Camden, Maine, I am wandering through a bookstore and randomly select a book, “Politically Correct Bedtime Stories,” authored by James Finn Gardner. I laughed so hard; people chose to become offended. From 1995 to the present, I have read and re-read these books, and they just get funnier! Yes; I own all of Gardner’s books on being politically correct and read them often for a good chuckle!
I was visiting Camp Red Cloud, Uijeongbu, South Korea. I stopped at the Post Exchange (PX) just looking and tripped across Robert Fulghum’s book, “It Was on Fire When I laid Down on it.” I had never heard of this author, but after reading about the birdbath fire, the hose, and the burning mattress, I was hooked! Another author who delights in telling stories that make me laugh. If you have never read his books, make some time to read, then you too can enjoy the ultimate “Mother of the Bride” and the “Naked Lady and the Gorilla” stories. Don’t mind me; I am laughing at the memories.
Here I am, a person without memory for names, but I can tell you the details of these events like they happened yesterday. Heck, just thinking about that bookstore in Camden, Maine, brings back the smell of the bookstore, the wood fire stove heating the place, and the person who suggested I visit that particular store. Thus, the power of humor and the adventure of a good book.
When my wife and I first married, I read to her the Robert Fulghum books I had collected, we spent several evenings laughing merrily, and those memories I cherish! I laughed so hard when I discovered that my wife could not understand the humor of politically correct bedtime stories. Still, I rejoiced mightily when she discovered how funny Robert Fulghum was to her. The best part of the Robert Fulghum books is how you can read them with a Hudson Bay mindset and enjoy them in small pieces or large equally.
I was traveling from Federal Way to downtown Seattle by bus and needed a book. I grabbed my wife’s copy of Art Linkletter’s “Kids Say the Darndest Things!” I laughed all the way to my job interview. I discussed the book on the bus ride all the way back to Federal Way. Great bus ride! I have no idea who I sat beside, but we had a great conversation about books, kids, life, and humor. “My Dad is a Stupidvisor!”
Why is humor so powerful?
Helmy and Frerichs (2013) pointed out the first and most significant role of humor “both as a sword and a shield.” The Egyptian Revolution of 2011 was some dark days in the Middle East, but the terror of a revolution was significantly reduced through the use of humor, and “Egyptians laughed themselves into a democracy.” Quoting Orwell (1945), Helmy and Frerichs (2013) related, “Every joke is a tiny revolution,” “humor is at its best when it is upsetting the established order.” “Whatever …. brings down the mighty from their seats, preferably with a bump, is funny!”
Helmy and Frerichs (2013) add another aspect to humor, the paradox between playfulness and seriousness. Consider this for a moment, how often has the environment been serious, but you have felt a desire to laugh. I had this occur at a funeral for a dear friend; her grandson was being a typical boy and did something right in the middle of the funeral. I laughed. Totally not appreciated by the family and friends gathered, but it was funny. My first command and staff meeting in the US Army, serious business, lots of high-ranking officers, lots of junior officers practicing seriousness, something was said, I laughed. Few others followed, but the rest of the crowd’s disgusted looks soon stifled the humor out of the situation. I learned a valuable lesson that day, when serious, be sure to laugh!
Thus, bringing Smith (2009) into the mix of humor and seriousness by understanding the audience’s role in humor. Smith (2009) writes about the Danish Cartoon debacle from January and February 2006, calling this event a grim series of events that proves humor is not a trivial matter. Hello, the audience, for the most part, found the cartoons funny, and the only thing shown by those events in 2006 is that humor is also a choice. Choose to be offended, and you can justify your offense by acting like a rube. It happens daily when people choose offense, and then they start acting like a tantrum-throwing child in the grocery store cereal or candy aisle!
Yes; the audience does play a role in the humor level, but choosing to take offense is not allowed. There are comedians out there who say outrageous stuff; I decide not to listen to them due to their vulgarity, which is okay with the vulgar comedian and me. I am not the targeted audience for indecency in comedians and have even given some thumbs down to favorite comedians who have used vulgarity. But, I do not go out and throw a tantrum just because I chose to be offended.
Why discuss these aspects of humor?
Helmy and Frerichs (2013) explained best why these aspects of humor are important, “humor is both a sword and a shield.” Political cartoons are one of the highest forms of humor, representing both a sword and a shield. I have seen political cartoons cover the entire spectrum of human efforts and find them priceless examples of how to protect (shield) and attack (sword) the cartoons’ subjects. For instance, I saw an “Iraqi SCUD Missile Launcher” political cartoon that has kept me chuckling for years. The camel in that cartoon has the absolute best face. In the US Army, a picture hung above my desk of a loon trying to swallow a frog, captioned, “Never Give Up!” A humorous reminder to me while working in my job at the time.
I currently have a picture of Gumby with the caption, “Semper Gumby” (Always Flexible), another humorous reminder of what I want in my mind and life. When the WWJD wristbands came out, a friend spoofed them with WWGD (What Would Gumby Do?), and I laughed and laughed. The sword and shield of humor are essential to personal health, group cohesion, team building, and much more, all because of what humor does in our brains.
Watson, Matthews, and Allman (2007) remind us that humor relieves stress, facilitates social bonding, acting as an intrinsic reward, and powerfully activates significant portions of the brain, helping humans navigate complex social environments. Chemicals are released in the brain when we laugh that mellows moods, opens possibilities for problem-solving, and generates goodwill. As a nerd, I find the fMRI imaging used in Watson, et al’s. (2007) research fascinating.
In a “Liberty FIRST Culture,” laughter is both anticipated and acceptable. Laugh! Enjoy the humor in situations, for I can tell you a well-known truth, humans are funny! Watching humans interact is hilarious. Want to blow a cashier’s mind when they ask, “How are you?” tell them, “Breathing.” Then stand and watch their face. Hilarious!
I was behind a person in line; with my sense of humor, the cashier asked, “How are you?” The gentleman said he was “pooping square turds.” I laughed! I still laugh. What a line! But, the cashier’s face was indescribably funny! The gentleman paid for his groceries and left, as the next customer, the cashier, was still off her mojo during our transaction. I was there for her next customer and witnessed the cashier still was off her mojo for that customer. I have no idea what that cashier thought about this transaction, but I found it an incredibly great break from the ordinary.
Laughter is good! Use it, know it, and practice it. The best tool in the world is to make someone else laugh.
Helmy, M. M., & Frerichs, S. (2013). Stripping the boss: The powerful role of humor in the Egyptian Revolution 2011. Integrative Psychological and Behavioral Science, 47(4), 450-481.
Smith, M. (2009). Humor, unlaughter, and boundary maintenance. Journal of American Folklore, 148-171.
Watson, K. K., Matthews, B. J., & Allman, J. M. (2007). Brain activation during sight gags and language-dependent humor. Cerebral cortex, 17(2), 314-324.
© 2021 M. Dave Salisbury
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