Predictability and humor

Some things in life are very predictable, other things are not at all predictable.  When something that we had expected to be unpredictable turns out to be very predictable, sometimes we laugh.  Lenore Skenazy’s column “Obama, Haiti, and Lard” in the March 2010 Funny Times points out that some stories in the news have endings that are a lot easier to guess than the people who decide what goes on the front page want you to think.  For example, what effect will the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti have on attitudes toward that country in the USA?  Well, we know the answer to that already.  At first we’ll all be very concerned and agree that we should stay focused on Haiti.  “Except that the next time the media actually DO focus on Haiti, it’ll be in late December, when they put out their ‘Biggest Stories of 2010’ lists, at which point we’ll think ‘The earthquake!  Wow!  Was it really THIS year?”  That cycle of shock, compassion, fatigue, and nostalgia is as predictable as what American school systems will ultimately do with the  information they are gathering from the standardized tests they’re always giving students.  They will decide to “NOT use standardized tests.  They’ll use student pantomimes or clay figurines or something, but not standardized tests, which will be shown to be not only inaccurate but harmful.” 

The same issue contains a couple of columns and lots of cartoons about Scott Brown, recently elected by Massachusetts as America’s newest and nakedest Republican US Senator.  In addition to the front cover, reproduced above, there’s the back cover, on which Jen Sorenson illustrates the way in which Brown’s victory was utterly predictable.  In one of his cartoons, Matt Bors suggests that Edward Kennedy should have been able to predict that a Republican might succeed him if he died in office.     

Dave Maleckar’s 100 Word Rant opens: “Let’s skip right past the hybrid and electric cars and start believing in magical ones.  The only way to make a green automobile is with a coat of paint.”  The point seems to be the only reason we think the auto industry might surprise us with an environmentally sound product is that we are dominated by wishful thinking.  Look at the facts, and you can predict that their future products  will be as unsustainable as their past ones. 

Curmudgeon has some funny lines about the rottenness of the human race in general.  Mark Twain defined “Man” as “A creature made at the end of the week’s work, when God was tired.”  Oscar Wilde was a bit less charitable to the Almighty, sharing his suspicion “that God in creating man somewhat overestimated His ability.”  The same thought has been phrased in secular terms; Nietzsche said that “The Earth has a skin and that skin has diseases; one of its diseases is called Man.”  I think Edward O. Wilson’s quote qualifies as secular, though he does sound like a Calvinist preacher declaiming on the Utter Depravity of Man: “If all mankind were to disappear, the  world would regenerate back to the rich state of equilibrium that existed ten thousand years ago.  If insects were to vanish, the environment would collapse into chaos.”  Holbrook Jackson wondered why Nature gave rise to us.  “Was it to show that She is big enough to make mistakes, or was it pure ignorance?”  Samuel Johnson declared “I hate mankind, for I think myself one of the best of them, and I know how bad I am.”

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