Is it Just Me or Has the Sound of Laughter Died?

I don’t laugh much any more. Back in Jamaica there was always something hilarious going on. Some raucous scandal or some preposterous incident. I close my eyes and listen, and I can hear the peals of laughter, Jamaican laughter, more uninhibited, more contagious than any other laughter in the world. Do they still laugh like that in Jamaica?

Somehow, I doubt it. Today’s events do not lend themselves to mirth. It’s all very well to say, as Abraham Lincoln did, that you laugh because you must not cry. But today’s tragedies and disappointments are too painful to be soothed by wit or lighthearted mockery. There’s no place for the jester in today’s public arena.

Besides, no one can take a joke. Political correctness has stifled good-natured banter. It seems everyone has a chip on their shoulder. Physical imperfections are off limits. Race is taboo. So are sexual orientation and gender. And on and on…

Am I the only one who sees a pernicious implication in all of this? By making these topics so toxic do we give them more importance than we should? By laughing at our differences, did we make it easier to get along with one another? Perhaps – but only up to a point. When spiteful ridicule replaced banter and the jokes became increasingly mean spirited, we had to back off. The humor got too nasty.

But humans were always cruel, and humor was never benign. Think of the political cartoons of the Victorian era. Think of the caricatures in magazines like Punch. They must have been devastating to the ego but the politicians of the day took them in stride. Apparently, they laughed along with the satirists, laughed uneasily perhaps, but laughed nonetheless.

doonesburyI think things started changing when editors decided to put Doonesbury (at right) in the opinion section of the newspaper. Readers had complained that the strip was politically biased.

Today, it seems there is bias and spin in everything. Even the cars you see in the movies are often “product placements.” The auto makers pay the film makers to use their models. And the comics? I suspect there is hidden “spin” in them, too.

I know I seldom find anything to laugh at as I scan the comics section today. And there’s little relief at the movies. As I check out the movie channels on cable, I try to watch those branded “comedy” or “comedy romance,” but I seldom watch any of them to the end. Usually, the “comedy” is based on some excruciatingly embarrassing series of events or some mind numbing slapstick accompanied by ear-shattering sound effects and revolting vulgarity.

Television is just as bad. Occasionally, Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert makes me chuckle, but usually my amusement is tinged with malice. Usually, I am happy to see Fox News or CNN -or some other hapless victim – skewered. It’s not the better side of me laughing.  And as for the stand-up comics, give me a break! There’s nothing intrinsically funny about obscenity. Or going to the toilet. Or passing wind. And I don’t find it funny when I am subjected to a tirade by some proselytizer for “gay rights” or whatever.

miss louLate-night hosts like Jay Leno and David Letterman make me wince. Their jokes are usually trite and their wit stale. The canned laughter and lame “gotchas” display an abysmal lack of creativity. My response is, usually, who writes these things?

It may be my own fault, of course. I’m out of the loop, didn’t get the memo. I suppose there are insiders who get the jokes. And I am definitely not an insider; I am far out on the fringes of today’s hip society. (I have no idea what has replaced “hip.” Is “cool” still in?)

Anyway, unhip and uncool, I watch the passing parade here in America with little mirth and less joy. How I miss Ranny Williams and Miss Lou (photo above), and – at this time of year – the Pantomime.