Yes, I am just barely old enough to remember the Fibber McGee and Molly radio show.
These were the days when one era of comedy was ending and a new one was emerging. Much of the change was due to comics like Milton Berle. He was a figure that I remember distinctly as being shunned by most of the decent people that I grew up around…initially. But then of course, when his type of humor became so much more prevalent, I saw a slow change in the mainstream entertainment landscape that allowed for more and more “cheap” laughs to become an acceptable form of entertainment.
No, I am not going to go on a tirade about the disintegration of morality by way of humor…although I could. We all know WHO forced this junk on our society.
I am going to, instead, dig a little deeper into the qualitative aspects of this subject. I will start by making a statement that some people might consider a revelation of sorts.
Sex is not funny.
This is not just the opinion of a prude. It is a fact. When someone begins a criticism with “I’m no prude, but…” of course they are. But let’s define our terms first.
Humor is something that causes laughter. Everyone enjoys laughter…nothing wrong with it…good for the body and mind. But what is laughter and what causes it? Many books have been written on the subject because, I suppose, it is a curiously human-only behaviour. I am not going to bore you with the physiological breakdown of the phenomenon, but suffice it to say that it is caused by a juxtaposition of competing ideas or forms in the mind. Any good joke can be dissected to the point of revealing two or more conflicting or contrasting ideas. It is in that contrast that the otherwise reasoning mind realizes that something is a “joke”, and not to be taken as presented, that sends the signal for an exaggerated “sigh” of relief to the chest and bingo-jingo…we laugh.
But there is another form of laughter that doesn’t adhere to this principle. The laughter produced by the dirty joke. The process differs completely, because there is nothing inherently conflicting in anything sexual. As W.C. Fields once said “sex is the most fun you can have without laughing”. Not only is that a funny line, it is VERY telling. He understood that sex has nothing to do with laughter. So why do we laugh at dirty jokes, sexual innuendo and prurient humor? Research has revealed what happens in the brain and where on it’s landscape, the dirty joke is processed. The conclusion is VERY interesting.
Just as it as easy as falling off a log to get uproarious laughter from a class of 4th grade children by just uttering just one vulgar word, so is it guaranteed for a comic to get laughter by telling a dirty story…and for the same reason.
Embarrassment. Think about that for a moment. And let’s not separate the word “prude” from it’s actual root “prudence”. Prudence: Caution in practical affairs;discretion or circumspection.
Embarrassment is a powerful emotion. It can be, and is exploited constantly..as I stated in an earlier post on “political correctness”.
I will guarantee that if you put me on stage in front of 5,000 people of all ages and backgrounds,that I will get a great amount of laughter from them by just saying the word “pussy”. I will stake my life on that assertion.I will even venture that after reading the preceding sentence, that you either felt the urge to giggle, or were slightly offended. Why? Every human brain holds a morality…either religious or just common-sense based. Sex is considered a taboo subject for discussion in most all moral codes. So…when a person hears a sexual reference in the setting of an entertainment, the event is processed in a very fight-or-flight portion of the mind. Either you are immediately disgusted as this “joke” is told and you feel or voice your disagreement…fight, or you forgive the teller and “go along with it”…flight. To go along with such a reference signals the “sigh-relief” response, hence laughter. To fight such a story, in the mind is to take a moral high-ground and be disgusted. I’ll vote for the latter. Surely we have evolved past this simplistic form of entertainment for idiots?
That is why “pussy” jokes are called “cheap laughs”. They require no thought from either the performer or the audience. No expense. There is no real humor, per-se. It is unchallenged in today’s entertainment world…simply because it feels good to laugh. You can put your morals in your pocket and guffaw with the best of them, idolizing the “Seinfelds” and their inexpensive “humor” on your tv, with words and images meant to cause you embarrassment. Or you can quickly analyze whether the attempts at humor you are hearing, are well thought-out clever juxtapositions of thought and form. To patronize the cheap-laugh hucksters is to allow this type of exploitation of morality to continue ad-naseum at the expense of truly funny entertainers. And what moral values are at stake? As you have noticed over the years, your “disgust/embarrassment” response is becoming more and more immune to simple sex humor as those paths in your brain become worn. So it must become increasingly more repulsive to continue to occasion the laughter reaction….just like a drug addiction. I can foresee in the not-to-distant future when the mere mention of say, raping children, will elicit side-splitting cackling. Too far you say? In Fibber McGee and Molly’s days (just two generations ago) the idea of mentioning the word “pussy” in mixed company, as some sort of “entertainment” would have been grounds for criminal prosecution. “Circumspect” that.
For my part, I don’t really care to be embarrassed or repulsed, and I will continue to pronounce such childish goings-on as Molly used to say ” ‘taint funny McGee”.