He who sits in the heavens laughs, The Lord holds them in derision. Psalm 2:4
Perhaps the best way to ruin a joke is to write an analytical post about it. Jokes, humor, or comedy is subjective; thus, a joke can be hilarious to some but vulgar or offensive to others. Sometimes what is humorous to some people is deadly serious to others. However, the potentially controversial assertion of this post is that comedy is always racist.
From my casual non-dissertation level research, humor is thought to arise from the unexpected; that is, something which was not expected took place. This is what all comedy or humor has in common. When listening to a joke or watching a situation unfold before us, we have an anticipation and expectation of what will happen next. When that expectation does not take place and instead something else does, there is humor, not the possibility of humor but humor. Because of the difference in perspective or subjectivity, it is easy for many people not to get the joke, but it does not take away from the reality that something humorous happened. This does not guarantee that everyone will always be amused with the frustration of expectation. In fact, many people can become enraged, sad, or disgusted; nevertheless, the unexpected situation is still comedy despite the variety of interpretations.
Prior knowledge (knowledge learned before encountering new information), socialization, culture, trends, and language are some of the factors which influence what is expected and thus influence our personal reactions to the unexpected. If pressed, we could find someone who would laugh even at the “worst” examples of comedy. The “benign violation theory” of humor (2010) provides the opportunity for people to police the realm of humor by claiming that comedy must be benign; comedy which is “dangerous” should not be funny and it should not be permitted. If a problematic joke is deemed harmful, mean, inappropriate, or in poor taste, that humor is not funny, and these days it is also probably racist (truer words were never spoken). This argument may be acceptable in our climate of political correctness and for the humor police, but in actual practice, jokes still will be made no matter the situation, and people will laugh even if only in private.
To those who object and say there are some jokes that go too far or reflect bad character, I invoke the subjective theory of value once again; value or humor is in the eye of the beholder. Even if unexpected tragedies arise in certain people’s lives, their mortal enemies, who had suffered long and hard because of them would laugh and think that the situation is joyous, hilarious, and just. This is because, to them, this unexpected tragedy is the end of a harmful situation. While we should be mindful of who is said to be good or bad, a tragedy can be the cause for sorrow for some and the signal for celebration for others. This might seem implausible, until one considers the downfall of various people generally perceived to be evil, like Trump or Biden.
Comedy, humor, and jokes are possible because there is an expectation. Because of identified patterns which are observed, taught, and experienced, people expect and predict what will happen next. Usually, expectations are created which are based on generalizations; this is true for not only people but ideas and situations. For example, Marxists frequently make jokes about the free market; of course, anyone familiar with Mises would find their humor, sad. Comedians make their living familiarizing themselves and then toying with the expectations that their audience may have. Successful comedians have mastered the additional work of delivering the jokes to get a laugh. It is not easy, and hecklers (people with different subjectivities) are usually in the crowd.
Note that generalizations are racial categories. The definition of race that I introduced in a previous LCI post is the categorization or generalization of people, ideas, and objects using a single characteristic. I define racism as categorizing or generalizing someone or something according to a single characteristic, having expectations of the people who or objects which inhabit that generalization (racialization) and then treating the people or objects in that race a certain way because of that categorization. It is the violation of the stereotypical expectation one has which is humorous. In other words, comedy relies on knowing existing and commonly known stereotypes to create the disruption of expectation. Without the stereotypes which many people call “racist” in the commonly understood sense, there would be no comedy. For this reason, we can say that because comedy requires stereotypical expectations, it is always technically racist. Taking one step further, all comedy is potentially offensive and not benign. Belief in the existence of completely benign violations is itself humorous. Even if something can be considered benign comedy today, eventually scholars will find a reason to include it in their list of things to cancel.
Key and Peele do comedy for Comedy Central; one sketch is called “Alien Imposters” which could be considered offensive to some; that is my trigger warning to those who go and watch it. The sketch requires and assumes knowledge of what are normally considered “racist” stereotypes which would be unknown to the invading aliens; this is how the heroes know who the imposters are. It is the stereotyping which enables humans to survive and navigate the dangerous environment. The audience realizes this, and many people are amused and entertained. The more familiar people are with the assumed stereotypes, the funnier the sketch becomes; subjectively speaking. Whether the stereotypes are true or not is irrelevant; it is the knowledge of the prevailing stereotypes of the audience which is important.
Though we could analyze various forms of comedy and wonder if certain topics are eligible for comedy, this discussion maintains that if there is a generalization, there can be comedy when expectation is eventually violated. Individuals will change in their taste and preference in comedy as they grow older and experience more in life and about people. In other words, instead of claiming that some comedy should be banned, we should realize that there is something funny for everyone and that the potential of offending someone is ever-present. It is the nature of humor.
In our society today, scholars are increasing the number of “protected” categories or racializations about which jokes are not allowed. Jokes can be made, but one should not venture there because it would be racist. Well, the underlying joke is that everything is racist and if some people had their way, most, if not all, “good” comedy would be banned. This might explain why authoritarian societies are perceived to be humorless even when the system itself is a standing joke. As the number of protected categories grows, the more my argument here is affirmed. Eventually, scholars may catch up and realize the humor of it all. In the meantime, the opportunity to do violence on the other increases enabled by hypocritical standards rooted in theories like benign violation theory.
Applying the same principle of humor to scripture might be one of those out-of-bounds areas of life mentioned above. Nevertheless, we can see history in scripture full of comedic potential as people continuously strive to go against the will of God. I understand the risk of suggesting that portions of God’s word can be perceived to be humorous, however, consistency demands that I do so. From the perspective of the omniscient and omnipotent God, people with varying levels of partial understanding try to actualize their sinful desires in life only to be frustrated. Perhaps like watching an old sitcom, our heavenly Father sees the violation of expectation and laughs, anthropomorphism notwithstanding. The sinful desires of the faithless will eventually and always be frustrated especially with continued ignorance of the word of God. This is obviously not the type of comedy people may pay to see, but as mentioned already, it remains a type of humor and explains why God would laugh.
This should be a source of comfort for the true believers of God. Believers know that the will of God will be done especially when human perception of events is particularly dark and hopeless. Those who oppose the kingdom may be confident in their knowledge, but ultimately, vindication is with the people of God. So, believers should not be tempted to imitate the world where everyone has an incomplete understanding and where there are so many moving parts. Instead, believers should strive to be more Christlike in their lives and faithfully await the unexpected unfolding of his will. Witnessing God’s protection and the maturation of the fruit of faith in our lives are causes for celebration, laughter, and joy. This does not mean we are idle as we wait on the will of God, rather we continually make the most of every opportunity with our resources to live the best possible life for the glory of the Lord. One could say that this is his will for us, not only to live with the light of life but to shine that light in a dark world. Unlike the rest of the world, the fulfillment of our expectations will be far beyond anything we could possibly imagine. In other words, our laughter will be eternal and righteous.
Though the faithful are often the source for comedy for some non-believers, with the eyes of faith, Christians can see through the temporary institutions of sinful humanity and keep their eyes on the prize of life. In other words, despite the challenges of staying on the road of life and the sacrifices believers make, the punchline will be the cause for celebration for the elect. God will vindicate the righteous. The righteous will live under and with the blessing of God while enjoying eternal fellowship with our Lord. The unexpected situations in life may elicit tears and mourning, but with the knowledge of God, of his eternal will, we will be able to laugh with true joy now and at the end of it all.
- Ep 240: Q&A with Doug and Norman
- Ep 239: Is there more than one way of being pro-life?
- Ep 238: What About Abortion?
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