Not Out Loud

I’ve been thinking of funny things lately.  Literally.  You see, while many of us are waiting for vaccines or any sign of hope, it’s natural to try to cheer oneself up.  I try reading books with the reputation of being funny.  I try looking for movies that IMDb tells me will make me laugh.  One thing I’ve discovered is that what’s truly funny is a matter of taste.  Some comedians make me laugh.  Others, well, don’t.  Books that I’m told are LOL (“laugh out loud”) funny often turn out to give me a snicker or two as I wend my way through the pages.  The “out loud” part remains elusive.  But it’s the movies that get to me most.  I can’t remember the last time I saw a movie that made me laugh from beginning to end.  “Sophomoric” is the word my wife used to describe most of the movies on online comedy recommendation lists.

I suppose funny is a matter of buying into lowest common denominator culture.  Education, if we’re honest, can knock the sense of humor out of you.  Besides, most movies have a story to tell and few stories are funny every step along the way.  During a pandemic you might well need something like that.  Of course you couldn’t go to the theater to see it if it came out.  There’s some fun stuff on the internet.  People I know will sometimes send me things that make me chuckle, but I’m guessing I need to step away from horror movies for a while to reacquaint myself with what’s funny.  I got so desperate the other day that I sat down and tried to make a list of the funniest movies I ever saw.  Then I looked at the lists I found online and saw little overlap.  Where to go for a good laugh?

Our sense of humor must have roots in our youth.  I really got into religion then, and I became a very serious teen—we’re talking eternal consequences here.  So much so that I had a conscious epiphany one day that I no longer laughed.  I needed to rebuild my sense of humor.  I tried buying funny books (which wasn’t easy in a town with no bookstores).  I tried to catch up with the others in school who were always talking about this or that funny movie they’d seen.  Of course, anything crude scandalized me then, so it had to be clean fun.  Now it’s a matter of trying to see if anyone gets my sense of humor.  After a year in lockdown we could all use a good laugh.


The Price of Writing

Academic writing strives to remove personality from your work.  It can be soul-crushing.  I remember well when my daughter—a talented writer—came home in sixth grade with a note from her teacher.  An otherwise ideal student, she was writing her science projects with *gasp* her own voice!  Mr. Hydrogen and how he joins Mr. Oxygen—that sort of thing.  Granted, it would never be published in a scientific journal, but it was a personalized expression that demonstrated an understanding of the concepts.  Having been the recipient of an old school education, I also learned that academic writing should lack personality.  Those who’ve bothered to read my academic papers, however, may have noted that I don’t always obey the rules.  Subtle bits (very small, I’ll allow) crept in amid the erudition.  And now I find myself wishing I’d persisted a bit more.

Pure objectivity, anyone living in a post-modern world knows, is a chimera.  It doesn’t really exist.  We all have points of view, whether they eschew adjectives or not.  I still write fiction, but since my publication history has been “academic” I indulge in it while trying to break through where someone’s voice isn’t a detriment.  I’ve been reading non-fiction by younger women writers and one of the things I’m finally catching onto is that your own voice shouldn’t be the enemy.  It may be so for most publishing houses, but I’m wondering at what cost.  So many ideas, just as valid as any staid publication, never see the light of day beyond some editor’s desk.  That’s not to suggest that anyone can write—I’ve read far too many student papers to believe that—but that those who can ought not be shackled by convention.  If only I could get an agent who believes that!

Holy Horror isn’t exactly flying off the press, but it does represent a kind of hybrid.  It’s transitioning to a kind of writing that allows some personality onto the page (yes, I’m old enough to still believe in pages).  A now departed family friend—he’d known my grandfather—was determined to read Weathering the Psalms.  He didn’t make it through.  It was an academic publication.  In the humanities, it seems to me, we need to allow authors to be human.  It’s in our title, after all.  Please don’t take this as professional advice; careers are still broken on the wheel of tradition.  Writing, however, shouldn’t be a caged bird.  But then again, the clock says it’s now time to get to work.


O Come Let Us

During the height of the zombie craze a meme went around the internet proclaiming “zombie Jesus.”  It was funny because the salient feature of zombies is that they come back from the dead.  Noting the resurrection and the easily annoyed trigger finger of Fundamentalist Christians, some wag brought Jesus and the undead together.  We had a good laugh and forgot about it.  A guy in Ohio with a sense of humor, took the zombie Jesus meme and constructed it into a zombie nativity scene in his yard.  None of us knew about it, of course, until it caught the attention of the news.  A story in the Washington Post notes that the man was required to take the scene down for violating zoning laws.
 
People take their religion very seriously and have a hard time laughing about it.  Religion is under constant fire from angry atheists and it already suffers a complex from having so many liberals pointing out the historical and logical faux pas from within the tradition.  Some people take advantage of American gun laws to stock up against the day when they’ll step over the line and join those who shoot up offices where they think Mohammad is being mocked.  Then we’ll sit around and wonder if we should classify them as terrorists or just deranged.  And we’ll post a take-down order, just in case any zombies remain.

NightoftheLivingDead
 
As an academic (at least erstwhile) I noted how little religion scholars reveled in the humor of their traditions.  There’s funny stuff in the Bible, believe it or not, and many religious traditions allow for a Mona Lisa smile every now and again.  A far more common stance, however, is that of taking offense.  Something that most critics just don’t realize is how much religions mean to those who believe.  I chuckle once in a while, but I never belittle the beliefs of others.  I have been in this religion thing since I can remember, and I know what it can mean to people.  The best way to avoid offending, I think, is to keep our jokes among the crowd of those who have a sense of humor.  Of course, the undead obey no rules and the media (and its unruly accomplice, the internet) can’t resist spreading memes that might earn a buck or two of advertising revenue.