“Men show their characters in nothing more clearly than in what they think laughable.” Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe, Maxims and Reflections
I love to laugh. Loud and long and clear, although it usually doesn’t result in me floating to the ceiling. Laughter seems pretty innocent, yet there appears to be some pretty strong anti-laughter sentiments running through scripture (the Topical Guide and Indexentries on ‘Laughter’ illustrate this, D&C 59:15 and 88:121among the strongest anti-laughter statements).
I started thinking about what I laugh at, after watching Captain America: The Winter Soldier a few weeks ago. There’s a large amount of violence in the film, unsurprisingly given the genre. In the opening action sequence I found myself laughing at the violence and the killing that was being portrayed onscreen. Almost immediately after, I realized what I was doing and stopped, thinking to myself- why was I laughing? People were being killed and seriously injured. That’s not something to laugh at. I took some momentary solace in the fact that the theater was laughing alongside me. Quickly that solace disappeared as I realized the implications of that laughter.
I was troubled by this briefly, but sort of shrugged it off and half-heartedly resolved to keep a better check on my reactions to violence, until a few days ago when I was watching my brother play soccer. Some kids on the team fell and rolled around on the ground, seeming to feign injury hoping for a call. I laughed. Loudly. Then the coach came to the field and escorted the player off, who remained off the field for the rest of the game. Should I have laughed? The whole premise of America’s Funniest Home Videos and a significant section of YouTube is based around finding the unfortunate physical mishaps of others funny. But that’s not really an excuse.
My concerns with my laughter at these two instances caused me to wonder about what I find funny in general. I have a bit of a dark sense of humor (some may term it dark or gallows humor) that often causes me to laugh at things that cause others to gasp/cry/scream/otherwise negatively react [A Modest Proposal, Puritan sermons about hell-fire (Jonathan Edwards’ “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”, for example), BYU devotionals about sex-cookies, the ‘to the pain’ monologue from The Princess Bride, this entry about Sonseed (the band behind “Jesus is A Friend of Mine”) with a band member dying after choking on a sandwich (please tell me, I’m not the only one that laughed out loud when they read that…) and a story I wrote years ago (titled 87) about a serial killer that only killed on holidays, but was followed by the cheery The Beatles’ tune “Here Comes the Sun” to warn all that were in danger].
So, what is the point of laughter? When is it acceptable? Are there topics that are taboo and should not be made light of? Laughter is one of my defense mechanisms, I suppose, used to deflect the seriousness of some terrible situations (literally failing tests, incredibly unfortunate social interactions—“see you…sometime”—manipulation bordering on blackmail and family dysfunction, for example).
The following quotes give a nice idea of what laughter is for me.
“The human race has only one really effective weapon and that is laughter.” Mark Twain
“There is a thin line that separates laughter and pain, comedy and tragedy, humor and hurt.” Erma Bombeck
“If we couldn’t laugh we would all go insane.” Robert Frost
I think laughter is a key to my largely relaxed, easy-going, stress-free demeanor. If I didn’t laugh off whatever happened, life would be much grimmer. Laughter seems key to joy, unless I don’t understand joy and have been living for one of those lesser, fleeting incarnations—pleasure and happiness. There may be a danger in becoming desensitized to the reality of pain and suffering, if we laugh too frequently. Yet, maybe that laughter can give us insight to touch those that do feel that pain, helping them to transcend it and find the humor in the situation. As Erma said, it’s a thin line.
I’ll keep sharpening my weapon of laughter, holding me back from the cliffs of insanity (hah!), ridding it of the rust and dullness of cheap and disturbing laughs (looking at you, Violent action scenes). Sure, I’ll probably still find myself laughing alone, resulting in awkward and potentially judgmental stares, but I’m used to that. After all if God weeps, I sure hope He/She/They laugh…