We often underestimate our different were our ancestors from us; we like to assume that even if they wore different costumes on the outside, they felt like us inside. Not true! Consider, for example, how our culture celebrates laughter. One of our worst sins is to lack a sense of humor, to be a fuddy-duddy unable to “take a joke.” But four centuries ago, it seems, attitudes were quite the opposite:
It seems to me like the traditional view of comedy as someone else's tragedy is accurate, and this mainly finds two safe havens in modern society:
1. When the tragedy is entirely fictional: http://video.google.com/vid... If it's not a real tragedy, it's totally safe.2. When the tragedy in question is suffered by a single person or group as a result of personal ignorance, stupidity, foolishness, naïveté, etc. http://www.youtube.com/watc... This is much riskier, but depending on audience and type of dumb-ness, this can also avoid large-scale criticism.
Seriously? Looking around today in the UK almost all the satirical energy has been aimed at the right, and the same seems to go for the US satires we import (Colbert Report, etc), with South Park bringing up the socially progressive right-wing rearguard. Houellebecq is the closest thing to a (good!) modern conservative satirist I can think of.
But you're quite right that the opposite tendency holds true for much of past, I imagine the chageover happened with the triumph of Whiggish views of history and the abandonment of the old nail of the former generations is better than the stomach of the later generations attitude.
Is this a farmer-forager thing?
He may not have known of research concerning the which sees laughter as a potential influence in healing. After some thought however two things changed my mind as I came to appreciate the value of cancer jokes and laughter in general for cancer patients.. In fact it seems to me that perhaps the reason a white audience laughs at African-American or Hispanic humor is because the comic has used laughter as a lens through which we can better see our stereotypes and prejudices.
Unfortunately, much humor today is still derived from the demeaning of others. Look at all the "fail" postings on the Internet which focus on how funny it is that someone "fell down" and it was caught on video. I have to consciously steer clear of sites that devote much of their content to ridiculing the shortcomings of others, lest I develop the same mean spirited cynicism.
It is interesting that disgust, as Lessing noted, tends to kill any aesthetic response, except in the genres of comedy or, even more, satire. Satire traffics heavily in disgust and it is interesting to note that the best stuff tends to be done by conservatives, especially social conservatives, who ironically tend to use an ostentatiously pure writing style: Aristophanes, Swift, Pope, Waugh.
“We tend to scoff at the beliefs of the ancients. But we can't scoff at them personally, to their faces and this is what annoys me.”
-- Jack Handy
Mr. Handy also answers Evan's questions about why we are afraid of clowns: http://thinkexist.com/quota...
Laughter is the result of concurrent feelings of dislike and like. It indicates a person's ambivalence towards the subject.
Aristotle … believed that [laughter] was always a response to ugliness or deformity in another person. I wonder if this is the reason that clowns were popular in the past, but many people are afraid of them now. In the past mocking deformities was far more acceptable than it is now, and it seems like clown makeup is designed to mimic deformities in some ways.
The laughter of the female, not the male, is the critical index of a healthy relationship. … Laughter is self-effacing behavior, and the women in my study may have used it as an unconscious vocal display of compliance or solidarity with a more socially dominant group member. …This is the exact opposite of the sort of relationship I have, but that probably just means we're atypical.
I will say that the fact that people had a different idea of comedy -- one with which I actually subscribe (and which makes sense if you watch standup comedians) -- doesn't mean they didn't like it. Aristophanes is a prime example. And his stuff is brutal.
In the Symposium, Socrates argues that the tragedian should be able to write comedies and the comedies should be able to write tragedies (this makes more sense when you understand that the tragedies all ended with a satyr play, which were funny). In any case, Plato was pointing to the complexity of comedy, with its relationship to tragedy and the tragic world view.
The Name of the Rose features a character -- the intolerant blind librarian Jorge de Burgos -- who condemns laughter and claims that "Christ never laughed!"
It also contains a reconstruction of the second book of Aristotle's Poetics, which dealt with comedy.
Women may laugh more, but humorous television commercials are generally geared toward men: think of the tradition of Super Bowl commercials.
For Freud humor was an indirect method of raising a repressed thought, laughter being the anxiety of struggling with the now conscious thought in a social environment. The uncovered thought exposes the laughing person, it catches him in a lie. So laughter should be closely related to crying, both of them a form of surrender to reality.
Not just Shakespeare--classical Graeco-Roman comedies contain plenty of incongruity humor. Also, the Natya Sashra, an ancient Indian treatise on the performing arts, advocates an empathy-based theory of humor, based on the actor's expressing mirth.
It's hard to get a sense for how people actually lived from reading philosophers.Hobbes was a Gloomy Gus, for example.
Shakespeare, a sharp businessman, found there was good money in humor. Lincoln was famous for his jokes.
Another problem, though, is that most things that seemed funny then don't seem very funny now.