Sunday, June 19, 2005

Logic & Humo(u)r

The relationship between logic and humo(u)r is one I have been interested in for some time. I am kind of jealous of Ms. Nefsky's authorship of this article, because when I was in college I wanted to do my senior Communications paper on a very similar topic: Why is that which is funny, funny? My adviser talked me out of it saying it was too broad a topic. Instead, I ended up writing 30 pages about the development of the Children's Television Workshop and Sesame Street (a project that gave me great enjoyment, I might add).

My take on the question of "What Makes It Funny?" focuses on discontinuity, which, IMHO, is the mechanism that allows humor to occur. Nefsky's examples have to do with this, even if there may be areas of comedic discontinuity on which she doesn't touch. Sometimes the discontinuity might be subtle, other times blatant. Mixing the two in the right combination can really pack a whollop. If a movie has 10 subtle humorous discontinuities followed by one blatant, then the blatant one is all the more discontinuous and all the more amusing. And vice-versa.

I have a clear childhood memory of one of our substitute teachers (or some adult in semi-authority) in 1st or 2nd grade reading a story to a small group of kids, poker-facedly pretending to forget that he was supposed to turn the pages from left to right rather than right to left. The first time he did it, one of my fellow students pointed out his error in a respectful manner. As he kept repeating the error, feigning lack of understanding without cracking a smile, he had us in stitches. Why? Discontinuity. It was supposed to go ABCD; this guy made it go ABCBD.

Speaking of Sesame Street, Jim Henson was a master of discontinuity in concept and execution. In the research I did for my college project, I came across a video of the short film they made to sell the idea of Sesame Street to PBS executives. It showed a boardroom full of Muppets in suits, smoking cigarettes, discussing the production of this new show. Dialogue was to the effect of:

"Let's call it the '2+2=5 Show.'"
"Two plus two does not equal five."
"Are you sure?"
"Then we'll call it the '2+2 Isn't 5 Show.'"
"Now wait a minute. This is for kids who can't spell or count?"
"Let's call it 'Hey Stupid!'"

Brilliant! "Let's do something important for children" contrasted with "Hey Stupid!" was, in that context, nothing short of brilliant. I fear the P.C. Elmocentrism of the 90s has consigned that piece of film to the deepest darkest Smithsonian archive. Google itself is having a hard time coming up with documentation of it.

A visual example of the notion of discontinuity in SS appears below. If I understand the author correctly, this would fall under the essence rubric that she described. I think it would fall under her definition of equivocation as well, unless she is reserving that term only for the verbal and not the physical. Sculptor Ernie is almost done with a bust of his pal Bert. However, he runs out of clay. His sculpture must have a nose to represent Bert. So...

As my mother will attest, this logical fallacy produced in me unencumbered delight.

In other news, I used my new chainsaw for the first time today and we got rid of one batch of trees that was up against the house, and also chopped up some long trunks/branches that we had cut down by hand previously. One more clump to go, and then it's on to the bushes along the side of the yard. Dang, I'm sore. I had some good crab Rangoons from the Chinese place by me and finally was at Blockbuster when they had a copy of the new edition of Donnie Darko, which I have not yet started watching. It's been out for months and I loved the first release; I'm not sure why it took me so long to get to it. Maybe it's a time-travel thing where my future self... Oh, nevermind.


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