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A laughing matter

Falco, Joey | Monday, October 10, 2005

Since when did America develop a Stalinist’s sense of humor?

A few days ago, a woman was forcibly removed from a Southwest Airlines flight because she refused to take off a T-shirt that showed members of the Bush Administration alongside the phrase “Meet the Fockers” (with a vowel substitution, of course). Now, some might argue that the most significant problem with this case was Southwest’s discrimination against this fashionable woman’s freedom of expression. After all, if you can’t call your president that then the ACLU might contend, what’s next? Not being able to call Vice President Cheney a Dick?

Certainly, I want to maintain my right to publicly degrade my political leaders as much as the next guy, but I have an even bigger issue with this literal instance of the fashion police making an arrest. What has happened to this country’s sense of humor if it has reached a point where annoyed airline passengers and flight attendants would put up such a fuss over a $5 prank T-shirt?

Ever since the day a caveman first kicked his friend in the crotch, man (and occasionally even woman) has used laughter to help cope with the difficulties and absurdities of human existence. Take the ancient Greeks and Romans, for example. Those poor souls simply could not figure out why life kept handing them lemons, but instead of getting their togas in a bunch, they made lemonade and told stories and jokes about a pantheon of gods who were rapists, murderers, and all-around funny guys.

Modern-day Americans, on the other hand, perhaps still suffering from the same stick-in-the-butt that we inherited from our Puritan ancestors, have coined asinine phrases like “not a laughing matter” and “too soon” to prevent people from joking their way through life’s hardships. The woman on the Southwest Airlines flight, for instance, was only coping with the hardship of living in an imaginary democracy when a few stuffy individuals had to take that coping mechanism away from her.

Simply put, America has become about as funny as a bad case of the clap.

For starters, take a look at what we’re watching on television. Of the 20 most popular shows this season, according to the latest Nielsen ratings, 14 are dramas that have something to do with crime, crime scenes, crime scene investigations, law, order, law and order, emergency rooms, deserted islands, or, most frightening of all, female presidents. The rest consist of reality shows, Monday Night Football and only two comedies.

Americans are watching two comedies – one of which isn’t even funny and only gets its laughs by catering to the latent sexual longings of repressed suburban housewives. No wonder a few airplane passengers couldn’t handle a little old F-bomb! Their favorite TV shows have them so paranoid over dirty bombs, suicide bombs and car bombs that they simply could not rationalize the possibility of – God forbid – laughing at a bomb.

What happened to the classic situation comedies that Americans knew they “must see” on TV every Thursday so that their lives never became as humorless as an issue of the Irish Rover? Sure, being able to watch Seinfeld every week probably would not have helped people cope with losing their children in a war in Iraq or losing their possessions in a hurricane, but it might have at least allowed some Americans to open their eyes to the fact that the little things in life are most definitely a “laughing matter.”

In my experience, the only time it becomes socially acceptable for people to laugh at life’s tragedies is when they’re drinking – and that’s just unacceptable. If people are going to make Hurricane Katrina jokes or tsunami jokes or Sept. 11 jokes or Jesus jokes in the middle of a game of flip cup (we’ve all heard them), they should make those same jokes while they’re sober. Maybe that’s why so much of America, especially its college campuses, has a drinking problem – the only place where one can find true laughter and humor anymore is hovering upside-down over a keg of Keystone.

Consequently, from this day forth, I propose a lifting of the ban on laughter in America. Instead of constantly worrying about who will take offense to a joke, start wondering how many people’s day you can make by cracking the joke. Instead of the conservative establishment calling upon our moral values to force us to constantly mourn over any and all tragedies, start smiling a little and being thankful that the tragedies were not even more tragic and destructive.

As the playwright George Bernard Shaw once said, “Life does not cease to be funny when people die any more than it ceases to be serious when people laugh.”

In our short lives on this world, it can never be “too soon” to laugh.

Joey Falco is a junior American Studies major. His column appears every other Monday. He can be contacted at [email protected]

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.