Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Please laugh at me?

While I wasn’t sure these authors would relate in any way, I found in key pieces in their arguments, which snuggly fit together to give me an overall, bigger picture of yet another of humor’s powers.

First, the arguments. Douglas writes, “… all jokes are expressive of the social situations in which they occur,” (152), adding that jokes also “disorganize” (155). Turner’s argument, though still mostly confusing, seems to emphasize our discussion of humor’s power, its potential to illuminate and cast light, prompting thought, reaction, change, whatever. He also seems to argue that humor is timeless, despite being restricted by social expectations and social dramas. Finally, Millman’s story, particularly the final few sentences, seems to re-emphasize the question of borders and whether or not humor crosses cultural, linguistic, and individual lines. For the narrator, humor also seems to represent a saving element: it provides an outlet, a way to remain hopeful and optimistic, to keep moving forward, onto the next “last place.”

We were in Naples, Florida when it happened. Having just finished finals after sophomore year, three of my closest friends from Loyola and I thought spending five days together on the beach would be spectacularly fun. And it was. Except, I couldn’t take the humor. I really, really couldn’t stand it. Being a commuter, I had worried during freshman year, still surrounded by high school friends, that I would simply avoid making new ones. That lasted all of five minutes because for reasons unknown, and I’ve still never asked her, a girl in my Effective Writing class insisted on including me in everything. And I mean insisted. She’s very persistent. So, it’s always been four of us. Still, I live off campus and don’t have the distinct connection with everyday Loyola life the other three do. What’s more, all three of them live together. So, when we arrived in Florida, I had prepared myself to feel a little unsure. After all, they had two years of seeing one another 24/7 to get used to sharing space and “stuff.” I saw them every day and on weekends, sure… until I went home and slept in my own bed. Sure enough, uncertainty set in right away. I began noticing things: they made fun of one another. A lot. And they laughed about it. A lot. The weird thing is not that they didn’t make fun of me, but that I was annoyed that they didn’t: I felt excluded. While I can’t think of specific things they said, I remember understanding fully that they teased one another they way siblings do, they seemed to have the ability to laugh until they could barely breathe anymore. They weren’t afraid to make complete fools of themselves in front of one another. And I simply wasn’t willing to go there because even though college forces you to get comfy with people quickly, I really felt like I hadn’t known these girls that long. So, no, I wasn’t going to dance around to The Black Eyed Peas’ “Boom-Boom Pow” with a dishtowel for a hat. I was torn between desperately wanting to be that comfortable, that initiated into their sisterly-structure and wanting to ask them why they thought their comments and behavior were so ridiculously funny. When I finally did speak to them, they were genuinely confused: they had no idea their behavior or comments were at all out of the ordinary.

I think this entire mess, more than resolved since our return from Florida although I still won’t wear dishtowels on my head, can be analyzed according to this week’s readings. In terms of Douglas’ argument, I simply couldn’t perceive the jokes my friends thought so hilarious because they didn’t correspond to the social structure I thought was in place. Roommates, friends, as-good-as-sisters: that was their social structure, their point of perspective. Friends, classmates: that was the social structure I perceived. So, Douglas’ argument makes perfect sense to me in light of that situation. My friends’ behavior somewhat destroyed the order we established during our day-to-day interactions at Loyola: walking to class, doing homework, going out on weekends to dinner and movies and the mall. All of those activities had a sort of school-like unity to them, and once the four of us were placed in a different state, beyond those school borders, on the beaches of Florida during the summer, the structure, the dynamic changed, but only for me. They had seen one another at their silliest, because they lived in the same room for an entire school year. What I associated with school they associated with home. For almost nine months out of the year, after all, that’s what Loyola is to them.

I suppose Turner would call this confusion a “social drama” because it “entail[ed] a loss of innocence, compensated for by a gain in experiential knowledge” (248) and a better sense of humor. I felt as though, as Turner states, I was seeing my friends in a “hall of mirrors” (263) where everything was distorted and it provoked serious consideration of our dynamic as friends. It also prompted, in me, “the will to change,” to put aside the idea of borders separating us: me, as a commuter, a visitor, them, as roommates. That trip was, in many ways, our initiation into a stronger friendship. Humor, laughter, signified that initiation: it made humor an implicit part of our friendship. It repaired the rift that formed between leaving Loyola and landing in Florida.

This brings me to Millman’s narrative, which illustrates perfectly the humor in misunderstandings, misfortune, and embarking on unplanned journeys. I think the point here is that we can misunderstand one another culturally, linguistically, but I believe, like Millman, “you are what you inhabit” (5). That one sentence made a sincere impact on me while reading. Humor, laughter: we all have different definitions of them, different tastes, different perspectives and those differences can create barriers, or they can be an element of humor itself. You can sit and stare at boundaries as impassible, or you can “simply sail on” (9).

Considering all three arguments, I think the main idea is this: while structure and humor do seem to stand in opposition to one another because humor does indeed disorganize, humor can actually be a part of structure. It is, as we’ve discussed, a unifying force. So, while social situations dictate much of our lives, humor can ultimately keep social situations from dictating us.

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