valuable lesson that day: Better Nate than lever.
Yea. Yea. I know that’s a terrible joke. And probably old too. Really, really old. Dating all the way back to the days when people could laugh. You know, those halcyon days when people weren’t rushing in a perpetual panic towards the mental hospital, terrified that someone might find out they’d actually laughed—at anything. The clearest sign that a culture is falling apart is, coincidentally enough, also the surest sign that an individual is diving headlong into his own personal looney bin: The lost joy of laughing at himself, and yes, at others. Porky Pig the prophet.
Now I’m not interested in repeating the various complaints about political correctness. Nor is there space enough in this post to list the names of the people who’ve been ritually sacrificed because they dared say something actually funny. If you want to see how far humor has fallen, watch the first few minutes of Colbert’s show. Bitterness passes as his best material. And he’s raking in a boatload of dough on the misery he spreads in the hearts and minds of his servile sheep.
I don’t know if there are any studies on the question, but I do wonder whether the rising mortality rate has something to do with the collapse of humor.
I’m late publishing this post (hence the Nate joke). I spent most of the day fighting off a nasty headache. I found the cure by accident. I remembered a joke my brother told me years ago and laughed loud and hard. It is one of the greatest jokes ever, and one of the dirtiest. The headache drained away. I wonder if a similar treatment my cure the ills that are actually killing people.
When I was in college Steve Martin was at his comedic peak. I remember reading an interview he’d given to Playboy (I only bought it for the social commentary) in which he described his liberation from the darker reaches of his philosophy studies. As I recall, he described sitting at a laundromat with a friend discussing some big question and fretting over the details, when they both just stopped, looked at each other, and burst out laughing. Soon thereafter, Martin jumped to the top of the comedian hit parade. To be sure, Martin really had only one joke, as Rolling Stone magazine put it, and it was him. But he sure lightened the burdens of students struggling in the days when colleges actually expected results.
Aristotle wrote that “humor is the only test of gravity, and gravity of humor, for a subject that will not bear raillery is suspicious…” I take that to mean, screw you if you can’t take a joke. Philosopher Roger Scruton notes that only a rational being can laugh. Which, it seems to me, means “you’re screwed if you can’t take a joke.
I’ve written on the subject of laughter a couple times on Ricochet, the first time in a post asking, “Heard Any Good Jokes Lately?” There were about two hundred responses (thanks gang). But the jokes all dated way back to the days when people felt free to laugh. Are there any new jokes? About anything? Or have we yielded the battlefield to the politically correct psychopaths in our midst?
I read somewhere that most new jokes are dreamed up by men (and maybe a few women) in prison. I’ve been in prison (I was a lawyer, man, which probably means there’s a cell reserved for me), and while prisons are not an obvious proving ground for lighthearted banter, the cons have plenty of time on their hands to come up with some fresh material. But as humor has left the culture, maybe even the offenders are afraid to offend.
I have no idea how to restore the sane ground found only in humor. But Professor Scruton believes that “what is needed…is a seriously rude, arrogant, and well-educated class of journalists, who would lend each other support in ridiculing the pretensions of the censors.” Seems like a good initial strategy, even if the wall of perpetual outrage still stands.
I’d propose a second line of attack, though it could cost a lot of lives: follow the lead of the late Mike Royko, and tell an offensive joke in mixed company. And when people gasp and cover their ears, and tell an even more offensive joke. Keep piling it on. Eventually, when all the pent-up rage, anger, and psychotic energy bursts, they might come to understand that life is too short to take things so seriously.Published in