Friday, July 27, 2007

Sick Humor

I deleted the last post, Cat/Gunblogging, which featured a photograph of me holding a gun to a cat's head. Like the photo of the naked fat man at the computer that I had up on this blog -- it seemed funny at first, then less funny each time I looked at it. It was sick humor, which I laugh at, but don't particularly enjoy contemplating.

I do have my limits with sick humor, such as in 2005 when I blogged about Sarah Silverman joking about 9/11. It was not funny to me. It still isn't. As I wrote then,

This is just a hunch, but I'll bet that the overwhelming majority of people who laugh at these jokes are liberals. Yes, they think it's tragic that so many people died, but they don't quite understand what the big deal is. It was just a crime, not an act of war. To liberals, 9/11 is something to mourn, but nothing to get angry about. I have even heard a liberal say, "We just have to get used to living with terrorism the way the Israelis are used to it." That's the attitude that would lead to joking about 9/11.

I remember reading back in the '90s that the producers of Beavis and Butthead got in trouble for a show in which their cartoon stars put a firecracker up a cat's butt. Apparently, some real life adolescents were inspired by the cartoon to abuse a cat thus. After that and other controversies, every episode started with a disclaimer:

Beavis and Butt-head are not role models. They're not even human, they're cartoons. Some of the things they do could cause a person to get hurt, expelled, arrested... possibly deported. To put it another way, don't try this at home.

The religious conservative Michael Medved called Beavis and Butthead, "the epitome of mindless and amoral entertainment." I thought the cartoon had some hilarious moments, but got tedious fast.

Another thing I read in the '90s was a piece on edgy comedians in New York City -- comedians who "push the envelope." One of their jokes went, "I think my cat is a homosexual. When I f**k his ass... he kind of likes it." Now, that's sick, twisted humor.

In The Art of Nonfiction, Ayn Rand writes,

When I say it is proper to laugh at evil, I do not mean all evil. It is improper, under all circumstances, to write humorously about tragic and painful events or issues -- about death, cemeteries, torture chambers, concentration camps, executions, etc. This is called "sick humor," and the designation is correct, because although it is possible to laugh at such things, one should not consider them funny. For example, take comedies about the Nazis. I have a strong aversion to war comedies. War per se is bad enough, but war and dictatorship combined are a fortiori not a subject for comedy. This applies to fiction and nonfiction writing.

Laughing at these things, like laughing at 9/11, is a way of saying they are not important. Human foibles such as slipping on a banana peel or misunderstanding the meaning of a word are not important, but an enormity like 9/11 is something that should not be minimized or forgotten. It was an act of war by totalitarian Islam, not to be laughed off.

The growth of sick humor is probably related to the spread of nihilism in modern philosophy. Nihilism is the philosophical destruction of values. Nihilists do not want people to take anything seriously, because doing so implies the existence of values. If nothing is of value, then everything can be laughed at, even the most horrifying destruction of life. To the consistent nihilist, nothing, not even life, is of value.

1 comment:

Dismuke said...

My experience is that humor can be a very slippery slope if one is not extremely careful about the context of the audience that it is presented to. It is very easy for a person to misunderstand one's intentions and take offense where no harm was meant.

I also find that it works that way in reverse. I can laugh at some VERY sick humor if the person telling the joke is someone I know to be a decent and moral person. One can take humor in bad taste on its own terms by temporarily putting one's self in the neccesary frame of mind. And doing so is not necessarily nihilistic or inappropriate so long as one's laughter does not involve any sort of inappropriate sanction and so long as one is fully aware that it is but an exercise in deliberate, temporary context dropping and does not lose sight of the wider issues and implications.

For example - I do not have a racist bone in my body. But I can, nevertheless, find ethnic humor to be very funny provided that I know for a fact that the person(s) I am sharing that humor with are NOT at all racist and that they also know that I am NOT racist. On the other hand, if a similar sort of joke is cracked by someone I know to be a racist - well, it is not funny. It is offensive. And if such a joke is told to me in public by someone I do not know very well and who does not know me very well - well, that too is offensive.

When it comes to humor, context is crucial.

As for your cat picture - I found it more bizarre than sick. I doubt that there is anyone who even superficially follows your blog who would seriously think for a moment that you are the type who would be cruel to an animal.