The death of the joke

Nowhere has the rise of political correctness influenced western life more than in its humor. A lot of sociologists blame this on postmodernism, but I think it’s just the opposite. The rules of PC are a fruit of modernity, and its obsession with cause and effect.

Michael Bywater spells it all out in a wonderful cover story in the latest issue of Britain’s New Statesman.

Comedy is thriving as never before, but not jokes. Jokeworld is increasingly deserted, like a faded resort. It was a small place, Jokeworld, thinly populated but heterodox, with far more than its fair share of Jews (including God), Irishmen, Pakistanis, bartenders, judges, performing dogs, viola players, hookers, blondes and doctors. And now its day is done.
Jokes, Bywater says, require a common world view — usually white, male and inadequate — and perhaps that’s why we don’t tell them anymore. We’re so concerned about offending anybody (except southerners, of course) that we’ve removed an important element from our culture.
At its best, a joke can hurl complex information across the gap with extraordinary precision. It can offer a temporary respite from the anxieties of life, a break from its demand that we empathise, understand, be fair and non-judgemental. It can provide a recognition of our own absurdity, or a defusing of our secret fears.
As I’ve mentioned previously, one of the wonderful things about Hawaii when I worked there 15 years ago was island humor. Everybody made fun of everybody, and it was damned refreshing. Racial humor was actually played on the radio! Nobody was exempt, and perhaps that’s why it worked so well. Island people understand that they need each other, and they also understand that there are some incredibly funny things about our differences and that we shouldn’t take ourselves so seriously.

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