A survival guide for millennial thirty-somethings.
With Halloween in our recent past, the house is unusually well-stocked with candy.
Being responsible adults, we need to limit the sugar intake on the little ones, naturally.
And so it was when I removed a piece of “Banana” taffy from the hot pink plastic bucket. (Artificial banana flavoring is entirely dissimilar to, but equally delicious as, actual banana flavor.)
This particular product promises “Jokes on every wrapper!”, and, though I know they are often weak, corny things, I find myself unable to refrain from reading any joke, given the opportunity. I am fully aware that the candy manufacturer outsources its joke writing duties to the children of the world in some sort of labor regulation loophole, and I am not here to judge children. But if we don’t teach them what humor is, we may lose it forever.
The two sentences on the candy wrapper were not jokes. Not by any definition of joke that I will subscribe to, and I’ll tell you why.
These are the “jokes” written on the wrapper:
How do you get a free light bulb?
Catch a lightening bug.
Why did the Sock Monster cross the road?
To stink up the whole town.
I imagine that some of you out there do not find these as threatening to our national well-being as I do. And I don’t want to destroy the dreams of little Karl H nor Miss Kamay P. But I assure you that these are not jokes, and calling them such is dangerous misrepresentation.
Scientists (real, actual scientists!) posit that our brains are wired to enjoy things that are good for them – we have been selected for these characteristics. Those of our ancestors that enjoyed the sugary taste of taffy more, found it “sweet”, were more likely to have the large stores of energy sugar provides at the ready when danger struck. So it is with humor.
We find something humorous, we have the pleasurable reaction of laughter, when we find an unexpected pattern. When our brain holds two dissimilar ideas up to the light and finds that they actually are similar (often in an abstract sense), we are rewarded for exploring our world and understanding an underlying abstraction of our world.
Underlying abstractions of our world? That’s narrative. That’s philosophy. That’s string theory.
But these two taffy utterances do not cause us to laugh, and do not reinforce that essential exploration.
The first has nothing unexpected about it. It is a tautology – a pattern, yes, but one that is true because it is defined to be that way. I translate this utterance as “How do you get a free light source? Obtain something that gives off light for free.”
The second has the unexpected – sock monsters are certainly unusual – but gives us no pattern to grasp on to with the humor portion of our brains. I have no expectations of what a sock monster’s motivations might be, so to find that he crossed the road to stink up a town is not generating any new abstractions, any new patterns for me.
Maybe I’m demanding too much of my candy, but if we don’t start standing up for humor, all we’ll have left is memes and reality television.