One of the striking aspects of this decade is how much resentment has built up among the humorless against the humorful. It’s of course analogous to Current Year people feeling oppressed by, say, the great medical innovators of the recent past who saved millions of lives, demanding that their portraits be taken down from medical schools walls.
From the New York Times opinion section:
How We Went From ‘Soup Nazis’ to Real Nazis
And why ‘yadda, yadda, yadda’ won’t cut it anymore.
By Randy Laist
Mr. Laist is a professor of English and an essayist.
But where is he based?
Oct. 7, 2019
If you watch “The Handmaid’s Tale” on basic-subscription Hulu, the fraught dystopian narrative is periodically interrupted with advertisements, one of which promotes “Seinfeld” episodes available on the company’s streaming service….
I watched the 1980s movie version of The Handmaid’s Tale with Robert Duvall but don’t remember much about it other than it was over after only a couple of hours, fortunately. The current TV series is equally bad, but it just drags on forever…
The show is basically Harem Porn for women, right? It’s about how sexy it would be if a few tyrannical men imposed polygamy on the women of America. No, I mean, it’s about how awful it would be. Awful awful awful.
… The characters in “Seinfeld” occupy a sheltered, privileged outpost at the end of history. … The end of the 20th century was coinciding with a new era of American consumerist hegemony, where the only Nazis were “soup Nazis,” where the only problems left to agonize over were “first-world problems,” and where any committed political or ideological point of view was correspondingly irrelevant, tone-deaf or simply uncool. …
Films like “Pulp Fiction” and “The Truman Show” exemplified the ironic sensibility, as did other television shows like “The Simpsons,” publications like The Onion and even the popularity of post-structural semantic theory on college campuses. …
Flash-forward several eventful decades, to Gilead. We now sing bitter songs of experience. Post-9/11, post-Charlottesville and post-El Paso, comic irony is not only tone-deaf and uncool, but also complicit with the kind of evil that flourishes outside the solipsistic bubble of Jerry’s apartment. Our millennial co-workers are correct to fault Generation X with fetishizing a worldview that is politically impotent, that represents a dead-end philosophically and aesthetically, and that is steeped in white, male, upper-class privilege. …
When Fred and Serena Waterford are arrested for war crimes at the end of the third season of “The Handmaid’s Tale,” no one is laughing …
For iSteve Completists, here’s something I wrote in 1993:
In the news: Senator Charged with Humor Harassment
WASHINGTON, D.C. — “Practically every evening for a month in 1978, the Senator would come into my office and close the door,” tearfully recounted a former campaign worker. “He’d look me over slyly, then ask, ‘What’s green and skates?’ I’d answer, ‘I don’t know, Senator.’ And he’d chortle, ‘Peggy Phlegm!'”
“I was sitting on the men’s room toilet,” recalled another one-time staffer. “Finding me trapped there, Senator Noland stood outside my stall for 20 minutes telling me jokes like, ‘What did the snail say when it climbed on the back of the tortoise?”
Washington has been rocked by accusations by two dozen former employees and acquaintances that Senator Edmund Noland, (D-Alaska), who was re-elected in 1998 under the slogan “Serious Times Require a Serious Senator,” made unwanted humor attempts. Although Congress exempted itself from the Humor Harassment Act of 1997, the revelations have already led to demands for public hearings on the scandal involving the man previously admired as the dean of the New Earnestness.
“It’s not about humor, it’s about power,” explained humor harassment expert Dr. Malachi Bismarck, “The power to inflict your personality on your helpless, cringing underlings.”
One victim of the Senator’s unwanted humor attempts admitted, “Sure, sometimes he told good jokes. But, who can remember the funny ones? It’s the painfully embarrassing stinkers that haunt you to the grave.”
A former aide revealed how his hero-worship had turned to horror. “I went to work for him because of his thought-provoking speeches against racism, the deficit, nuclear winter, global warming, and the coming ice age.” But a shrouded side of his idol emerged during a routine 1994 hearing on an Air Force training program for pilots from Spain, when Senator Noland leaned over and whispered to his aide, “I hear the handbook is called ‘How to Make the Spanish Fly.’ . . . Get it? Spanish fly! Hnnh? Hnnh? Get it?” and heartily elbowed his aghast assistant.
When asked about the incident, the Senator would only comment, “Some people, they just don’t get it.”
“The Senator would tell me how Jesus and St. Peter are playing golf and Jesus keeps trying to hit just a 5-wedge like Arnold Palmer does on this long 240 foot par 7, but he can’t hit it far enough, so he walks on the water to get his ball out of the lake, and so this golfer behind asks, ‘Who does he think he is, Jesus Christ?'” recalled one time aide Nick Hill. “Sure, I laughed then, but Dr. Bismarck’s Humor Victims Support Group has helped me see how degrading it was. Why is it supposed to be funny when St. Peter says, ‘No, He is Jesus Christ, He just thinks He’s Arnold Palmer?’ I mean, who is this Arnold Palmer person?”
“The Senator relished fake dog-doo and squirting boutonnieres,” recollected a Greenpeace lobbyist, a longtime political ally. “We Beltway oldtimers had to warn the younger ones not to meet with him alone on April 1st. Then, there were his dialect jokes: he’d start off with the appropriate Scottish or French accent or whatever, but would inevitably slide back to his all purpose Irish brogue, complete with ‘Faith and begorrah,’ by the punchline. That is, when he could remember the punchline. I don’t know how many times he told me about the dyslexic agnostic who lies awake at night wondering, ‘Is there a God?'”
The Senator’s friend, Washington lawyer Jack Kravits, contended, “It’s not like he’s the only closet cornball in Washington: there’s a Supreme Court Justice, for instance, who annually tells his clerks:
Roe v. Wade.
Roe v. Wade who?
Roe v. Wade? Who cares? As long as we cross this river somehow!
“Which is, now that I think about it, probably the most cogent defense possible of the logic of the Court’s compromise abortion decision in Reproductive Services v. Casey.”
Senator Noland’s chief of staff, Mardi Ames, defended her boss: “He’s only being singled out because he outreached to the humor-resistant community years before the humorless won recognition as a legally protected minority. If he had hired only humorful people, they’d have just razzed him back instead of brooding upon it for decades.” Ms. Ames asked, “Is it fair to depict a man’s life as if all his jokes were duds?”
When asked for an example of the Senator’s wanted humor attempts, she offered, “Well, let’s see . . . oh, yes, there was the one about the three strings who walk into a bar and the first string says . . . Uh, well, maybe not that one . . . Look, can I get back to you on this?”
A sense of betrayal is growing among Noland’s longtime supporters. Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Nina Lindblad lamented, “Repeatedly, my friends and I have celebrated some seemingly serious politician, only to be cruelly disillusioned. Are we utter fools? Do we know nothing of human nature? Well, of course not, so it must be society’s fault, or maybe the media’s.”
Humorism activist Bismarck summed up, “We are not against humor. Everybody wants wanted humor, but nobody wants unwanted humor. It’s that simple.”
Just before presstime, Senator Noland issued a statement that he had been diagnosed as a victim of Humor Addiction Malady (HAM), and was checking himself into a clinic in order “To learn if my alleged behavior (which I deny completely but personally apologize for if it offended anyone) stems from my history of childhood sports abuse. After 50 years of repression, I have only now recovered my buried memory of how my father made me play Little League. The experts are finally realizing the terrible toll taken by ‘Right Field Syndrome.’ I hope my accusers can somehow find it in their hearts to forgive my Dad.”
By Steve Sailer
Enter Stage Right, February 1993
Reprinted in National Review, 2/23/98