Sunday, September 16, 2012
The Nostalgia of Humor
Humor takes on a distinctively nostalgic feel akin to unrequited love, only we're not lamenting over our lost love - we're honoring it. Humor comes from home, from our home country, and is more deeply felt in our mother tongue.
There are three types of nostalgic humor: (1) the first laugh that belongs to our childhood; (1) the faithful servant of humor, quips and one-liners that remind us of our having 'come of age'; (3) and the protean mutability we encounter in new situations that endangers the more or less well-adjusted humorous self.
The protean mutability, like Cinderella's transformation, is central to the core of much of the world's humor today. In a time of great conscious expansion and connectivity, once-foreign concepts have crept into our subconscious with meaning we translate into language games and global mimicry.
In a broad sense, global humor confuses us, eventually expanding our sense of nostalgia to include our imaginary homeland. Jokes from other cultures feel "very French" or "very British" and have new meaning, but they're very French or very British because we are not. These jokes are like passports to new lands, and once we incorporate them, we become nostalgic for them, which in turn, makes their contextual jokes funnier as time goes by.
Newness seduces our alter-egos and we plunge into an affair of context. We're attracted to the foreign aspect within ourselves, expats in polylinguistic clothing. A syncretistic flirtation between the humor of our youth merges with unspoken impulsivity, inflating our imagination to the point where we "get" the new jokes - perhaps better than the natives who told them. The preciseness we bring to new cultures and adopted languages with their untranslatable diminutive suffixes becomes a password for laughter because we're not French or not English (or some other nationality). In this new global humor, we are all displaced expats dreaming of home, both our home and our adopted homeland.
Nostalgic humor mimics the effects of nostalgia, not the mechanisms of consciousness from whence it arrises. This new humor becomes a parody of catharsis, a second hand epiphany whereby we release the tension of longing, that insatiable thirst we have for homeland, delving into our memories of "the good old days."
I will gladly drive to Henry's in the 16th arrondissement in Paris just for a Rootbeer (not for their French fries) because it quenches my longing for home. Just as these savory memories creep their way into my subconscious, where humor lies dormant until it's teased to the surface, so too do jokes about driving long distances for a taste of home make me laugh.
But this type of humor is an atrophy of reflective thinking; it keeps us trapped in a sense of nostalgia, a highly-addictive and entertaining aesthetic failure. The aspect of nostalgia is perhaps why humor gets away with the retelling of 2,000-year old Athenian jokes.
In an uncertain world filled with novelty and change, humor acts like a gravitational force, keeping us grounded and connected to our sentimentality - a place that evokes many allegories of beauty and melancholy, ridiculous as they are touching.