So exactly how far have we come?

I’ve still got to get back into the rhythm of reading in my free time again, so today I thought I’d talk about something different.  I also think that I need to expand the scope of my blog since I don’t really think I’ll get back to reviewing two or three books every week like I did for the better part of the first two years of my blog.

The basis for this post comes from two separate things I’ve seen recently.  The first is a documentary that I came across last light on Netflix about Lenny Bruce – Looking for Lenny.  I’m a big fan of standup comedy – I know I’ve talked about George Carlin on my blog before – and anytime that you really look into the history of standup comedy, you eventually come across Lenny Bruce’s name.  But while I’ve heard of him before, I wasn’t familiar with any of his material, I was only aware of the impact that he has had on the world of comedy.  After watching the documentary last night, it gave me a lot to think about, to the point where I watched it again tonight.

While he is largely known for being a foul comedian – and he did use more than his fair share of foul language – Lenny was really one of the first people to use comedy as a way to introduce an idea.  When you tell a joke, there is the immediate reaction (hopefully a laugh), but with a quality joke, there should also be a delayed reaction when you think about the joke later.  While Lenny started this, I think that one of the best people to ever do this was George Carlin, specifically with his routine “The Seven Words You Can Never Say On Television.”

But while I think that Carlin’s 7 words routine is a perfect example of using comedy to introduce an idea, I think it shows part of the problem as well.  We’ve been inundated with people cursing to the point where you don’t even notice it anymore.  I know that I swear far more often than I probably should, but the words have no power to me anymore.  The words are overused, but they’re no longer attached to new ideas.

It’s difficult to get people to listen to controversial ideas, even in situations where you think you should be able to.  Even in my college courses, there were plenty of times when I would throw out an off the wall idea, and oftentimes I would get blank stares from other classmates and my professors as well.

So exactly what point have I been getting to?  Simple.  We may have progressed in a lot of areas, but unfortunately not in any of the ones that matter.  We claim to be forward thinking, but most of our society is so afraid of anything new that we mistake an acceptance of cursing for an acceptance of ideas.  And this leads to the second item that served as a prompt for this post.

While I haven’t blogged about it very much, I’m a sports junkie.  And the biggest story in sports for the last couple of weeks is that fact that the NBA player Jason Collins is coming out and admitting that he is gay.  While it is a step towards acceptance, I don’t see why it’s such a big deal.

Depending upon the source that you look at, studies have shown that up to 1% of the population is homosexual (it’s from Wikipedia, but I can easily believe the number, I actually thought it would be a little higher).  Even with a mere 1% of the population being homosexual, the odds are fairly good that you know at least one or two people who are gay.  I knew several people who were gay when in the music department at the University of Akron when I was a music major my first three years out of high school, and several of them were my friends.

So here’s the question that I ask after talking about my recent media viewings and the one news article I’ve seen recently.  Exactly how far have we come?  My answer to the question is that we haven’t come very far at all.  And it’s not just with language or homosexual people.  It’s with anything.  As a society we feel such pressure to show how tolerant we are that we show off the first person who is different far more than we should.  Jason Collins coming out will get far more airtime than something as meaningless as a person’s sexual preference should ever get.

The fact that a professional athlete in comfortable enough in our society to come out as a homosexual shows how far far our society has come.  The fact that it’s a major news story shows that we have so much further to go.

Too Soon?

Looking through my stack of books, I decided that I wanted to read something light after my Wheel of Time adventure.  Taking a quick glance through everything, I picked up Dave Barry’s History of the Millennium (So Far).  I’ve enjoyed all of Barry’s writing that I’ve seen in the past, and after reading the first two sections of this book, I was going to call it a night.  That was until I flipped to the next page and saw what Barry wrote about 2001.

Basically, he wrote nothing.  He didn’t do a review for 2001 because he would have had to write it a couple of weeks after 9/11, and he didn’t want to try to make light of the situation.  Nor did he want to joke about the rest of the year and then get serious when talking about 9/11.  Under most circumstances, I wouldn’t argue with that.  But I’m a fan of George Carlin, and I immediately thought of his opening routine from his special “Complaints and Grievances” which was filmed shortly after 9/11.  Carlin recorded the special in New York City and he knew that there was no way to avoid talking about what happened, so he went right after the single most taboo thing he could have talked about.  As much as I love all of George Carlin’s comedy, this is arguably one of his funniest and most profound bits of comedy.

Comedy is one of the most powerful things we can experience.  When it’s done well, it makes you laugh.  But the really good comedians (led by Carlin) also made you think.  And that’s what Carlin’s bit is doing for me right now, even after having watched it dozens of times to the point where I’ve memorized most of the special, Carlin’s words still make me think.

So I finally get to the title of the post.  When is it too soon to joke about a subject?  When is something too serious to ever be joked about?

I don’t think there is anything that is so serious that it can’t be joked about.  I’m willing to joke about pretty much anything.  I do realize that from time to time my jokes miss for other people, but I don’t think I’ve ever gotten shy about letting them fly.  There have been plenty of times where I’m the only one laughing at my jokes, but they help me get through the day when I’m tired or angry or sad.

For the earlier question, if it’s a good enough joke, it can’t come too soon.  Laughter is a way of helping us get back to normal.  In the examples I talked about earlier, Carlin was able to get back to normal faster than Barry.  Laughter is one of the most important things in my life, it’s why I watch a lot of stand up comedy, it’s why I’m always looking for a good joke, it’s why I look for anything I can find that’s funny in a situation.

As always, no matter what the topic is, someone else has already said it better than I possibly could have, so I leave you with another clip.  This one is a condensed section of a History Channel special from several years ago.  The History of the Joke.  There are a lot of funny jokes throughout the 10 minutes, but the parts that I would like to direct you to start at the 7:24 mark, where George Carlin and Shelley Berman talk about the nature of jokes and laughter.  It was easily the high point of the two hour special.

Thoughts?  Comments?  Jokes?  (5 bonus points to anyone who has a joke that makes me laugh out loud when I read it in the comments.)