Wednesday, February 17, 2010

never mind peace treaties, just crack a joke

As the great snowpocalypse has paralyzed the greater Baltimore area, I have not yet had the opportunity to venture to Higher Achievement and work with my mentees. However, the excess amount of snow time spent bundled in my bed gave me the perfect excuse to bother all of my friends from home by calling them back and catching up with them on the phone. During one of the many conversations, a friend and I mentioned our old friend (We’ll rename her Sally), in passing. Sally is a friend that none of us talk to anymore, because things between her and her crazy boyfriend escalated to a level that none of us could handle. Suffice it to say that after he posted personal videos of her on youtube, fought with her parents so much that they filed a restraining order, and left us angry voicemails every time they fought, we had enough. You can only feel so bad for a person before their masochistic relationship tendencies start bringing your own friendship down. The situation was a veritable Titanic.

But then I thought about it, and that wasn’t the worst that we had seen. Erin had gone on a wild rampage after fighting with her parents and getting kicked out of her house. She screamed at everyone, threw her camera at me and eventually punched Morgan in the face. I mean, talk about a trashy reality show low right there. That volatile situation, however, had taken mere hours to resolve. Why had things with Sally gotten beyond the point of no return? When I think about the night that the whole situation blew up with Sally, I’m not inclined to remember any light hearted jokes and laughter. When I recall the throw down with Erin, we were laughing that same night. Why was joking possible and even preventative of further damage in one situation and not in the other?

If only we had an analysis of jokes in the form of social drama to look at. How convenient that Victor Turner made such an in depth study, and came to the conclusion that occasionally the groups can resolve situations with rituals, and occasionally they cannot. One such ritual that is often used to overcome problems is the joking or humor that he saw evidenced in the Kutiyattam. Here he described a humor that transcends the time and immediate situations, to bring unity through a reflection and a return to the group’s foundation. This was, perhaps what we were able to come to with the situation involving Morgan and Erin. Our friendship there had been founded upon instances of humor. Though we share important and serious matters with each other, the fact that we can joke about things to cheer each other up or make light of situations emphasizes the strong foundation of our group. By the end they were able to laugh and make jokes because it allowed them to recognize that something was wrong through ridicule, but also allowed them the common ground of laughing – common ground that was reachable because despite their clash during the fight, they share the same essential values and wished to return to them.

Douglas shared the idea of jokes being effective based on their structure but also the social structure, and his ideas on the role of the joker being able to transcend the normal bounds of society for the moment is similar to the role of the clown in the Kutiyattam. The joker, “Has a firm hold on his own position in the structure and the disruptive comments which he makes upon it are in a sense the comments of the social group upon itself” (159). They were able to play the role of the joker which saved the situation, because through the jokes they recognized openly the tension and their fault within the tension. Thus we all realized that we were in agreement about how ridiculous the situation was, and could then move on to the next phase of overcoming it. We were able to recognize, as Turner’s Kutiyattam clown suggests, “that laughter is lord over all, beginning with the bucolic but extending ultimately to embrace humankind” (261). There were other greater things in life that we agreed upon, and the humor let us get back to that founding part of our friendship.

With Sally, there was no unifying factor to be found. There was no basis on humor, and she certainly did not play the role of the joker, or allow us to play the similar role. Though there were many attempts to overcome the problem by using humor, the transcendent factor that would allow our group to recognize the common points that brought us all together, it was never really allowed and we couldn’t move out of the crisis stage. Jokes, witty remarks, even a skit fell short of rekindling that foundational bond, and there never seemed the social allowance of a joke. Therefore, one group survived Turner’s third stage, and the other did not.

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