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 The many uses of Humour

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Priscilla
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PostSubject: The many uses of Humour   Mon 06 Feb 2012, 13:11

GIl recalls elsewhere how many of us rushed to buy Punch for the half page Idi Amin correspondent column. It has also been mentioned that it undermined a closer look at 'Idiot Min''s deplorable dictatatorship. Is that a truth?

As a small child I was able to come to terms with the frightening HItler of the newsreel by our singing of 'Run rabbit' in the air raid shelters. From witty derision to blatant cruelty many forms of humour have served to temper the well honed images of leaders and to unravel the spin in more recent times, I think. I am sure there is a wealth of historical examples out there to discuss
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nordmann
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PostSubject: Re: The many uses of Humour   Mon 06 Feb 2012, 13:34

Semper eadem, as they say! (and, yes, I know) The political graffiti in Pompeii has, like the rest of the place, been frozen in time, and some of it makes modern lampoon and satire appear childishly naive and mealy mouthed.

My own favourite however is not the political comment itself, which was often scratched deep into the mortar of Pompeii's facades, but a subsequent wag's painted graffiti over what looks like decades of political comment underneath - "I am surprised, O wall, that you, who have to bear the weariness of so many writers, are still standing!"

Humour used to counter the terror of a real threat or to puncture inflated political egos also appear to be universal traits throughout history. Though some cultures (like Britain) recognise and laud it, others (such as modern Iran) tend to attempt to confine it to their "underground".

And speaking of Iran - just to show that you can never beat the old jokes:



Last edited by nordmann on Mon 06 Feb 2012, 14:05; edited 1 time in total
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Temperance
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PostSubject: Re: The many uses of Humour   Mon 06 Feb 2012, 13:51

I think watching this in 1940 would have cheered me up. Just the names - Adenoid Hynkel, Field Marshal Garbitsch and Herr Herring - make me laugh:



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PostSubject: Re: The many uses of Humour   Mon 06 Feb 2012, 16:21

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ferval
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PostSubject: Re: The many uses of Humour   Mon 06 Feb 2012, 17:01

A long and honourable history, P. I remember seeing a production of 'Lysistrata' many years ago and thinking that the Lord Chamberlain would have choked on his brandy were it not a revered piece of classical culture!
Many of the Gillray cartoons are infinitely more scurrilous than anything even the most brazen red top would publish today.
Ridicule has always been the weapon of resistance wielded by the powerless, I wonder how many of the prehistoric phalluses are not actually ritual objects but wee Ugh's opinion of big Argh fashioned out of a handy bit of clay when big Argh wasn't looking.
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Caro
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PostSubject: Re: The many uses of Humour   Mon 06 Feb 2012, 18:48

Not quite on the topic but on our radio recently somebody spoke of the evolution of humour (not the development of it through the ages but the reason it would have provided some benefit). What I remember from his interview comes down to about one sentence, but he seemed to be saying it would have been a defence mechanism (I don't know if he used those words), developing perhaps from a sense of shame. One of his examples from modern life was someone looking for their glasses and finding them eventually on their head and then giving a somewhat shamed laugh. (I tend to find my glasses on my eyes but I think my reaction is more, "Jesus, how stupid is that.")

They went on to talk about the kind of black humour specially favoured by soldiers and people in desperate situations.

In NZ politics I can think of two men with a rather devastating turn of phrase. The past Deputy PM, Michael Cullen, was known to be very clever and witty and not necessarily all that nice, but he did at least seem to limit his cruelty to fellow politicians. (He had been an opponent of PM Helen Clark but she popped him in as her DP and neutralised him and they seemed to go well together.) The other was Sir Robert Muldoon, who was not averse to turning on some poor young journalist and say something scathing. His favourite method was to pretend to forget any opponent's name and belittle them that way.

Cheers, Caro.
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PostSubject: Re: The many uses of Humour   Tue 07 Feb 2012, 04:38

Priscilla wrote:
I am sure there is a wealth of historical examples out there to discuss

I'm not sure that there is P, aside from the obvious Roman and Greek examples, there is (as much as I hate to mention the dreaded man)Shakespeare and then I can't think of any examples until the last 100yrs or so. Yet, humour is a natural defence mechanism and is used in many a situation to lighten an atmosphere so surely it must have always been there.

Although I dislike the man, in relatively modern times I'd have to say I admire Winston Churchill's dry, often sarcastic wit and his ability to use it on anyone and in any situation.
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PostSubject: Re: The many uses of Humour   Tue 07 Feb 2012, 07:07

I should have made myself clearrer. The humour of the 'great unwashed' in all forms of communication to counterbalance the stuffy/regime/autocratic is what I meant. Cartoon, film, graffitt - and of course the mighty pen, was what I meant.

I love the accepted concept of humour being a defence mechanism - akin to having an inferiority complex because you are inferior, shrinking violets such as myself use it all the time.

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PostSubject: Re: The many uses of Humour   Wed 08 Feb 2012, 08:58

Priscilla wrote:
...
I love the accepted concept of humour being a defence mechanism - akin to having an inferiority complex because you are inferior, shrinking violets such as myself use it all the time.

Me too, Priscilla, me too!



Yet another quote, "Whoever said that 'the pen is mightier than the sword', obviously never faced an automatic weapon."
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PostSubject: Re: The many uses of Humour   Wed 08 Feb 2012, 13:10

Me too!

As the 'smallest boy in the class' for many years, it was an essential survival mechanism. However, I had a long-ish walk to school, so a substantial pair of hob-nailed boots were useful when it failed!
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PostSubject: Re: The many uses of Humour   Thu 09 Feb 2012, 13:27

I suppose if you want the political/religious satire of the "great unwashed", the street ballad tradition is a good place to look. That tradition really took off post 1689, I think, but the "ballads and pamphletes full of ribaudrie and all scurrilous vanity" had been very popular in the Tudor era - there was a sort of street war - the popular "filthy" or "pithie" (I love that word) stuff versus the outraged splutterings of the "godlie".

Great - but often dangerous - fun.

PS He wasn't really one of the great unwashed, but John Skelton enjoyed poking fun at the great and good - especially at Thomas Wolsey ("Speak, Parrot" and "Why Come ye nat to Courte?" Skelton was described as "a rude, rayling rimer".
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PostSubject: Re: The many uses of Humour   Thu 09 Feb 2012, 15:00

I suppose that Chaucer is one of our earliest recorded manifestations of the extraction of the pee out of the self important and self satisfied with a blast of ribald ridicule.
Humour is such a wonderful weapon, to show affront lays the victim open to perhaps the most devastating criticism that can be laid, and particularly here, that of having no sense of humour.
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PostSubject: Re: The many uses of Humour   Thu 09 Feb 2012, 15:31

The street ballads that Temp has mentioned are a good example, and there are also the, usually ribald, marching songs used in armies and the equally ribald sailors shanties. I recall reading somewhere that the marching songs were used as far back as the Romans or possibly earlier, but I'm not sure if any of the songs have survived.

And another good point from Ferval, I'd only been thinking in terms of humour being used defensively but, of course, it can be used as a weapon also and a very good one at that. Mmm, and the only option a person (in that situation) has is to use humour in return. Well, if they want to come out of it with dignity in tact anyway.

Edit. Would nursery rhymes be another example of early humour?
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PostSubject: Re: The many uses of Humour   Thu 09 Feb 2012, 23:29

There is an interesting time lapse between many events in history and the subject of their being mocked - the death and probable misquotation of Nelson, for instance.... and somewhat irrelevant, my mother and her family used to laugh at the memory of her on a carnival float in the early 20's. Being the best looking pupil, I imagine, enthroned on a float at the head of the procession, she sat on a box draped in net curtains with a brass coal scuttle on her head and clutching a garden fork. No one laughed at Brittania that day, they cheered.

The recent prog on the making of The Holy Grail, film by the Monty Python cast opened with that dreadful pague scene pf bringing out the dead - whether they were or not. Then it got worse. And it was funny.
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PostSubject: Re: The many uses of Humour   Fri 10 Feb 2012, 11:26

In Ireland the time lapse between a tragedy and when the first "joke" appears is about two nanoseconds (one is wasted reading the news).

Example: within an hour of Bobby Sands' death on hunger strike I was asked in a Dublin pub "What was Bobby's telephone number in the Maze?" Knowing my interlocutor as very much an IRA supporter I suspected nothing and presumed he meant that Sands had been provided with a "hotline" in case of a need for direct dialogue with the many mediators involved in the process. I replied I couldn't be expected to know. "It was 808080," I was informed.

(say it this way; 8 nothing 8 nothing 8 nothing)
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PostSubject: Re: The many uses of Humour   Fri 10 Feb 2012, 11:33

Ah, but only the people touched by the event can make the joke. Had you said that our Historia site here would have been another Res. CF Trench humour, Jewish humour and me in hospital.
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PostSubject: Re: The many uses of Humour   Fri 10 Feb 2012, 11:43

Not sure I know what you mean, P. You lost me after the first sentence.
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PostSubject: Re: The many uses of Humour   Fri 10 Feb 2012, 20:23

The current example of Irish Humour is the story that the Captain of that Italian cruise ship is coming to Belfast.
He wants to hire Colin Duffy's solicitor . . . .
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PostSubject: Re: The many uses of Humour   Sat 11 Feb 2012, 00:10

Ar least I got your attention for one sentence, nordmann. I wondered after posting of your shared allegiance. I doubt that the joke would have been said to me Bad taste humour is ever acceptable between friends. If I, a stranger, had said the joke to him what then?
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PostSubject: Re: The many uses of Humour   Sun 12 Feb 2012, 11:00

Humour behind the Iron Curtain?

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/expat/expatnews/6485648/Gallows-humour-East-European-style.html

I wish Captain Alexander Stewart were still alive and that he could become an honoured member of Res H. His pipe story, the sock story and the rats licking off his Brylcreem have made my day. But the poor man (according to his son) regularly woke up screaming in the night for years after the war...

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-492372/Great-war-memoirs-trench-soldier-reveal-Blackadder-humour.html
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PostSubject: Re: The many uses of Humour   Sun 12 Feb 2012, 11:40

Correction: the hairdressing product that the rats found so delicious could not have been Brylcreem. This was not invented until 1928. Captain Stewart probably maintained his well-groomed appearance in the trenches thanks to Brilliantine, a popular pomade first marketed by a Frenchman, Monsieur Edouard Pinaud, around 1900.

Apparently lard and bear fat were used in hair pomades - no wonder the rodents found them irresistible.
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PostSubject: Re: The many uses of Humour   Sun 12 Feb 2012, 11:54

Priscilla, I get your point now about the "shared allegiance" thing. It reminds me of another observation I have made in life; self-deprecatory humour is often admired as an admirable trait in an individual, for example. But woe betide the fool who joins in with the self-deprecator and assists him or her with some extra remarks!

Temperance, thanks for digging out the Captain Stewart article. It immediately put me in mind of one of my favourite pieces of underrated literature, the collected war memoirs of Gunner Spike Milligan.There is hardly a page in any of the books without at least three belly-laugh moments yet the sheer agony, lunacy, futility and terror inflicted on the young Milligan is portrayed so accurately that it is this which one brings away with one after reading the memoirs as much if not more than the funny bits. A difficult thing to convey, though it sounds like Stewart possessed the same ability.
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PostSubject: Re: The many uses of Humour   Sun 12 Feb 2012, 12:37

I believe the Prologue to Milligan's Memoirs contains the following:

" I have described nothing but what I saw myself, or learned from others of whom I made the most careful and particular enquiry.

Thucydides - the Peloponnesian War.

I just jazzed mine up a little.

Milligan - World War II. "
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PostSubject: Re: The many uses of Humour   Sun 12 Feb 2012, 15:38

There is also much humour in many nick-names for people and places, I rather like James Hickok's of Wild Bill. Bill because of his massive honker.
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PostSubject: Re: The many uses of Humour   Sun 22 Mar 2015, 17:23

The mediaeval tradition of the danse macabre is said to have arisen out of the Black Death. It's a sort of two-fingered salute to mortality. In Michael Wolgemut's 1490s woodcut, the cadavers and skeletons are literally swinging and high-fiving each other into the grave:



Another famous depiction was to be found in a chapel of St Mary's Church in the Hanseatic port of Lubeck. The church and the painting were destroyed by a bombing raid during the Second World War. A doubly wry irony as it were.
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