Sunday, August 22, 2010

the sempiternal flaming bag of poop

not too long ago, my better and smarter half got on this kick of watching old SNL chris farley skits, especially "the motivational speaker" ones. i joined him as matt foley, thrice divorced, living in a van down by the river, was one of my favorite characters (along with christopher walken's "the continental"). in case you don't know, here's the wikipedia article on him.
or better, here's the halloween special.
stupid, eh? yeah, i know. makes me laugh everytime but i'm a numbnut.

international puerile humor
the part about the flaming bag is what concerns us in this video. here's a case of classic puerile humor: i stick some dog poop, which in itself is pretty disgusting, in a paperbag. i put the bag on someone's doorstep, set it on fire, which is moronic, dangerous even, and i ring the doorbell. just like our friend matt foley here, the person opening the door has no choice but to put the fire out by stepping on the bag. and of course, as poor fido always has a hand in it, the unsuspecting victim gets smelly dog turd all over his/her carpet. (by the way, i actually found a website which gave step by step instructions. frightening, really.) it's wrong, it's sick, and yet, somehow, this disgusting tradition perpetuates itself.

i was going to add 'it's such a boy thing to do' but then i remembered that when i was a kid, growing up in europe, we had a 'girl version' of it. we used to take an old wallet or handbag or coin purse, fill it with dog or cat poop and leave it on the sidewalk. needless to say, it would get picked up. now, if we were lucky, the person would simply pick it up, walk a few meters away and have a peep, only to throw it away in disgust and anger, possibly swearing at us. instant gratification and laughter. but as we were twisted european children with odd taste and perverted humor, we got even greater pleasure when the person didn't have a look and instead pocketed the purse. glee and delight to know that our victim was going to discover his/her ill-gotten treasure at home, in his/her kitchen... mouaaaaahhh...
now that i am an adult, i'm glad to see that the practise has lost ground, but i'm secretely hoping, however, that it never dies.

hey, pull my finger.
scientists still don't know why we laugh but we do, and often at really dumb things. i'm a 43 year-old harvard graduate and i still laugh at beavis and butthead. furthermore, beyond its sophomoric humor, i believe it is a probant portrayal of american suburbia but i digress.

so, why do such asinine scatological pranks amuse us?
is it because, as instigators of the prank, we have managed to transcend the fear of the primal taboo which is the handling of excrement (the other primal taboo is death) and are now different from the rest, from those who are still afraid of smell and defecation? we are free of certain societal mores, of the artificial dos and donts instilled in us by our parents, our family, our teachers, our religion. so our humor, our laughter, become a mockery of the world, of those enslaved by appearance and uptightness.

or is it because, as witnesses, on the other hand, we seek to hide our deep fears behind our laughter? we laugh a nervous laugh, hoping the joke will not be on us, because we have not yet transcended these taboos.

or again, is it simply because we need to laugh, to relieve the stress of family life, the pressure of work, mortgages and car payments. we laugh when people fall. we laugh when guys accidentally get hit in the nads. we laugh when animals try to hump. we laugh when someone inadventently farts.

we laugh at smarter things too, like puns and jokes, cartoons or political satire. but it's not the same for it implies a certain degree of intelligence or at least an intellectual effort. it's not spontaneous, it's not visceral, and ultimately, i think it's not as effective in terms of stress relief. ok, yes molière's tartuffe. it's brillant and funny and witty - in short, that is good humor - but compared to judd apatow's knocked-up... uh, i rest my case.