From which to watch – (top photo)
I had a little incident this week that got me thinking about old fashioned kinds of humour – and some of the things they expressed about the way the society in which they thrived used to both be, and be represented.
We are an (almost hilariously) angry and righteous lot nowadays – especially considering how much damage our appetites do to others (the “exportation of poverty” is the most crucial true insight from the left, that even the left itself now routinely ignores in their thinking and demands).
Our fondness for outrage means that it is fairly common for us to notice many kinds of personally cruel humour that have gone out of style – and become clearly recognized as stupid and offensive. Indeed, the stuff that no longer flies, is a good marker about the extraordinary progress that has been made in the west as a whole, in terms of social inclusion.
But there is also some humour that we used to be able to enjoy because of our broad social accomplishments, relative to others – which just doesn’t work for us anymore. We simply ain’t what we used to be, folks!
We can no longer laugh at countries foolish enough to treat their workers with contempt, and bring government and business power together to stifle labour – because we now do that widely, whether in the name of austerity, productivity, re-tooling, free-choice – or any other convenient lie to hand.
Similarly, there was a time, long ago now, when the west had a robust ecology of journalism which consistently included a high proportion of reality – especially when compared to the information given to those living under communism, who were fed sometimes absurdly unreal propaganda.
Sadly, at this point, we in the west have largely replaced the aspiration toward intelligent objective analysis, relevant context and fact, with a deluge of the comfortingly familiar opinions of idiots and maniacs. (And yes, the fact that we’ve spent this new century enmeshed in ruinous warfare in poor countries we never understood, is key to this steadily increasing distance from responsible awareness and citizenship).
Now I have to stop for just a minute to add something that was not widely recognized in the west, during the cold war. I worked with a group of Russians throughout the nineties, and I was amazed to find that in terms of science and math, the rigour of their education system was far in advance of our own. Their citizens actually had an incomparably better grasp of physical realities, on average.
Niftier still – their political humour is up there with the cleverest, bleakest and most insightfully cynical in the world. All of which is simply to say – even growing up inside the drumbeat of propaganda, and very much influenced by it’s limitations, they always knew that they were being fed BS.
Pravda was the biggest Russian daily newspaper at the peak of the USSR – the word translates as “Truth” (making the lies seem that much funnier).
The Pravda joke that I always liked best, was one I first heard as a little kid.
A huge racing contest is held.
The US papers proudly announce “American victory!”
Pravda says, “Russian hero finishes seconds behind race leader! American, only seconds ahead of last place!”
– Without ever mentioning that there were only two contestants in the race!
So – here’s the Pravda version of my little incident this week.
“Author makes spectacular rolling maneuver, achieving full and sudden deceleration with widely distributed contact and bracing points – saving precious optical instrumentation in the process!”
Actually, I got my shoe caught in a rut, and fell all the way down on a streetcar platform – complete with those new metal knobblies, to help the blind sense the limits of the platform area. I really did manage a good roll, so the leg impact wasn’t too bad – hips mostly (ideal), but I also took a good chunk out of three knuckles, skinned the base of the other palm, and bashed my chin on a knobbly (another half an inch, and I might have lost a tooth). The camera, amazingly (slung on the side I fell) was unharmed.
Still feeling a bit sore – but everything is steadily filling in, with the wonderful old biological matter-printer effect. The worst of it was the humiliation – I’m big on walking and have trained myself fo be both speedy and nimble (plenty of balancing on narrow edges, for practise). Rupturing my own trust in this skill-set is a challenge to a key pleasure. Must be a signal that it is time for me to get back into my yoga and weights routine. Recover such grace as is still there to be had from the instrument itself.
All that being said, I won’t soon forget the look of kindness on the face of the salesgirl when I went to dollarama, to buy some bandages to patch myself up. I asked how she was (as I always do), she said fine and asked me back, and I held up my hands and smiled sheepishly and said, “Kinda sore just now.”
She gave me a look as if I was her dearest uncle and said “Are you okay?”
I was very glad to be able to laugh and assure her that the worst of it was the embarrassment. But it was a beautiful thing to have my low hurt moment met with simple genuine kindness from a complete stranger.
The truest stuff is like that. Direct, unscripted, unmediated, real.