we still remember mitch hedberg

A severed foot is the ultimate stocking stuffer.

Apr 23rd 2003

laughing a little too hard

Over the recent months I have wondered if we as Americans have become too silly. While humor certainly has a place in relieving the palpable tension of war and helping reduce stress; like all virtues, its overabundance is a vice.

I am, as much as anybody, guilty of overindulgence in the sarcastic and silly. For example, earlier today I was glancing over a section of Yahoo News entitled “Oddly Enough.” It usually carries humorous stories, like the recent offer of $15,000 from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) to the city of Hamburg, NY to change their name to Veggieburg. Today one of the headlines read “Groom Shot in Head During Wedding.” It recounted the story of an Indian groom who was shot by a friend at a wedding celebration on the outskirts of New Delhi. My first instinct was to post the article to all-encompassingly under the headline: “Shoot now, or forever hold your peace”

And this is exactly the problem. Young adults, such as myself, are willing and anxious to poke fun at anything and everything. Again, as I mentioned before, there is a place for this (like all-encompassingly!) but there is also a line, hard as it is sometimes to distinguish, that should not be crossed. Yet seeing this line is all that much harder for us in the generation of South Park and the Simpsons.

I offer a recent example. A good friend sent me some doctored photos portraying Saddam Hussein and President Bush “in happier times” together drinking and having a good time. I thought that they were humorous and laughed out loud at several of them. But upon closer self-examination I realized that the line between virtue and vice had been crossed. Why? Recently the decomposed bodies of Laci Peterson and her unborn baby washed ashore in California. Would I have laughed had the doctored photos instead portrayed Scott Peterson (generally thought to have killed his wife) and Laci “in happier times”? Or what if the doctored photos pictured Laci’s family and Scott’s admitted adulterous lover having drinks together? There would be no humor in that.

Yet Saddam Hussein, a homocidal maniac in his own right, has become something of a comic’s friend. A convenient, far-away enemy who can always get a laugh. And there’s no harm in joking about him in a sort of familiar manner, is there? After all, it wasn’t our sister that was raped by his security officers. Or our father that was taken into the public square to have his tongue cut out and left to bleed to death. It wasn’t our older brother who was tortured and then killed for saying he didn’t approve of Saddam’s policies. Nor was it our mother who was abused by his secret police.

We would hardly joke about him had any of that happened to us.

Now I don’t think there is anything wrong with using Saddam or Hitler or anyone else to get a little comic relief, especially if the joke implicitly recognizes the demons that they were. The fact is that we all need to lighten-up and laugh every now and then. Some people and ideas deserved to get laughed at and scorned. This is why we started all-encompassingly.

But my feeling is that right now too many of us are laughing a little too hard.

2 Responses to “laughing a little too hard”

  1. doug, you are right. we should especially scorn poor attempts at humor. let me illustrate with a story: so i’m flying on an airplane. i’m cramped in between two very territorial males (there is no sharing of the armrests, no sir). it’s a small plane and there is bad weather, so the flight is very bumpy and vomit-inducing. so we circle our destination for a while, waiting for the storm to let up, further nauseating everyone on board. then we’re going to run out of gas, so we fly 300 miles to an airport where we can refuel. then we fly back. i’m holding my head trying not to explode, thinking, “hey, if we crash, at least this hell will end!” and as we pull into the airport, one of the flight attendants (there was a three man, all-gay crew) made some attempt at humor. like, “folks, we’re going to have to charge you for the extra leg of the trip. you can pay in the form of cash. to me. on your way out.” well, ‘ha ha’. that and a couple other jokes bombed, showing that, while laughter may be the ‘best medicine’, bad jokes just piss you off more. so, uh, yeah. i’m with you, doug.

  2. "bob"

    Doug, though I do agree with you, you can’t deny that you laughed at the photos… we all did, but you are right. Maybe we should temper our our humor, when reflextion would be more appropriate.

    Personally, I have never been much for sarcasm, it is very negative and destructive at root. I like good, clean fun, and I laugh loud.

    ps. you should add a spell check for this comment poster-thingy