Man’s Laughter

I posted on the Althouse about humor being equal to rejection, which raised some eyebrows. I then launched into a rambling explanation of what I meant, but I’m not sure I was very clear, or even that I expressed it properly.

Here are some points I was using to highlight the idea:

When children single another child out to laugh at, they’re rejecting him. We instinctively know that and that’s the whole basis of the “at” and “with” consolation. (I’m actually not sure that this is humor, but I think it’s related to the concept of laughter and rejection.)

Q: How can you tell an elephant’s been in your refrigerator?
A: From the footprints in the butter.

Humor there comes from the rejection of the notion that, of all the ways you might be able to detect an elephant, sleuthing out butter cubes is at the top. We reject that notion.

Or non-joke jokes:

Q: Why do firemen wear red suspenders?
A: To keep their pants up.

Very meta. We laugh because there’s nothing there to reject. It’s a perfectly sensible answer to the question. In this case, we’re rejecting the joke itself, or our expectation of something clever.

Times change of course. 1940 movie house audiences were in stitches when Bugs Bunny first said, “What’s up, doc?”

They rejected the notion that a rabbit would react that way to a hunter.

Nowadays, the out-of-place reaction to danger by a woodland creature is so common as to be tired. We no longer laugh uproariously at wisecracking rodentslagomorphs.

OK, let’s flip to some other kinds of comedy.

Charlie Chaplin, eating his shoe: Audiences doubtless related to the hunger, but they rejected the notion (as we do, though far less profoundly) of eating one’s shoe as though it were a gourmet meal.

Buster Keaton, running The General. He’s fleeing for his life in the steam train. His girl is throwing wood into the engine and as she picks up the wood, she evaluates it for suitableness, in one case throwing out a large piece because it has a small hole in it. We reject that rejection. Heh.

The Marx Brothers were steeped in odd behavior that was totally inappropriate for the situation, and surrounded by people whose reactions were impossibly indulgent.

A lot of modern comic writers, especially Woody Allen, give us neurotic characters. Always, of course, a little too neurotic. We reject their exaggerated responses, and at some level probably reject the idea that neuroses are just wacky fun.

How about puns? A pun–should it make us laugh or groan–is a rejection of the use of a word.

A lot of physical comedy is based on social propriety, which may be one of the reasons that physical comedy is much harder to do effectively these days. Pie in the face? Seltzer down your pants? Hell, it’s a rare day one of my co-workers doesn’t come in with pie on their face and seltzer down their pants.

In fact, life in general may be less humorous because it’s not polite to reject people any more.

Not all laughter is humorous, of course. One can laugh out of joy or exhilaration. Or out of meanness.

Similarly, not all rejection is humorous.

I’ve often thought that black humor (like, Network) is relatively unpopular because it gives very faint signals that it is to be rejected. Black humor, ultimately, is a rejection of mortality, or at least the significance of mortality, as well as other Very Serious Things.

But again, times change. One of the great Richard Brooks’ last movies was the muddled Wrong Is Right. I was sort of amused and sort of befuddled right up until some people started blowing themselves up–that was my cue that this was all meant as over-the-top satire. Audiences today might interpret that signal completely differently.

But I’ve rambled on enough for now. I hope that clarifies.

(NOTE: I originally typed this up last June and never posted–at least I can’t seem to find it on the blog anywhere. I’m not sure why I didn’t post it, but here it is now.)

Pajamas and Poison

Went to see The Boy in the Striped Pajamas tonight and it was sold out! Second week in a row, they said. (Well, not exactly sold out, but they said the only seats were front row and The Boy likes to sit in the back. In the corner. Go figger.)

Also recovering from some kind of food poisoning. It happens every few years with something that a normal person would throw up. I don’t throw up so a temporary discomfort turns into several days of that not-quite-right feeling.

It’s weird because it often feels like I’m hungry but sorta not, then I’ll get a fever for a few hours, then it closes out with stiffness in my neck and shoulders. The intestinal discomfort moves lower and lower, but usually disappears before, em, the end of the line.

I’d think it was flu, except for not really having the symptoms, and it never spreads. I actually don’t get sick very much. I went from April of 1997 to December of 2005 without so much as a sniffle. Then in 2006 I got three colds in eight months. And I haven’t been sick since.

But all three of those colds went from me to the kids. They crawl all over me. They’re not sanitary in the least. They also do it when they’re sick and I’m not, but I scoff at their puny child germs.

WebMD’s symptom checker–and isn’t that a little bit of awesomeness, especially for hypochondriacs–says I may have gastritis or indigestion (both of which I’d probably classify in my non-doctorial way as “food poisoning”) but there’s also this little gem called Giardia.

Dovetails nicely with the parasite discussion over at Althouse.

But if I’m going to have parasites, I want these.

On Abortion

Althouse highlights an awkward BloggingHeads discussion between two pro-choice women (BH’s idea of “balance” would be to have one person be for late term abortions and the other be pro-abortion up to 2-3 years). This predictably turned into a hell of a comment thread, with the Althouse commentariat (that quote about the commentariat skeletonizing a cow on the masthead is mine, thankyouverymuch) turning out some pretty good and civil stuff.

I wrote a comment as well but it was just way too long, so I’m posting it here.

the deacon said:

There are extremists on both sides of the issue. At least the ones on the left aren’t blowing up other people’s children over it.

You don’t hear about the crimes of the extreme “choicers” much, but they do exist, and in far greater numbers than the more spectacular bombings of the extreme “lifers”.

As we acknowledge that some on the pro-life side are not pro-life so much as anti-sex or anti-choice, let’s acknowledge that some on the pro-choice side are not pro-choice so much as pro-aboriton. These are, e.g., the people who sterilize quietly while performing abortions.

Abortion is a popular tool of eugenicists, including the still honored Margaret Sanger. Sanger, founder of the euphemistically named “Planned Parenthood” was a fan of Ernst Rudin, the philosophical architect of the Holocaust.

Abortions are predominantly done for non-white women, in what may be a coincidence, but not one without demographic implications.

I mention all this as someone who’s pro-choice (even though I agree with almost all of the pro-lifer’s positions).

I’m pro-choice simply because I don’t think the government should or even can police women’s uteri. Every menstrual cycle becomes a potential crime, every uterus a crime scene.

I mean, if you’re going to take seriously that life begins at conception and any attempt to stop that process is murder, you’ll need to investigate the million odd miscarriages that occur every year. Even the ones that aren’t murder–a lot of those are going to be criminal negligence.

You’ll want to monitor all the possible herbal emmenegogues that women have used for millenia, as well.

If you want to directly equate fertilized egg with newborn, that is. You’d investigate an infant who turned up dead, after all, so this is the logical conclusion of that equation.

You’d probably need to regulate women’s activity in general, since any nubile female could be pregnant at any time without knowing it. And certainly society can never be sure.

I say get the gov’t out of it completely. We went 30 or 40 years in this country without any laws on the topic at all. I know it’s fun to scorn Roe v. Wade with its penumbras and emanations, but there is the ninth amendment, remember that?

The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

That emanates and penumbrates like crazy. The idea that the state should suddenly be able to regulate this without some sort of Constitutional amendment strikes me as a slap in the 9th’s face.

The gov’t shouldn’t be paying for abortions either, of course. The government relies on a growing population to keep its bureaucracies well fed.

Now, if you want to reduce the number of abortions, then get the message out. That used to be what churches did, and they aren’t what they used to be, so it’ll be harder to get that kind of influence, but it certainly can be done. You have the advantage of facts.

Right now, the pro-choicers can try to suppress exposure of those newfangled baby scans that are so damaging to the “just a clump of cells” theory on the basis of protecting rights. End that battle and return to the one that matters.

And if it were totally unlegislated, i.e., if the gov’t weren’t involved at all, it would be pro-lifers versus who, exactly?

Take laws off the table and the argument goes from “pro-life vs pro-choice” to “pro-life vs pro-abortion”. How sweet is that? Only a few people are actually pro-abortion, and most people think they’re pretty creepy.

Versus the other way: Make it completely illegal everywhere, and not only do you have to fight the battle forever, your victory creates an underground complete with its own economy, criminal exploitation, and a fair number of dead mothers along with the dead babies.

If you have any other perplexing social issues that need resolving, I’ll be in the pool.