Saturday, April 05, 2008

Send Up

This very cunning bit of work has been going around recently (crude language warning):

It is a sign of its cleverness that it has started long, elaborate arguments about which 'side' it's on. I think this shows that there are quite a few people who struggle with humor; humor is reduced to wit that exhibits utility, so anything funny must have a point. But this is to chain humor to something quite extrinsic to it. It's a send-up; it can be used in service of argument or polemic, but it is not on a 'side', because the conditions for the success of a parody is that it be funny, not that it represent a side well. On occasions when it does both -- one thinks of Berkeley's Alciphron -- this is not intrinsic to the parody but takes a great deal of tactical maneuvering -- and, indeed, Berkeley excels at tactical maneuvering, making several different lines, whether rational or literary, converge at exactly the right time to make his point. The apparent seamlessness is a sign of exquisite talent exquisitely applied. In reality, humor is a form of play; just as one might play a game in order to make a point, you can make a joke in order to make a point, but that's something that is, so to speak, added on top of the joke itself. Dane Cook's famous atheist joke (also some crude language, for those who don't know Dane Cook) is not an attack on atheists; he does it because he thinks it is funny, and indeed it is. South Park's "Go God Go" episode is not an entry into disputes over evolution; it exists to mock anything that comes up, or to have awesome lines like "I shall smash your skull like a clam on my tummy!" Any utility it may have to any 'side' is quite secondary. It is not there to make a 'serious point'. It is humor; its connection to anything serious can at most be accidental. It is not there to be serious; it is there, in Thomas Aquinas's great description, intermittere intentione ad insistendum studio rationis: to leave off, to take a break, from the strain of persevering in rational pursuits.

There is, of course, such a thing as good taste in humor, which is often violated; but that's a different sort of thing, since taste also is not about utility, not about service to some 'serious point', but about what merits and demerits the thing itself can be judged to have.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please understand that this weblog runs on a third-party comment system, not on Blogger's comment system. If you have come by way of a mobile device and can see this message, you may have landed on the Blogger comment page, or the third party commenting system has not yet completely loaded; your comments will only be shown on this page and not on the page most people will see, and it is much more likely that your comment will be missed.