29 July 2012

I Hate Provocateurs

I hate provocateurs. There is some measure of irony in this, as I have at times been one myself - particularly in my youth. My life experiences have taught me a greater humility before many topics, and with that humility has come a heightened empathy and sensitivity. I can scarcely slog through most contemporary stand-up routines, obsessed as our culture has become with shock humor. I'm the guy at the comedy club who is often self-conscious, looking around for the face of the one person who came for a reprieve from something troubling in their life, only to have it rubbed in their face by the comic on stage.

One of my chief problems with provocateurs is that they shirk any responsibility for the consequences of what they provoke. Anyone who isn't a laughing sycophant is greeted with either a dismissive, "Lighten up!" or worse yet, hostility. Provocateurs are incapable of saying, "I'm sorry, that was insensitive of me." Rather, they spoil for the fight that goes with being confronted for their insensitivity, as though they alone are possessed of the enlightenment that the rest of the world needs in order to function more properly, devoid of our immature notions of hurt feelings. I cannot abide this arrogance.

There is, of course, a proper place for a socially-conscious provocateur. History has often recognized the place of such individuals in all fields from the scholarly to the scientific. Where would we be if not for Plato, Galileo or Upton Sinclair? There is a tremendous difference, though, between their work and that of today's provocateurs. They knew what they wanted to accomplish, and their aspirations were much higher than simply upsetting people and testing their comfort zones.

I can certainly be the spoilsport and I make no bones about it. That said, my own sense of humor is not wanting. Even at my lowest point during my Year of Hell, when I finally acquiesced and checked into Our Lady of Peace, my humor was intact. I made the intake nurses laugh, and it was through humor that I primarily engaged the other patients. I'm a Southerner, so I'm already predisposed to a specific kind of wry humor. At times, I've had to clarify to outsiders that just because I joke about something doesn't mean I don't take it as seriously as it deserves. On the contrary, sometimes one can only see the humor in something by understanding it thoroughly.

This leads me to the endless debate: is there, in fact, humor to be found in every subject? Philosophically, I think there is. I've often been the one to find it, so I know it can be done even in delicate situations. But there is a striking difference between the kind of humor that one learns from experience with a subject and the kind that comes from standing at a distance, trying to rise above the fray. Just offhand, anyone could make light of Crohn's disease. In the hands of the average person, it would be primarily toilet humor. Someone who has actually experienced Crohn's disease, however, understands plenty of other sub-topics that could be mined for laughs. This isn't to say that Crohnies don't engage in scatological humor as well, but somehow it's a bit sharper, perhaps somewhat more authentic in a way?

I do, therefore, believe that there can be humor in every situation. I do not, however, believe that merely cracking a joke constitutes finding that humor nor do I believe everyone is up to the task.

That all said, I've come to realize this blog is surprisingly light on humor. I don't come across half as humorous as I actually am and I'm not sure what to do about that. Should I make a more conscious effort to be funny here, or simply write as I have been writing, and allow humor to surface whenever it may on its own?