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A World Without Humor

March 14, 2018 Frontpage No Comments


In traveling one meets many interesting people. I met Frank Layden who was coaching the Utah Jazz at the time, on the concourse of Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. Having seen him on TV several times, it was easy enough to recognize him. He was most agreeable and we chatted amiably as I walked with him, though for me, I did not mind walking for a while in the wrong direction.
I admired Layden for his ability to ease tensions and defuse controversy, qualities that serve an NBA coach very well. He was awarded NBA’s Coach of the Year in 1984 and, in that same year, won the NBA’s Executive of the Year. When Dennis Rodman of the Detroit Pistons opined that Larry Bird was highly overrated simply because he was white, Layden responded by saying that “we have to get Dennis a better seat.” He went on to comment that after getting off to a woeful start against the Boston Celtics one night, he called time out and said to his troops, “Look guys, we are not going to beat the Celtics tonight but let’s see if we can beat Larry Bird.”
I also admired coach Layden for his marvelous sense of humor. He reminisced about his high school basketball days and how tough it was: “We had a lot of nicknames — Scarface, Blackie, Toothless. And those were just the cheerleaders.” Then there was the basketball team that was so embarrassing that the cheerleaders stayed home and phoned in their cheers. In fact, the team was so extraordinarily bad that players high-fived each other when a shot hit the rim. When Charles Barkley was dubbed “the Tonya Harding of ice-skating,” he thought of suing for defamation of character until, on second thought, he realized that he had no character.
These jokes are all based on the gap between aim and realization. Another way of putting it is the comical deviation from an accepted norm. Cheerleaders are supposed to be feminine and attractive. They are expected to perform on the court. A shot that wins praise should go in the basket. And a human being is supposed to have character. What separates these jokes from tragedy is that we realize that none of them are true, that they all belong to a world of make-believe. But if they were true, the situation would be most unfortunate, perhaps even tragic.
If there is no gap, there is no humor. One way of avoiding humor is to remove the norm. And this is precisely what is going on in our present society: the removal of norms. The University of Dayton, a Catholic school, for example, has decided to place the words “husband” and “wife” on a list of words that students should not use in order to meet “professional expectations.” They are deemed inappropriate because they are gender-specific. “Wife” no longer refers specifically to a woman who is married to a man. Nor does “husband” any longer refer to a man who is married to a woman.
In the absence of what is normative for a husband or wife, there can be no jokes about them. Once a staple for humorists such as Henny Youngman, and Erma Bombeck, jokes about marriage, husbands, and wives should no longer be told. They are more likely to offend rather than provoke laughter. A humorist can no longer use that old chestnut, “Who was that lady I saw you with last night?” and get the predictable answer, “That was no lady, that was my wife.” What would its replacement be? “Who was that significant other I saw you with last night?” “That was my other significant other.”
Ironically, the elimination of such words as “husband” and “wife” excludes far more than their generic substitutes include. It excludes pretty much all of recorded history. It would render the New Testament, for example, incomprehensible, if not offensive.
Reaction to the University of Dayton’s move occurred around the same time that Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau chided a woman at a townhall meeting for using the word “mankind” instead of “peoplekind.” Many Canadians took this verbal replacement as a joke. Nevertheless, it was not a laughing matter for the prime minister’s chief adviser who labeled anyone who did laugh as a “Nazi.” Trudeau, however, was quite serious: “We like to say peoplekind, not necessarily mankind, because it’s more inclusive.” Of course, if one is serious about being inclusive, “thing” is more inclusive because it includes every thing.
Christ performed His first public miracle at Cana (not Canada) at a wedding between a man and a woman who, through their marriage to each other, became husband and wife. They looked forward to becoming father and mother.
Should the words of the New Testament now be changed to “a human being and that human being’s significant other?” Should any institution have the right to alter the meaning of the New Testament so that it fits snugly into contemporary secular ideology? Why must a Catholic institution sycophantically follow secular trends while repudiating its own heritage? There is much more than humor to be lost. In the rush to become more inclusive, history, husbandry, and humor must all be excluded.
Yes, the world has gone mad! He who laughs, lasts, we might say. He who never laughs has a short inning. Abraham Lincoln understood the necessity of laughter. “With the fearful strain that is on me night and day, if I did not laugh I should die.” Mark Twain remarked: “The race has only one really effective weapon and that is laughter.”
When we erase norms, we prevent laughter. But do we really want scar-faced or stay-at-home cheerleaders, inept basketball players, and characterless people? We can abide the deviations from norms because we can laugh. Laughter exorcises many demons. And if there is one thing that Satan cannot do, it is laugh.
The eradication of norms logically means the eradication of humor and its resultant laughter. We should laugh at and not capitulate to the kind of linguistic changes proposed by the University of Dayton and all other agencies that want to suppress common sense and repress humor.

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