Thursday, October 26, 2006

The Punch Line That Ends History

St. Francis had it figured out.

Gotta be clowns for God if you wanna know God.

Christians believe that inflated self-importance is the root of all evil.

Satire is the funniest and one of the most socially acceptable tools to stick a pin in that whole unhealthy thing.

How come religious people—and especially Christians—are so afraid of using it?

Not sure why theologians have paid so little attention to humor either.

While I wait for The Punch Line That Ends History I’ll take
the funniest stuff I can get.


Blogger anhomily said...

I have to say that, while I find satire funny, it never sits easy with me, and as you've been running this series, and beefing up on the satire in general in the last few months, I have been trying to figure out why exactly it sort of bothered me... I think I have figured it out. The key to satire, and what separates it from plain outright offense, is authority and trust from the audience. In a certain context where people know each other or there is a relatively homogenous audience, it makes sense and I think it works, but with the internet or any form of globally accessible communication it becomes problematic. The satirist therefore is assuming the very self-importance, that is the authority and trust, that she or he is deconstructing. "Borat" assumes he has the authority to sing "Throw the Jew down the well" because he really is of Jewish ancestry... but does he really have the right? I am sure some will say no.
Similarly I have been really struck by the fact that within a new social circle I can never assume that the things I know about my own "racial sensitivity" or "political correctness" will be taken for granted by others. I was in a creative writing class with Jamaica Kincaid, and in a class of 14 at Harvard - which is, despite advances in equality, still overwhelmingly white-male dominated, I was the only white American, and I wrote a story for which I was ripped apart for mocking and stereotyping black characters (mostly on the basis of one character who appeared briefly). I know that was not my intention, and I am sure anyone that knew me would have understood that, but I learned from that you always have to prove yourself, and you can't assume that people give you the benefit of the doubt. When a person writes satire for a general audience they are presuming that they have an authority that only some of their audience will be willing to give them. This sort of self-assuredness is sort of abrasive I find, and even if I am willing to give this person the benefit of the doubt, as I am with you, I still find that I question what their true position is, and I feel that in mocking view A, they are somehow validating it, or saying it is worth acknowledging. And sometimes it's not.
In short, I am not a fun-killer (at least I hope I'm not), but satire seems like it is often one of the more tasteless (and at times un-godly?) expressions of humor. One blog that I think is humorous and theological, but not so much satirical, and claims to put "Theology in service of humor; humor in service of the Gospel." is
but it doesn't necessarily mix the theology and the humor - more puts them side by side. It is probably more of a lifestyle thing than a writing stlye. So I am doubtful of satire, but keep trying... maybe you'll convince me :)

9:51 AM  
Anonymous Jon said...

I think that the thing that bothers me about satire is a dilemma it poses in my head. (I thought of this when seeing a brief clip of Colbert's show, which I've only seen a few clips of). The issue is this - if the position/persons being mocked are so wrong, then shouldn't a straightforward presentation of them be humorous or indicting enough? And if the straightforward presentation is not enough, then what aspects are you exaggerating to make me think it's funny, and how do I tell the difference between what is truth and what is exaggerated? And if you're exaggerating or unnaturally emphasizing some aspect of a person at their expense, is there something wrong with that? I think that's why satire doesn't sit well with me either.

1:19 PM  
Blogger Wordcat said...

Good stuff guys.

Don't get a chance to talk about humor in more thoughtful terms very often. Too bad such a basic part of most people's lives has gotten so little serious consideration in general and almost none theologically. That just seems so strange to me.

I'll make most of my response in the next post, but a couple of quick thoughts:

I've always really enjoyed satire but at times felt uneasy about it too so I feel you. I guess that's why I'm raising the whole thing.

I like your idea that authority and cultural consensus is a key to accepting humor, anhomily.

Humor translates so poorly across culture that it's hard to argue with that take.

But I think that's true of all forms of humor and not just satire. In fact, I'd say that applies to prosaic and analytical approaches too. People who don't buy your basic assumptions aren't going to get with anything you try to do without major efforts to get over those barriers.

And everybody, no matter what they're trying to do, has to assume some authority beyond what they've demonstrated empirically to get anything done. The planes would stop flying and the toilets would stop flushing if we required folks to prove themselves at every turn. Trust and faith make the wheels turn.

But when you try to take that sort of highly aware and sensitive approach to humor you usually end up with something that just isn't funny.

Maybe humor is one of those things that is so situation specific and fluid and dependent on lots of almost unconscious references and right brain intuitive connections that it just can't make the journey across cultural barriers easily.

Wow, being the only white guy at a Harvard creative writing seminar makes me sweat just thinking about it :^)

Not sure the goal of satire or humor in general is proving specific people wrong or indicting them, Jon.

The idea is to try to help people laugh about universal human failings and challenge self-righteousness, particularly among the powerful.

Of course, like everything else, some attempts at satire are better than others :^)

7:58 PM  
Anonymous Jon said...

It's hard to argue which is the goal in general, as specific as it is to the person involved. I'll take your word for your goals though.

On the other hand, I certainly think my take on it fits Colbert's goals.

11:56 PM  

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