Saturday, January 29, 2011

Humor is Power

Some thoughts on how being funny enables one to be pretty darn powerful...

- Most bullying in my high school days was through making fun of people. There wasn't much The Wonder Years-style slam-the-loser-into-the-locker physical intimidation. Mainly the popular kids/bullies/assholes would make fun of the losers (us losers...).

Fights at my high school would take place at a nearby bridge, off school property, and were high profile events. In my grade 9 year Kevin fought Colter and a couple years later Riley fought... some girl... but that was it. Two.*

- Not to compare bullies to Our Lord, but Jesus used humor, too. Two examples:

"Go the extra mile." This popular saying was coined by Jesus. It is not about self-sacrifice, pretty much at all. Its about power and it leans heavily on humor to wield it. Read "Example 1" at the bottom.

"Give him your cloak also." Jesus again. Basically he's recommending public nudity as a tactic in dealing with legal matters. "Example 2" at the bottom.

- Finally, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are highly influential. "I believe/agree with them because they say things about the world in a way that makes me laugh." Do you agree with that statement? I used to be a pretty political and pretty conservative dude and used to be jealous of their ability to sway people just because they were so damned funny.**

In sum, there's a lot of power in humor. Hell, I can remember as a kid making my little brother laugh so he wouldn't tell on me... I really think there's something here.

Maybe I should go try and be funnier?

* Maybe bullying is communicated through jokes because violence is so strongly suppressed in our society?

** Check out (hour 3, early on) Here is an interview with professor Kelly McBride who offers - hands down - the best take on news media I have ever heard. I believe its about 6min in to hour 3.

* * * * * * *

Example 1

"... “if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile.” Once again we need to consider this text from within its contexts. The people hearing this would undoubtedly be very aware of the Roman Empire’s limitation of forced labor for its armies. You see, each soldier carried a pack that could weigh as much as eighty-five pounds. The powers that be wanted to allow the soldiers to enlist whatever help was needed but at the same time limit the anger occupied nations have toward the Empire. So, soldiers could “enlist” civilians to carry their packs, but only for one mile.

Now, not adhering to this law entailed severe penalties. If a civilian refuse, they incur the penalty. If a soldier made them go more than one mile, the soldier incurs the penalty. That is the first and obvious reason to offer to carry the pack a second mile – severe penalties for breaking the law. Immediately the power has shifted. Wink suggests that the scene would quite hysterical - a soldier asking, possibly even begging, for his pack back from a civilian. The civilian has taken the initiative away from the soldier."

Get the joke? "If I take your pack more than one mile your commanding officer is going to whip you! Hahahahahaaa!"

Example 2

"Wink also looks at, “and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well.” What good is there in giving more than is asked of you? Well, in thinking about this, it is important to ask why would someone be suing for clothes rather than money or some other substantial asset? Placing the text in its day and age, the Old Testament provides some answers. Exodus, Deuteronomy and Amos all contain examples of people suing for another’s clothing. It always happens when the person being sued is poor.

Once again it is a question of power. What is Jesus’ response? Is it to be a doormat and allow the person bringing the suit against you to not only have their way but also take extra? No. He proposes that they not only give their outer clothing but also all of there inner clothing, which in that day and age would leave them stark naked. What could possibly be the purpose in this?

Once again Jesus has suggested to creatively and nonviolently shift the power structure. Imagine the rich man standing there with the poor person’s clothing carelessly draped over his arm, all of it, while the poor person stands there (willingly at this point) naked. The embarrassment of the rich man is almost palpable, but it doesn’t end there. In Jewish traditions, public nudity is extremely taboo. The interesting point here is that the shame is not on the person who is naked but rather on the one viewing it."

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