Thursday, September 16, 2021

The Collapse LXXXI: The Day Of Fools

01 April 20XX+1

My Dear Lucilius:

And here it is, the Day of Fools.

There was a time, of course, when the Day of Fools was patiently waited for – probably around the middle of grammar school to high school, I should imagine. The years that Easter fell late, it was a long haul until the next holiday, so The Day of Fools made a welcome break.

And it was such an anticipated holiday. In the beginning, of course, pranks were spur of the moment things thought up in the morning, mere verbal sleights of word or wildly outrageous lies. As time went on, they because more and more elaborate, sometimes involving a month of planning. Sometimes they worked, sometimes they did not – and sometimes we were so caught up in the cleverness of the fool that our targets in turn fooled us (teachers, who seemed so much older and non-hip, were actually pretty clever).

Over time, of course, this sort of thing fell by the wayside. High school gave way to college and college to work, and at each step the Day of Fools had less and less relevance to our annual lives - and instead became more and more concerning: there came to be rules of conduct and engagement as one moved farther up the educational and career ladder, so many and in such unwritten abundance that at some point the risk of creating an issue outweighed the potential laugh.

Humor, and the Fools of April that was one embodiment of it, seemed to have disappeared.

Old humor, of course, was completely out. Humor had to conform to modern mores – and by modern, it came to mean within the last five years of whatever the year was. Yesterday’s humor became today’s faux pas. Wildly popular shows that twenty years previous were the peak of humor and clever repartee were now things to be set aside in the Modern modern world.

In terms of relationships – work, social, church – humor could be an instant conversation killer. One never knew precisely what others thought might be funny, so one simply stopped making any sorts of jokes at all, unless one knew the audience well – and not just well, but extremely well. Self-deprecating humor became a way to break the ice among the strangers and the uncommitted, I suppose – after all, most everyone is happy to have someone to laugh at, at long as it is not them.

Starting one of these social events – a work meeting, a church gathering, a social gathering – turned into a bit of an uncomfortable and high risk event every time. People would meet, exchange greetings – and then some brave soul would make a quip or comment. The gathering seemed to pause for a moment, as people stopped and waited to see what would happen next. Either someone - apparently someone of sufficient standing or rank – would laugh, at which point everyone felt they could laugh, or there would be silence and coughing and then the inevitable “Well, it looks like we are all here, so we should start.”

But as these written and unwritten rules and mores went into effect, the outcome was quite different that what was intended.

Instead of laughing more because humor was now in theory correctly distributed and focused, everyone laughed less. And humor was coarsened as well: sex, mockery of others, and just a general “grossness” in humor may have generated laughter, but it also made everyone less civilized over all. In the desire to find things that were acceptable to laugh about, the lowest common denominator became the standard, at which point it seemed everyone tried to find a way to go below the standard.

For a while to find something I could laugh at, I tried to just watch shows that we had watched with my children – the “Disney sitcoms or cartoons” and their like. And they were funny in a sort of rollicking innocent way – although by the time my children had stopped watching (and thus, my direct acquaintance with them) even they had started to go the way of the larger world.

Old comedies were by the wayside – looking back, the rot had set in there even earlier; I had been to foolish to not see it. One would have to go way back – perhaps pre-1965? - to find some of what we used to call “wholesome” humor. At that point it became too much of an effort, and frankly I did not want spend my days and off time in front of a computer, watching a small screen, desperate for a laugh that felt honest and clean.

I have a few of the genuinely great comic collections that either my wife or I had collected over the years: The Far Side, Calvin and Hobbes, Peanuts (of course), and even a New Zealand Comic strip called Footrot Flats that I refer to now and again when I feel the need. Simple humor well done, without a trace of controversy because in point of fact, life is simply amusing on its own.

On the whole, I laugh more now, even in our current situation, than I have for many years. This truly is the greatest comedy of them all.

Your Obedient Servant, Seneca

9 comments:

  1. Anonymous2:19 AM

    The CAROL BURNETT SHOW has many years of comedy skits which no one would object to. The performers themselves would get caight up and the audience laughed along.

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    Replies
    1. Anonymous, I remember the Carol Burnett Show from when I was a lad - it was one of the shows that we could watch. It was funny then, and it remains funny to this day. Watching the interaction of Carol, Harvey, Tim, and Vickie was amazing, especially when - as you note - they made each other laugh (I often feel that Tim went out of his way to make the others laugh). I will still laugh at them watching clips today and it is one of the few things on The Tube of You that I will actively seek out.

      Thanks for stopping by!

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  2. I have the complete Farside Collection and I pull it out from time to time and read it all again. Of anything of my childhood that I watched or read, it is Larson's genius that I miss the most.

    It has probably been a decade since I last read through it. It might be time to do so again.

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    Replies
    1. Ed, Larson was a genius - and (arguably) along with Watterson and Schultz, someone that indelibly changed the cartoon industry forever.

      For both Watterson and Larson, I appreciate that they were willing to end their comic before it became stale - just as I appreciate that Schultz kept going literally until he died.

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  3. December 31, 1995. The Day the Newspapers died, but with these parting words...

    'It's a magical world, old buddy ... let's go exploring.'

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    Replies
    1. Just So - I forgot (until I looked it up) that apropos of Ed's comment above, The Far Side ended on January 1st, 1995. A sort of one/two punch to newspapers that never recovered. The funnies were never the same, especially when they started just recycling strips or having other cartoonists do them.

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    2. There is a great documentary called "Dear Mr. Watterson" that chronicles the impact of C & H. It is a deep dive into the strip and story of Bill Watterson, the reclusive author, and how the public came to adore the adventures of a boy and his tiger.

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  4. Leave it to Beaver, My Three Sons, Father Knows Best - this latter would never be made now; The Howdy Doody Show, Captain Kangaroo, Romper Room. All stuff I grew up with.

    You all be safe and God bless.

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    Replies
    1. Linda, I concur on both accounts. By the time I remember, only Captain Kangaroo was still on, which I still have fond memories of.

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