Sunday, September 26, 2010

The War on Laughter

The impulse to control others seems inbred in some of us.  I've always suspect that it burns with particular fervor in the hearts of those intent on saving humanity from itself, and willing to force the rest of us to endure hardships fof our own good.  In some dark corner among those self-annointed saviors, there are things beyond their comprehension, that they feel the urge to crush in their fellow human beings...laughter and joy foremost among them.

In this country, we can see it in the self-righteous prudishness of true believers of many different stripes, religious as well as secular.  Perhaps because of an emptiness in their own souls there is, among some eager to save the world, a bitter undercurrent of resentment that people can smile amid sorrow, or find joy and pleasure in life when misery exists all around them.  Among the truly serious-minded, laughter is a frivolity that must never intrude on the task at hand...whatever that task might be.  Thus, some religions ban dancing and frown on music; and some secular "true believers" would ban any form of entertainment---from video games to musical genres---that conflict with their vision of what the "correct society" would look like.

Fortunately, Americans traditionally have little patience with busybodies, and usually ignore them.   But that tactic carries its own risks:  while most of us are too busy living to worry about what other people are doing for fun, the busybodies are too busy fretting to have much of a life---and, unfortunately, busybodies with nothing to divert their attention can still manage to capture the ears of our politicians, who are too busy running for office to waste time thinking.  The growth of the Nanny State is one outcome, one that we are free to ridicule and, if it gets out of hand, to change.  The rest of the world isn't always as lucky: totalitarians, it seems, are puritans at heart, and tend to take a dim view of joy and laughter.

In Soviet Russia, the communists reduced art and literature to propaganda arms of the state.  Lenin, its founder, dismissed music as tending to make people soft-hearted and tender---hardly the sort to kill each other for the sake of making a revolution.  Islamic fundamentalists seem enraged by the tendency of ordinary people to savor the joys of life:  Aytollah Khomeini, the founder of the theocracy that currently rules Iran, once remarked that "Allah did not create man so that he could have fun"; rather, the whole point of creation was to put us through "hardship and prayer."  While this may explain a lot about the regime's behavior during the past thirty years, it doesn't make them easier to live with.  And the Chinese, though discarding Mao's approach to economics, seem to be adopting his approach to dealing with humorous irreverence, silencing one of their people's favorite comics---a gifted comedian named  Guo Degang---for committing the offense of Wit Against the State.

In the end, I suspect that the self-annointed saviors of the world are fighting a losing battle. The human spirit is stronger than any attempt to stamp it out.  Joy is, in the end, a more attractive lure than the promise of endless misery.  And ridicule being the best weapon in the battle against pomposity, laughter will always prevail over prudishness.

JEFFREY CAMINSKY, a retired public prosecutor from Michigan, writes on a wide range of topics. His books include the science fiction adventure novel The Star Dancers, the exciting second volume in the Guardians of Peace-tm series, The Sonnets of William Shakespeare, and the acclaimed Referee’s Survival Guide, a book on soccer officiating. All are published by New Alexandria Press, and are available on Amazon, as well as directly from the publisher.

No comments: