Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Using Service and Humor in the Third Phase of Social Drama

This week’s readings were directly related to anthropology, and different cultures around the world. Both Turner’s and Douglas’s writings are self-proclaimed anthropological essays. Although at times they were humorous, I read them as if I were reading a theorist. They both present analysis of the impact of humor and joking on different societies. This is validated with the reading of Millman’s first chapter of Last Places: A Journey in the North. Millman describes a few of the humorous experiences he has had that led him to decide to travel the same route as the Vikings. Together all three readings present a few different insights into the broader impact of humor on the societies of the world.

Diving into Turner’s essay, Images of Anti-Temporality: An Essay in the Anthropology of Experience, first, his essay does not directly focus on the anthropological discussion of humor. Rather humor in society is apart of his discussion of timelessness experiences. Turner describes four stages of “social drama.” The first is a change “of the major expectable regularities of group living,” and the recognition to this, the second is the choice between the different sides of a crisis, the third is the group unity that issues in an effort to repair the crisis, and finally, the forth is recognizing the outcome. The use of humor can be found in step three. Turner uses the example of the Indian tradition on theatre, Kutiyattam. The plays feature a clown, which has the ability to speak directly to the audience to criticize them, and their society as a whole. Only the eldest, and most knowledgeable are eligible for the role of the clown. The clown’s commentary addresses all aspects of the Indian society, providing almost a “microcosm of [their] universe.” It embraces and unites the audience through laughter, while forcing self-reflection.

Douglas outlines the anthropological impacts of the different conventions of the joke, in Jokes. He states that there is “a more profound level” of a joke, and that this level is determined based on the social situation. The level also takes new and interesting forms through social situations. Often times the full impact of a joke cannot be seen until there is complete understanding of the societal context.

Millman presents personal experiences, which allows the reader to relate the anthropological readings to them, as well as compare their own. Millman says, “Travel is the realm of the improbable adventure, the quick fix, the sip passing in the night. It entitles you to meet interesting people whom you otherwise would never meet even if you laid traps of advertised for them.” The people you meet as you travel give you the opportunity to examine their cultures. By this you can see the societal differences between cultures; this includes humor.

I think the before mentioned quote can relate to service, as well. Through my service at CARES, I have met a lot of interesting people. After almost two years at the food pantry, I have developed some very meaningful relationships. The chance of me meeting my co-volunteers or my clients, outside of CARES, was slim, to none. The fact that I feel comfortable to call my co-volunteers at their houses shows a lot. So what is so humorous about meeting new people? Everyone is very, very different. Simply watching and working along side people from so many different ages, and backgrounds can lead to funny situations. As friendships build, everyone is able to joke around while working. If the environments of the food pantry and interview rooms are enjoyable, it translates to the clients (for many it might be the only enjoyable experience they may have in their day).

Millman also states, “You are what you inhabit.” Therefore I want to use Baltimore to its full potential, and I want others to enjoy it as well. Assuming Baltimore is not living up to its potential (there is always room for improvement), we need to move into Turner’s third step of social drama, improvement. I agree with him, I think humor is one way to progress, but I propose that service is a possibility as well.

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