Recently, I wrote a small cameo piece about a “cross-dresser” and the time and place he “came out” publicly in a small country town (see: “A short announcement“). I wrote it as (what I thought) a humorous piece, acting on the logic that where or whenever such an “event” happened, be it in the place chosen, for its degree of comfort and camaraderie, or in the main street in full drag, it was bound to be confronting in a pathos-bathos scenario that could occasion a few laughs from the distance of many years hence. I sent it to a younger person employed in an local government artistic/cultural occupation as an adjunct to a conversation we had on certain “local” issues. I was mistaken, at least, mistaken in the perception of what a new generation of readers finds funny. Perhaps, as has been suggested, my aged, male, working-class perception of what is or is not funny is now thoroughly dated! “It’s just not funny anymore” has been at odd times leveled accusingly at yours truly. I’ve had my own doubts before … it may be time to believe it!
Though, when one analyses the condition that creates a “moment of humour”, so that a laugh involuntarily springs from our lips, it is understood as the sudden “leap” from pathos to bathos and the swiftly altered situation thereof … like the flaying of arms and legs in a sudden “banana-slip” moment … a kind of slapstick suddenness. But something has changed. There appears to now be some hesitancy to guffaw innocently at others foolishness or mishaps. You think about it … how long since you have heard a string of good jokes? I used to hear many. One “tuned one’s ear” for the grand joke from a good joke teller. They were considered rare treasures; one “good” joke could make or break a reputation in any front-bar! You remember that “Clayton’s … the drink you have when … ” advert with what’sisname? Oh yeah, Jack Thompson. That was the accepted locale for the dispersion of male humour. I’m sure that other gender has a similar locale!
Now it’s all gone, but people are still laughing. The guffaws are still coming, but what are we now laughing at, if not socially incorrect slapstick? I think we are more inclined to seek out humour in the more perverted absurdities of life … in the increasingly bizarro-behaviours of people and situations. I think we are finding more laughs in a kind of sado-humour than we did before, and it is a worrying thing. I’m not saying certain ghastly racist/sexist jokes aren’t deserving of the dustbin of history, but there is a worrying criticism of satire that is very “over the top” censorship. There seems less inclination to humour, and more inclination to litigate such skits as one would find on “The Hampster” or “Ripping Yarns” or “Python” etc.
Yet, I have seen rise alongside such cruel treatment that one occasionally views on a channel-surf expedition of “Reality TV” an appreciation of sado-humour, where cruel or victim-selection programs are on top of the ratings! I have watched several so-called “funny home-videos” skits that seem to me to be brutal and dangerous … that one can see such moments have been deliberately staged to get the video on the show. Same with those “competitive cooking/singing ” programs etc. There can be no better display of sado-humour than one sees on such channels. Yet they are the top-rating programs. What gives!?
One can track the evolution of such sado-humour back to the days of “try-hard” Hollywood “black humour”, where the big studios tried their hand at so-called crime-comedy. I remember the hit movie “Beverly Hills Cop” was the beginning of such a genre, where it was billed as a comedy, yet I counted seven quite brutal killings in the show. (I was a “forced viewer” … been taken to the cinema against my better judgement by acquaintances who “just loved it and you will too”). I hated it. It made me wince. (I’m a sensitive bloke). I was almost going to add my set piece here that ”I’m almost a Buddhist, y’know”, but considering the behavior of those believers in Myanmar just recently, I’ll let that one through to the keeper.
And I do confess to committing what could be called a sexist faux pas a while back when the rather well-sculptured woman who was the project manager of the small group I volunteered for, pulled a newly arrived “T” shirt from a package, and announced:
“Look, our new “T” shirts with our new slogan on them. What do you think?” And she enthusiastically held it on the front of her chest for me to see. She smiled a broad smile, I gazed keenly and blinked a couple of times in silence, not having gathered my now woolly thoughts back together..
“Well” she asked impatiently, ”what do you think?” and she jiggled a tad.
“Nice cut of cloth”. I searched for the correct words; ”lovely colour, good slogan, but …” and here I got marooned on that damn reef of male stuttering in the face of all things attractive about a woman but are not allowed to admit even when it is soooo obvious.
“But? But what?” Her brow furrowed. I girded my loins.
“But … I don’t know if that slogan ought to be just where it is … (and here I might have hurried my words a bit too fast). It might be OK for the blokes who wear them, but for the ladies … eeee (a sucking-in of breath). I don’t know: “Working Together” is a nice slogan, a bloody good slogan! Yes! Good … but placed just at that level in three inch high letters may draw too much attention to certain parts of the female anatomy and give the insensitive male opportunity to guffaw a tad.” I knew I was skating on thin ice. ”You know what I mean?” I twisted my head to one side and gave a teethy wince.
I draw the curtain of charity (as they say) on the good lady’s response and was assured the next day by the same woman that her husband, whom she consulted for an opinion that same night didn’t know what I meant “so there” … and I will confess here and now, even though it may cost me “skin” in doing so, I thought to myself. ”More the hopeless male; him!”
Indeed, the “humour” of the aged, white, building-site male may be dated beyond redemption, but the basis for such humour, ie; the “situation comedy” surely will not date. The spectator/viewer, looking on to the unfolding of a unscripted public slapstick moment, whether by accident or by self-deprecation, surely must be allowed a release of laughter at the ironic absurdity of the situation without guilt or remorse, rather than be driven to “approvingly” laugh sneeringly, cruelly, publicly, at the misfortune and hard-luck of others.
Bring back The Hampster crew, I say!