If most of us were asked if we had a sense of humour we would nod vigorously and say we certainly do. However, that said, the truth is a lot more different and as technology overtakes us and politics of all kinds (home, region, state, nation) feed and fuel and feed divisiveness and parochialism we have become a lot more thin-skinned and sensitive and that makes us far more vulnerable to taking slight where no slight exists.
There was a time not so long ago when individual confidence was at a higher level and we knew who we were, we had a rocklike family foundation and had inculcated in us a certain set of values. After the general collapse of the greater family, the nuclear replacement is not so strong and tends to be easily bruised. Add to this the pressure of success, the stress of financial goals, the heat from technology and the greed of ownership and it is no surprise that we are so much more touchy. This touchiness is further made fragile by rampant ignorance for many of us. We are ignorant of our roots, our culture, our heritage, the depth of our religion, the power and glory of blood ties, the majesty of our history, all of these reduced by two dimensional pre-digested audio visual pap. As a result of this rather messy pastiche of insecurity within ourselves we have largely lost the ability to laugh at ourselves. Instead, our laughter has now diminished to laughing at others rather than with others and this is a sad testimony to the world we live in where that happy ring of a laugh is now replaced by bristling indignation or by outrage that someone dare poke fun at us.
How has this come about, this grand fall from the robust often grassroot and rural self-deprecating humour, from the funny ha ha and funny peculiar texture of our lives where we could afford to laugh at ourselves?
That is the key word. We cannot afford to do that because there are far too many schisms in our mind. On the one hand we have the arrogance to believe that humour is frivolous and goes against the current tend of being taken seriously. Which is why we wear our armour of status symbols and designations and have that pompous attitude behind which we hide. We are all sanitised because we are politically correct. On the other we have the cheap and tacky sort of humour which is physical or racial in its overtones best described by the grotesque adverts that come on some of the radio channels where people accent regional dialects in what is ugly as sin and definitely offensive.
So, what has happened? Happy satire, a cheerful interpretation of our foibles and weaknesses, a heart warming let down of one’s own position, a little leg pulling, a jape, a joke, have rendered place to a sourness now expressed in snide comments, harsh words, a dash of nastiness and petty sniping, all of these kept together by a rubber band the Germans call schedeunfreud which is expressing glee over other people’s misery. Any way you hack it, the whole attitude is rather sad than happy.
One of the reasons is that we have stopped being happy because we are so busy surviving. That repose and rest which Plato spoke of in his dissertations on leisure in which the mind retreated and was creative in its isolation have now been discarded for the rat race in which we are like lemmings, rushing off the cliff, so afraid that if we stop we might lose this race even though most of us do not even know why we are racing.
In this despair where is the place for laughter? Ironically, it is probably the best medicine for a society that has lost that power and the glory of grand humour and now is so literal in its approach to the written word, the spoken dialogue, the comedy of the visual that these commodities are massacred immediately. “How dare you” is now the defensive sentiment and we pride ourselves on how solemn we are because to our minds solemnity is equal to achievement.
More is the pity we do not think beyond it.