Mudcat Café message #2572577 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #118593   Message #2572577
Posted By: Joe Offer
21-Feb-09 - 02:12 PM
Thread Name: Folklore: Gallows Humour-laughing at death/disease
Subject: Folklore: Gallows Humor-laughing at death/disease
Posted 12 March, 2009

At the risk of life and limb, I'm going to resurrect and reopen this thread and see if it can go in the direction the thread originator intended. At first, I didn't understand the thread originator's intention, but I think I do now. Before you protest, please read this message and the entire thread carefully.

Most of the taboos of society have disappeared in our modern world, but the taboo against the discussion of death, suffering, and disease seems to be stronger now than it ever was.

The thread originator did not make it completely clear in the next message, but his intention was to study the folklore and phenomenon of humor that arises in situations of death and disease and other dire misfortune - and I think that is a legitimate topic of study.

My personal observation is that some of the best humor comes from the victims of misfortune - and it can be a powerful weapon to help us overcome or at least deal with that misfortune. Some of that humor can be raw and crude, but it can be potent.

On the other hand, humor that is directed at the victims of misfortune from the outside, may seem at first to be despicably cruel - even in cases such as that of Jade Goody, where the target of the joke is notorious. Indeed, such humor often is cruel, but is it always so? Is it cruelty that motivates "gallows humor" directed at a celebrity who is facing death, or is it something else? I think that when people make jokes about a celebrity facing tragedy, they are actually considering what would happen if they had to go through such an ordeal themselves.

Many of us are over the age of fifty, and we face death and suffering every day. We have friends who have died, friends who are bald because of chemotherapy, beautiful friends who are no longer beautiful because of the ravages of disease or old age. Many of us and many of our friends are facing financial disaster. There's often nothing we can do about it, but perhaps the best thing we can do is to laugh in the face of death and despair, because laughing gives us courage and strength.

As I said before, most of the taboos of society are gone, and "anything goes" nowadays in many areas - sex and honesty and respectability are no longer sacred. Somehow, though, it is forbidden to speak publicly about suffering and death, especially in a humorous way.

Down below, you will see many expressions of that taboo, people who are absolutely appalled at the idea of discussing humor related to death and suffering.

Stop for a moment, take a deep breath, and consider all this with an open mind. I think you'll find that this can be a very worthwhile subject of discussion. Over the last two days, the thread was overwhelmed by a swarm of do-gooders who didn't even take the time to read the first post carefully and understand what the thread originator was trying to do. Too bad he got bullied into silence.

Like it or not, I'm going to reopen this thread to discussion and ask that we use a folkloric perspective to explore humor involving the topic of death and disease and other tragedy.
I hope you'll keep an open mind.
-Joe Offer-