Tuesday, March 8, 2011

What's Worth Enduring for Humor?

A quick formal argument:

P1: Humor is similar in value to beauty.

P2: Beauty can be so valuable that it is worth experiencing pain or even death.
C: Therefore, humor can probably so valuable that it would be worth experiencing pain or even death for.
-Implication: A joke can be so funny that even if it hurts someone (perhaps to the point of suicide), it's possible in theory for a joke to be funny enough to be "worth it".

So I was thinking a bit about how certain types of humor can hurt people's feelings and increase bad attitudes and behaviors (like sexist and racist behaviors). There seems to be a growing number of people who are thinking that these types of humor are immoral because of the consequences mentioned.

This opposition to certain types of humor made me wonder if comedy being under-valued. This has made me think about a movie called Stranger Than Fiction.


It's about this author who is writing a book. The strange thing is that everything she writes about the main character is actually happening to a real person in real life. She comes up with the perfect ending to the book, but it would involve the main character dying, and thus, a real person would die if she went with this ending. The problem is that this death ending would make the book a masterpiece and one of the greatest tragedies ever written. Whereas if she doesn't have the main character die, it means the real person will live, but the story will just be of very average quality. So she has to make a choice between creating an absolutely wonderful piece of art that will lead to the death of a real person, or saving the real person but never creating an absolutely wonderful piece of art.

My thoughts are what if the author was writing a fantastic comedy, instead of a tragedy, but was in the same situation where a person would die unless the book was changed to only be of average quality. What should the author do? Would it be crazy to even consider writing the fantastic comedy if it would mean a person would die?


Humor, like beauty, is an aesthetic quality. Perhaps humor is even a part of beauty. If art is a subsection of beauty, and theater is a subsection or art, and comedy is a subsection of theater, then comedy would be indeed be a part of beauty.

Humor also seems to be pretty unique to humans and persons, and this could be a good reason for finding comedy important. Things like rationality, complicated emotions like romantic love, the ability to create art and music, and free will have all had thoughts of their importance aided by the fact that they are unique to us. Humor being unique to us should give us a reason think that it is valuable.

Humor has also been a fairly good indicator of maturity and sophistication as we are able to watch people grow from liking fart jokes to more complicated types of humor like satire.

Humor and having a sense of humor has also helped us recognize how to balance the virtues. Take just about any virtue and give a character way too much or too little of that virtue and you'll have a character that you'll laugh at.

Humor is also wonderful when it comes to friendship. Even if you have nothing in common with someone, if you can make each other laugh you'll have a good time together.

Humor can also be used to show how strong a person is. The man who is able to make jokes at the gallows pole will be seen as having an unbreakable spirit. And even the men who are able to laugh at their mistakes and faults show they are strong enough to recognize and accept their problems.

If people had to choose between a world with beauty or a world with humor, maybe they would choose the world with beauty and maybe this would be the better choice. But beauty couldn't help us enjoy an unfunny world for being unfunny, but humor could help us enjoy an ugly world for being ugly.

By the way, the images throughout this post have been of famous paintings of rape. Is there still beauty in them? If it was shown that such paintings could hurt people's feelings, increase sexist attitudes, and perhaps even increase rape, would this be enough to show that these paintings should not be created, that similar future paintings should not be made, or that these paintings should no longer be shared? Or can the beauty and other aesthetic qualities outweigh these negative consequences? And even if these artists could have painted something of equal beauty that wouldn't have these negative consequences, like a sunset or the ocean, would we think that's what they ought to have done or that they were doing something wrong by painting the rape scenes instead?

If beauty can be worth these negative consequences, and if we don't think art should be changed even if they can be changed in a way that keeps the same amount of beauty while not having the negative consequences, can we really be so confident that another aesthetic quality like humor should not be treated the same?

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