Tuesday 22 December 2009

the one about the ordinary situation

Last year this blog asked where were all the green jokes? Quite a few surfaced on the internet after that, but still only a tiny fraction when you consider the scale of the subject.

So the blog tuned into this week's edition of Word of Mouth, which was looking at what makes a joke funny, to see if there were any tips for more laughs about climate change.

One guest on the programme, a professor of social sciences, explained there are lots of jokes about sex, race, and lavatories, and very few about gardening. We make jokes about topics that make us anxious or aggressive. (Well, climate change makes plenty of people anxious and aggressive.)

The prof explained that Freud had said jokes are a way of expressing things that we normally can't express and Henri Bergson had said laughter depends on an anaesthesia of the heart, a certain cruelty.

A classic joke has a structure, the prof went on: it's a fantasy story which builds to a punchline which - even though we know it's coming - will catch us unawares. (We know climate change is coming, but it will still catch us unawares.) But jokes are also culture-bound, they're often related to moments of embarrassment in ordinary situations.

So that was it. There aren't many climate change jokes because it isn't an ordinary situation. It isn't culture-bound. Or not yet.

Visual joke: Banksy in Camden

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