Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Statistics and Humor

"Statistics are the chemical weapons of persuasion," says Jamie Whyte, in his book, Crimes Against Logic. 

Actually, many of the statistics we hear about, whether bogus or real, are quite entertaining. For example, More than 10 people a year are killed by vending machines. While that's admittedly tragic for the individuals involved, a slight cynical indifference to killer vending machines allows quite a few of us, me included, the ability to giggle at the sheer absurdity of it. 

There's something delightful in offense. Perchance the humor here is that it's utterly offensive to our intellect to imagine anyone dying at the hands of a vending machine.  

I can picture it now... some bozo can't get his chips to fall; he starts banging on the machine, ever so heated. He resorts to pushing the machine forward and back; until, out of exasperation, he lifts up the flap, slides his hand inside, wiggles his fat, stubby little fingers around and finally fingers the corner of the chip bag, which immediately falls into the convenient tray below where they were designed to land. Meanwhile, Bozo's hand is now caught in the very circular ring that was supposed to surrender his chips in the first place.  

Tragedy, irony, or both, it's the absurdity that makes me laugh every time. Naturally, amid such sheer stupidity with a hint of bad luck, I can't laugh about any idiotic demise without thinking of The Darwin Awards. 

The 1994 Darwin Award went to the fellow who was killed by a Coke machine, which toppled over on him as he was attempting to tip a free soda out of it. 
     Morgunbladid of Iceland, Kenya Times

A sword-swallower died in Bonn after he put an umbrella down his throat - and accidentally pushed the button that opened it. 
     The BUmbershoot, 18 April 1999, Germany  


It was Emerson who wrote, "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds," even that truism cracks me up because I know that some idiot, somewhere, is engaged in the most ludicrous exploit which will fuel future editions of The Darwin Awards with farcical tragedy, leaving the rest of us with an endless stream of laughable accounts of stupidity that end in premature, amazingly unforeseen deaths. 

Actually, I'm noticing a tendency toward laughing the easiest at the mere mention or reference to ignorance. 

"I do not approve of anything that tampers with natural ignorance. Ignorance is like a delicate exotic fruit. Touch it and the bloom is gone." 
     Lady Bracknell, in Oscar Wilde's play, The Importance of Being Earnest

See what I mean? 

You'd think we'd cut our species some slack since we were reportedly single-celled creatures before our recent rise to the top of the food chain. If humor does have some genetic component to it, I sure hope some over-zealous laboratory student doesn't accidentally eliminate the gene from a random experiment, leading to an outbreak of humorless children being born ten generations later. Of course, even the idea of that happening is kinda funny - till it's not. 

Curiously enough, a component of this equation is curiosity, which, while leading to human tragedy at times, also leads to humorous or ironic situations we consider funny. 

In the United States, nearly 100 people die every day in car wrecks because we invented the automobile. We die in explosions, yep you guessed it, because we invented explosives. 


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