Monday, January 4, 2016

Comedy, Chaos, Correctness

I've said many times before that some people just seem to have trouble with counter-intuitive thought. Many of those people seem to be fundamentalists, conservatives and in this country typically, Republican.

Most especially I agree with actor John Cleese in saying that fundamentalism is easily viewed as silly, more easily laughed at and all for good reason.

And laughter is the best medicine. We have become dour, too conservative, too politically correct in our orientation and fear of offending anyone. People have been speaking out on this. On how our fear and political correctness has gone off the tracks. People like comedians like Louis CK and Jerry Seinfeld. And when someone like Jerry says it, we should really pay attention.

I'm not talking about hurtful comedy, I'm talking about comedy doing what it should do. It should question our mores. It should cause some chaos. At least, but mostly and simply, in you mind.

Some comedians are railing against people like Louis and Jerry but they are missing the point (and being unknowns, trying to make their own marks no doubt). Comedy should challenge us, it should question our positions and it should make fun of our stupid behaviors and actions.

I've heard it mentioned several times this past year using actor and comedian Jackie Gleason's Ralph Kramden's catch phrase on his old short lived 1955-6 TV show The Honeymooners, The show only ran for one season but it ran seemingly forever in syndication.

"One of these days Alice, Pow! Straight to the Moon!"

It is an indicator of how things have changed up till now regarding violence against women and infers how back then it was more socially acceptable for a man to hit his wife.

I think however that some people misunderstand that reference. Actually, we owe Gleason a big thanks for bringing that out on this show. Because it wasn't sanctioning the behavior of wife beating, we weren't laughing at and condoning that behavior (though surely some did).

Still, it was bringing it to light in a 1950s conservative society where people simply didn't talk about it whenever it did happen. It was swept under the run, ignored, it made people uneasy and they didn't know what to do or how to handle it and the laws reflected that. That being in a time when children and wives were still very much considered chattel, property, in a dying holdover of more ancient and unenlightened times.

Gleason made not light of it, but fun of it. And the initial sign of the death of behaviors is laughing at it.

As example, in the 1800s the books about Dracula and Frankenstein came out. In the early 1900s the films about those monsters came out, scaring audiences everywhere. By the mid 1900s films were making fun of such monsters in films like Abbott and Costello Meet the Frankenstein (in 1948 and another with the Mummy in 1955).

We are fearful of things until we outgrow them and then we start to make fun of them. Sometimes the first step to devalue our fears and overcome them is to make light of them and then outright laugh at them and make fun of those who make us of them.

It made a wife beater and that kind of a man look foolish. We laughed at him, sometimes uneasily, bu we laughed. It allowed us to look at something like that in a less tense moment, giving it not the avoidance behavior it usually evoked, but distance enough to view it, and in the back of our minds, even later on and over time, when we could consider it more judiciously, to view it openly and derisively.

No one ever thought Ralph was actually going to hit or hurt his wife, and many thought if he did, Alice would end up having the last word anyway. It was obvious he loved her and her continued love, support and her own derision of his actions allowed us to realize that he must be worth viewing than sometimes his words and actions would indicate.

I don't doubt there were some men back at the beginning of that show who thought he should hit his wife at times, but I'm willing to bet that by the end of that show's single season run, even those men thought differently than at the beginning.

Comedy can have that kind of healing effect.

Archie Bunker on All in the Family was a more recent version of all this. That show on television back in the 1970s put political correctness on its head and in a tailspin. Political correctness can be misleading at times and we have to consider that.

Of late many comedians are refusing to do even stand up comedy on the college comedy circuit because students are so lost in their morass of political correctness. Wake up! There is more beyond comedy than the obvious and direct and we do need to laugh and laugh hard sometimes, at our ridiculousness.

It has been said that pain + time = humor. What is wrong with that and what could be better than understanding that and applying some social conscience to it to positively evoke change? But it has to be allowed, in order for it to happen. We have to allow ourselves the discomfort to laugh at what isn't politically correct first for it's magic to come to fruition. Let it happen.

Maybe it didn't affect change completely back then in Gleason's day (though for some it did). Still, in the realm of the history of comedy and our country it certainly has. It was a first crack, a step up out of, one more step into our evolution in comedy and our overall social consciousness, that eventually allowed Archie Bunker to arrive on the scene. And from Archie came so much more change.

But what do we have now?

Will be another? Can we ever get over ourselves, our current infection of over political correctness?

Jackie Gleason, "The Great One" as he was called, we thank you.

It is out fondest hope that one day, soon, another will eventually take your place.

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