A sense of humor is a measurement of the extent to which we realize that we are trapped in a world almost devoid of reason. Laughter is how we express the anxiety we feel at this knowledge. — Dave Barry
I happened upon this Dave Barry quote recently and continue to chuckle over its wisdom. I immediately related to the notion of being trapped and powerless. Despite good intentions, many of us are, if not undone, at least dispirited by seemingly arbitrary and capricious rules, social customs, unreadable instruction manuals, faceless corporate entities, or the blatant wrong-headedness of fools in high places.
Reading the Barry’s comment again, my favorite word is “almost”. There are malevolent and self-serving forces of greed, unfeeling enough to strip us of our civil liberties, natural resources, and our pursuit of happiness. Failing at that they will inconvenience, insult, and, like ducks, peck us to death. Barry suggests that the imps and scoundrels seeking to undo our lives are not quite up to the task. Other times they just go too far. Their naked ambition and self righteousness causes even the more obtuse of us to gasp and laugh at their audacity. Barry’s “almost” allows for a blind squirrel to find an occasional acorn or the better angels of our nature to make an appearance.
We are not living in the “Bizzaro World” where everything is the dialectical opposite. Life is not pie in the face slapstick, or broad farce. There are rules, but they are often at cross purposes and contradictory to what we profess to believe. We carry with us and have thrust at us a laundry list of “shoulds” and unrealistic self expectations. A sense of humor is being able to identify and appreciate the gap between our mission statement and our practice. Sometimes the difference is subtle and requires a sharp ear and a keen sense of the absurd. The slick societal veneer that covers many value laden pursuits, whether it is patriotism, religiosity, or jingoistic community activism, can feel daunting to those who do not demonstrate the appropriate zeal.Why do public figures assume their audience has the intelligence of an ottoman? Seeing through the clumsy sleight of hand and the diversionary foreign policy classic “Look over there!” is a mark of sanity. Sometimes there is no pea under any cup. Laughing and mocking “our betters” is positively cathartic. If I am in a meeting or gathering of pointless solemnity, I will often throw out a harmless irreverent remark and see if there are any takers. A stolen eye roll exchanged with a fellow heretic can seal a conspiratorial friendship.
Much of the humor in everyday life is not intended to be funny. Are you squeaky Christian clean enough to withstand the next sex scandal? Is your blue suit blue enough, and your lapel pin large enough to ward off a jihad of infidels? Is a $40,000,000 bonus too paltry for a CEO who has laid off thousands of workers and steered his company into the rocks? Humor is all around, often coming from the gallows. Watch the speed of the wheels of justice in pursuit of an obviously guilty multimillionaire. Where is the compassion for heretics by those who profess to be on the saved list for the coming rapture?
Humorists are like the poor street urchins of a hundred years ago, throwing snowballs at the top-hatted bankers. It is amazing how little has changed since the heyday of J.P. Morgan. In the end we may get skewered, but we need not buy the self righteous pap being doled out.
Dave Barry invites us into the funhouse to see the distorted, the grotesque, the comic. His genius is that the mirror is regular glass.
Tom H. Cook is one of the seven people not attending opening day of Target Field. Having skipped the past winter, he feels undeserving.