Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Present Laughter

In Laughter; An Essay on the Meaning of the Comic, Henri Bergson finds the roots of the comic impulse in inelasticity, proposing that comedy germinates in rigid responses to crisis that avoid the nature of the reality. Thus, the innocent, Chaplinesque figure, the neophyte, the idiot savant, the rube, the Babbitt, the W.C. Fields blusterer are all frequently both objects and detonators of comedy. Jack D. Ripper’s unchanging use of the terms “precious bodily fluids” and “Russkies” in Dr. Strangelove fuels the syntactic parody of this seminal piece of latter twentieth century comedy. If one were to take a portrait of social satire in the fecund era of the ‘60s and ‘70s the way one takes a group shot a high school football squad, Strangelove would be the coach with his arms around MASH on the film side, with Catch 22 and Slaughterhouse Five representing the books. But where is the humor today? There are no Russkies. The real threat lies in kidnapped children in the Congo getting conscripted by self-appointed generalissimos who don the regalia of fallen empire. Where is the comedy in volcanic ash shutting down air travel, in a latter day version of the Icarus myth, in which the Polish president flies too low rather than too high in his over-eagerness to accept penance from an ancient enemy, in a man-made disaster (the BP oil spill) that outdoes anything nature could choreograph?  The job of the comedian is harder today because we have entered a post-absurdist age in which a creature named Survival rears its ugly head amidst the intellectual incongruities and pretensions of the age. Restoration playwrights like Wycherley, who named their characters for their foibles, would have had a party with the crazies captaining this Ship of Fools that we now call spaceship Earth—Mr.  Clueless and Miss  Loveless await their cues.  But laughter is short lived when you’re looking down the barrel of a gun, or in this case a car bomb sitting in Times Square.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.