Arts &
  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 3, No. 1, 2004

  Current Issue  
  Back Issues  
Robert J. Lewis
  Contributing Editors
Bernard Dube
Phil Nixon
Mark Goldfarb
Robert Rotondo
  Music Editor
Emanuel Pordes
  Arts Editor
Marissa Consiglieri de Chackal
Mady Bourdage
Emanuel Pordes
  Past Contributors
  Noam Chomsky
Robert Fisk
Pico Iyer
Edward Said
Mark Kingwell
Arundhati Roy
Naomi Klein
Jean Baudrillard
John Lavery
David Solway
Tariq Ali
Michael Albert
Rochelle Gurstein


Donald Morgenson is Professor Emeritus of Psychology at Wilfrid Laurier University



We have been laughing at ourselves for centuries. The comedies of Aristophanes (circa 450. B.C.) still play to appreciative audiences in 2003 A.D. And in England there exists a book of jokes published in 1526, almost ten years before the Bible enjoyed its first complete printing in English. What joy - levity beat piety to the punch!

Admittedly not all of us enjoy jokes; it appears that the world is divided cleanly into those who adore jokes and those who are left absolutely cold by them. Critic Robert Benchley once said: "The world is divided into two kinds of people -- those who divide the world into two kinds of people and those who do not."

Essayist and artist Max Beerbohm whose work has brought so much laughter and fun to so many once said: "Only the emotion of love takes higher rank than that of laughter." And he went on to make an even more insightful observation that love often has its origins in the physical and ends in the realm of the mental while laughter has its origins in the mental and ends in the realm of the physical.

Mel Brooks once said that the best laughs are the "dangerous laughs" -- implying the possibility of a stroke, heart attach or loss of bladder control may be at the end of the guffaw. It is those comic situations -- the off-the-cuff witticism, the unpredictable fling of whimsy, the surgical puncturing of pretension, the predicament to bleak that it allows nothing else but laughter -- it is these which cannot be wrenched from their human context that make for the keenest laughter.

Siggy, Anni & RudiMuch research now suggests that laughter has a positive effect on blood pressure, oxygenating the blood, laughter massages vital organs, it facilitates digestion and during laughter, apparently endorphins are released in the brain. Endorphins are the naturally occurring opiates secreted in the human brain and during laughter, such biochemicals ease psychic and physical pain.

The late Norman Cousins (The Anatomy of an Illness/Head First) once said that humor is "the apothecary residing in all of us". He or she who laughs, lasts - it is form of internal jogging. And even newer evidence suggests that laughing can have a favorable effect on our immune systems (that system which helps us resist diseases). Measures of T-cell counts (cells which seek out and kill antigens causing illness) in our saliva show that there is a significant increase in such cells after a healthy bout of laughter.

Gordon Allport, the psychologist who has studied human personality more deeply than any other has this to say: "I venture to say that no person is in good health unless they can laugh at themselves, quietly and privately, noticing where they have overreached, where their pretensions have been overblown. They need to know when they have been hoodwinked, too sure of themselves, too short-sighted, and above all, too conceited." Allport suggested that the three central characteristics of the "mature" personality were: a sense of empathy, a sense of perspective, and a sense of humor.

For me, being able to laugh at oneself is the highest form of self-criticism I know.

Humor and a sense of mirth involve exaggeration, understatement and an absurd juxtaposition of different aspects of the human condition. Most important -- a sense of humor is capable of restoring a distorted perspective. What is being communicated is a perspective on life itself. And speaking of perspectives, I found an interesting one on the side of a plumber's pick-up truck: "A flush beats a full house."

Laughter has so many fine functions: in absolute despair laughter may be a substitute for weeping. Coleridge once said: "Laughter is oft an art to drown the outcries of the heart." Laughter may be used to keep up one's courage or reduce one's fear. Laughter may be used to cover an insult, our mistakes or errors. Laughter is often the mortar which cements communities; laughter has a unifying and consolidating effect. Shared laughter can create communities. And laughter through satire is often the most eloquent criticism -- ridiculing some of our silliest prejudices.

With so many fine functions why is it that we, as individuals or in groups, tend to be laughing less and less? Surely we have not lost our sense of mirth; surely the humorous spirit is not dying. . .perhaps the quality of our times makes such signs of the buoyancy of the human spirit more difficult to bear. For example, today there are many more people and more social contacts but the contacts seem more impersonal, more mechanical -- we are increasingly strangers to each other. And laughter often emerges from meaningful contact with others.

Another possibility -- change may be blunting our sense of the incongruous. With so many shifting scenarios, shifting values, etc. what once may have been perceived as a ludicrous juxtaposition of elements of existence no longer seem to be. The unexpected has lost much of its effect.

The satirical, too, has lost much of its sting, chiefly because people (strange, here in the midst of the so-called "knowledge explosion") are so lacking in knowledge regarding many situations they fail to see the humorous aspects of them. With so little real knowledge of the world we do not recognize the world as having contradictory, disorderly, or eccentric aspects. Perhaps we have lost our sense of the absurd, so essential for stinging satire.

And finally, perhaps the standardizing effect of the mass media has caused some of our laughter to diminish. The mass media do tend to standardize the emotions, interests, tastes, attitudes, and the thought of millions of us. Perhaps this is why there is less laughter of sympathy/empathy, less laughter of comradeship, less laughter of compassion, less laughter regarding human indiscretions, foibles, and failings.

Even so laughter and a sense of mirth/humor remain our greatest blessings. The old adage states: “Wit gives freedom and freedom gives wit.” In our stressful lives, laughing together may be the last form of anxiety-free communication we have. It is through laughter and shared humor we keep our imaginations and intuitions alive.

We need smiles and laughter as we need love. Laughter is like the pearl which the oyster forms around that speck of irritation and there are certainly plenty of specks of irritation in our lives today. But smiles and laughter are out there . . . sometimes staggering around . . . but they are there simply needing care and exercise. I can assure you -- they will enrich our lives.


E-Tango Creative Web Design
Core-Net Computer Services
Caribbean Report
Available Ad Space
Valid HTML 4.01!
Privacy Statement Contact Info
Copyright 2002 Robert J. Lewis