Humor: Not funny

By Amanda Marcotte
Wednesday, June 18, 2008 14:51 EDT
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Picture an example of the deadly serious nature of dead white guys.

Michael Gerson decides to explain this humor thing to conservatives, which is similar to watching a dachsund try to explain quantum mechanics. Or a Southern Baptist minister explain why he knows more about biology than one of those scientists with their literacy. To be fair, he’s not explaining what makes something funny so much as what makes something not funny, and in the latter category, we can assume that if you’re too stupid to get why it’s funny, you can safely snit that it’s not funny without feeling even remotely humiliated.

The first rule of humor is that it is very serious. You can tell, because dead white guys engaged in humor and satire, and everything white guys, especially dead ones, do should be treated with the utmost respect and gravity.

Satire has been called “punishment for those who deserve it.” Writers from Erasmus to Jonathan Swift to George Orwell have used humor, irony and ridicule to expose the follies of the powerful, the failures of blind ideology and the comic weakness of human nature itself.

Sure, you haven’t read Erasmus, Swift, or Orwell, but rest assured, as they were very serious dead white men, they didn’t befoul their elegant humor by trying to get the audience to do coarse things like laugh. That’s for the hoi polloi. Occasionally they might try to get a wry smile out of the audience, but that’s pushing the envelope. The last thing you want is people to actually pull the leather-bound volumes off the shelf and read them out of the belief that they will get pleasure from the occasion. Books are for dusting; reading leads to getting ideas which leads directly towards liberalism. Next thing you know, you’re Al Franken, who this piece is about and who is officially Not Funny. Even though he’s a white guy.

So what is Franken’s “provocative, touching and funny” contribution to the genre? Consider his article in Playboy magazine titled “Porn-O-Rama!” in which he enthuses that it is an “exciting time for pornographers and for us, the consumers of pornography.” The Internet, he explains, is a “terrific learning tool. For example, a couple of years ago, when he was 12, my son used the Internet for a sixth-grade report on bestiality. Joe was able to download some effective visual aids, which the other students in his class just loved.” Franken goes on to relate a soft-core fantasy about women providing him with sex who were trained at the “Minnesota Institute of Titology.”

Male use of pornography is Not Funny. Sure, I can hear the yappity-yap liberals point to “comic weakness of human nature itself” part of the definition I offer, but that’s because liberals have no idea what the word “weakness” means in the context of invoking dead white guys you haven’t read. Obviously, we are supposed to mock the downtrodden and the oppressed. So while mocking a man surfing for porn is against the rules, perhaps you can mock rape victims. Calling your wife a “cunt” is hilarious, because it is a hilarious reminder to women that they’ll never be fully human, no matter what kind of airs they put on. And of course, gloating about hundreds of years of racism never stops being funny, even if the joke itself is such a bad pun it’s not really a pun at all.

Many soft-headed liberals suggest, after committing the near-criminal act of actually reading something like “A Modest Proposal” by Swift, that perhaps he wasn’t mocking the downtrodden Irish so much as mocking the brutality of their English oppressors. There is no reason to think this. There is nothing funny about oppressing people, which is hard and serious work. Clearly, he was mocking the Irish for producing such delicious babies. It’s part of the grand tradition of dehumanizing members of a stigmatized group by calling them animals, which never stops being funny. Swift was merely suggesting that the Irish tasted like chicken, which shows that they deserved what they got.

But! Say the yapping liberals, didn’t your own definition of satire include a part about “exposing the follies of the powerful”?

Stupid liberals. But again, conservatives have the more mature, deep understanding of these things. Because when someone is a victim they are actually very powerful, because they have the most important power of them all, far greater than wealth or the ability to command a military. They can claim “victim status” and have people feel sorry for them. In another one of those books you haven’t and shouldn’t read, Richard III solemnly declares that he’d give his kingdom for a horse. Nowadays, the cry is your kingdom for someone to smack you so that you can get liberals to rally around your cause. Modern satire must address this reality by doubling up the bigotry. Kick a bum on the street and hee-haw about it. Anything less would do dishonor to the memory of Jonathan Swift.

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
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