During this past week I saw as much snow as I think I have ever seen since living in the United States. I returned home briefly to New York amidst frigid conditions, ecstatic for the time off from school. When I returned back to Loyola I called my house, just to check in. Little did I know, my humor studies class would be the basis and foundation for a pivotal moment in my key to understanding my sister and my mothers’ relationship and also my key to understanding humor.
Yesterday, (Tuesday) I called my mother and sister and they put their voices on speakerphone so I could hear both of them. We were talking for a while before my sister made a comment about something. I didn’t even hear what exactly she said (as I drifted off from the conversation) but immediately was drawn back when my mother and sister began to argue. My mother said, “There is a time and place for crass humor Cate and I will not tolerate it in my home” which was followed by my sister saying, “Chill out mom, have a sense of humor, it’s funny and you know it, just laugh.” The two argued for a while, as they seemingly bantered and mulled over the debate of whose humor was funny, whose was not, and what would be tolerated in my mother’s house, and what would not.
Doing the reading for this class, namely Douglas’ piece, I couldn’t help but reminisce about this conversation in light of the text. One of Douglas’ main points is the social context of humor. He explores this social context by saying that humor is dependent on the "humoristic" fads of the time, if you will. Something might be funny because it is out of the norm, and might not be funny for the same reasons. in these social situations, Douglas makes us question when is the time when humor is relevant, should be reacted to, and what the consequences are. Humor, in the case of my sister and my mother, was not cross-generational, and not time-dimensional. And while Douglas and other thinkers that we have studied assert that humor connects us as individuals, I couldn’t disagree more.
In my experience yesterday, I realized that humor can create barriers. It can assert itself in superior ways, unconventional ways, and misguiding ways. One humor comment might not be humorous to another. And more importantly, humor in society is subjected on an individual level, not on a societal level. We cannot summarize humor, we cannot say, for example, you are from Baltimore MD and thus, you think that pun’s are funny.
While some humor might be specific to one society, racial group, minority, majority, class, gender etc, not all humor is. It is therefore non-sensible to conglomerate humor together and assume its uniformity in society. Though specific humor caters to specific time periods, it is not always the same on the individual level and also cannot be similar on the generational level. I wonder, does generation dictate laughter? Is the definition of humor found in our generational mindsets? And similarly, are we supposed to find humor in particular things, because it is part of our generation or society? There is danger in asserting the answer yes to any of these questions because it assumes humor is conditional and therefore we, as individuals must find conformity within it. We do not have to laugh if we do not want to, just as my mother did not want to. And my sister is flawed in thinking that just because she finds something funny; it does not mean that my mother will. This is regardless of these cross generational boundaries that she was seeking to conjoin. Humor is as arbitrary as political affiliation, religious following etc but the difference is that humor is not particular to society, but rather to the individual.
I started to think about Douglas’ social exploration of humor as also a reflection of our relationships and how our relationships are not only defined by humor, but in many cases based upon it. We constantly consider our friendships with others based on the fact that we laugh with them, and as our peers, our social ties to them are similar, and thus this makes our relationship just that, translatable to one anothers' experience and surroundings. Considering now the generational divide that comes with a thirty or so year age difference, can we ever be in a humorous relationship with other generations, after all, aren’t our parents people just like us? Have we progressed so much from the fifties until now, that our humor not only goes unnoticed and unappreciated, but can sometimes divide us?