Friday, October 12, 2012
The Spirit of Humor
Humor begins within and can remain there in self-talk or self-discovery; whereas the spirit of humor is an expression that is shared. When humor manifests itself in the public sphere where two or more individuals are involved, it transforms into something that communicates that which we cannot otherwise express.
There are very few forms of social interaction that feel like an invitation to dinner or to start a conversation. Humor decreases social distance, it takes people outside life into a more playful "non-serious" atmosphere, hence, it "breaks the ice" between strangers, unites people in different hierarchical positions, and creates a sense of shared conspiracy, a "we're in this together" kind of thing.
Human beings seek cohesion, which can easily be found in utilizing humor as a device. Humor contributes to the maintenance of social order, transcending boundaries and mobilizing people. Humorous "free spaces" are morale-boosting and can be played out openly. Organizations and social movements often times best make their point by addressing serious topics humorously.
Maintaining the spirit of humor is increasingly important in today's societies. As conflicts between varying cultures arise due to instantaneous, hurried communication (electronic communication), the need to utilize humor as an equalizer rises. Here, humor can play an important role in everyday interaction. The ambiguity of humor also makes it well-suited for negotiations and relationships. Humor can instantaneously shift a moment from serious to joking conversation. This act of conversational cooperation, when successful, results in new opportunities for social cohesion.
Framing ideas humorously redefines everything someone says as "funny" - meaning not to be taken seriously anymore. This shift is often marked by automatic laughter or humorous utterances. Disrupting seriousness, humor lightens the mode of conversation, emerging as a central theme or positive feeling one takes away from any given social encounter.
In this respect, humor is not marginal or frivolous. Rather, humor is at the heart of social interaction, crucial to the shaping of meanings, situations, selves, and relationships.
The spirit of humor seemed to have gone out of fashion during the 1960s rise of "taboo" type joking, but as we grow toward larger communal constructs and at the same time an expanded worldview, the true spirit of humor will gradually become more essential to the construction of meaning and everyday life because it enables social experimentation and negotiation within a "humor free zone" - within the realm of the spirit of humor. A place where irony and ambiguity is embraced; a place where we play with "meanings"; a place where we allow ourselves to look at the world and ourselves in a slightly distorted, and hence revealing, way - showing us the relativity and sometimes even the ridiculousness of what we do.
Humor offers us an alternative conception of the world that exists alongside everyday modes of interpretation and behavior. In a space of freedom, community, and equality, denoted by laughter, we allow for and encourage popular civic participation. We diverge from conflict, and perceive resistance and change as agents of humor rather than causes for alarm.
Here the rules of logic, the expectations of common sense, the laws of science and the demands of propriety obey the set-up and punchline of a joke, enabling us to communicate the many incongruous experiences that make up social life. Humor allows us to expose and express the contradictory aspects of life, to convey meanings and messages that might otherwise be ambiguous, and to maintain social equilibrium and consolidate the social order.
Today's humor theories resonate with fashionable views on healing humor, its reliance on the liberating, redeeming aspects of humor and laughter. While other aspects of humor exist, focusing on this one-side of humor allows for more social cohesion. The question isn't which type of humor is best but, rather, which type of humor defines the spirit of our age.