In his 2004 book, Status Anxiety, Alain de Botton argues that the chief aim of humorists is not merely to entertain but "to convey with impunity messages that might be dangerous or impossible to state directly." Because society allows humorists to say things that other people cannot or will not say, de Botton sees humorists as serving a vital function in society. Write an essay that defends, challenges, or qualifies de Botton's claim about the vital role of humorists. Use specific, appropriate evidence to develop your position.
- Humor In Society -
The concept of humor is centered around a person or thing creating an amusing observation or thought that produces laughter and entertainment to an audience. In the book titled Status Anxiety by Alain de Botton, the author hypothesizes that the role of humor in society is to bring out repressed thoughts and messages that ordinary people can relate and understand without restraint from other people. I believe that de Botton's stance towards humor having an essential role in the function of society is true, because humor does indiscreetly allow people to freely express and relate to messages and observations without the restraints of society on them, but also gives people more awareness of the presence of wrongs and ills in a society by making the observation surrounding them more easier to understand, through the usage of comical and amusing entertainment.
In comedy, humor is used to convey messages that might be taken as too serious or controversial and adds humor to facilitate easier comprehension and understanding. De Botton makes a clear argument in stating that the role of humorists is not merely to show entertainment, but to "convey with impunity (discretion) messages that might be dangerous or impossible to state directly." In this, de Botton argues that comedy can be used as a channel to secretly communicate thoughts or observations of society and other things that might be held as either offensive or treacherous by some if made publicly in a serious and formal matter. One example of how a humorist practices such role is how stand-up comedian Katt Williams makes discussions centered around recreational drug use. In one of his premier stand-up comedy acts, Williams makes note of how recreational marijuana use can affect and alter one's life and mindset in a positive direction if taken under the correct circumstances. He further argues of how marijuana is not a chemically-synthesized drug, but a natural herb stemmed from the cannabis plant, making it a natural substance. Many people applauded and enjoyed Williams perspective of recreational marijuana use not only because of the comical and laughable methods of which he had presented the discussion (excessive profanity and role-played movement), but because most of the audience had some sort of relation to what he was presenting. Comedians are allowed to speak their mind and be blatantly honest on their own opinions, whereas people who work in other professions such as a doctor, school teacher, or a police officer, are not allowed to freely express these thoughts so openly, because it is not appropriate to do so, and that is why people enjoy comedy. It is the fact that through comedy, they will have the ability to relate certain thoughts that they have long repressed, because of society, to the material of humor and laugh at its presence as a form of expression.
When a person laughs, it is usually because of something that was either humorous or laughable that caused the production of laughter to occur. What most people do not realize is that the underlying concept of humor is not only to make people laugh and be entertained, but to have a sense of the basic context of the material being presented by the humorist(s). One prime example of this idea is how Jonathan Swift's A Modest Proposal was able to draw support for anti-British sentiments from his Irish countrymen by mocking himself as a person who is knowledgeable to propose that by selling their children and newborn to the British nobles as poultry would "help solve their economic woes." By manipulating the comical style of satire, Swift's proposition to "sell the newborns of the peasant families as poultry", in order to find a temporary solution to the economic problems of the Irish peasants in Ireland creates both an obvious uproar of laughter at the thought of even considering his propositions as being rational in any thought. However, it also brought out the representation of the extent that the Irish peasantry were willing to take to survive in the economic hardships caused by the British occupation, which most likely caused some spark of disgrace by the British, who were treating the Irish as mere animals and not as humans. Furthermore, in more modern times, satirical comedians such as Jon Stewart of The Daily Show and Stephen Colbert of the Colbert Report political-satire television program shows utilize satirical comedy of actual news programs as a channel of humor by making a laughable parody of actual news and political discussion shows and their content. Stewart and Colbert play as mock political experts and analysts who turn the news of the more serious and informational news stations such as Fox News and turn them into comedy as a means of making the news more easier to understand. For example, Jon Stewart represents the average "liberal-minded" progressive political analyst who mainly makes criticism and parodies of certain material shown in the news as a way of conveying how absolutely insane and illogical they actually sound. Stephen Colbert employs a similar action, except that his role is one of the average "right-wing" conservative-minded political expert. The comical productions of these two satirists, in essence, bring out the irrationality of most material being showed in the news by converting it into humor that the audience can easily comprehend and understand. In addition, stand-up comedian David Cross once discussed in a stand-up show about the actual reasons as to why radical-Islamist terrorists constantly threaten war against America. He begins to criticize the widely-held belief that these terrorist groups attack America because of the freedoms and liberties it maintains and upholds to its people. Cross further goes on to mention how if such belief were to be true, then why were other "liberal" countries such as Canada, Sweden, and the Netherlands exempt from the same treatment from the terrorists in the events of September 11th, 2001. In his comedy, Cross is quoted saying "If terrorists really hated freedom such as that in America, then the Netherlands, Canada, Sweden, and any other country that really is free would be turned into *explicit* dust." By bringing up the observation through comedy, he brings up the argument that if terrorists attacked America because of its freedoms, then why were other countries that also uphold freedom not being targeted by them. The comical humor employed in these examples both managed to spur and inspire its audience to think differently, showing that the power of humor does have the ability to make an audience become aware and informed of the unknown instances occurring that were mentioned in their comedies.
In conclusion, the basic component of what makes humor and comedy an essential factor in a society is that although the presentation is never taken seriously, the message and ideas behind the material are always easier to recognize. In regards to humor, humorists are more lenient in terms of being polite or caring for their audience. They are allowed and accepted as being funny for having quality material that contains offensive and explicit dialogue. Their notable reputation for being indiscreet to its own audience is what makes humor an effective tool in society. For one, humorists have the ability and responsibility of making its audience laugh. But it also has the capability to allow the audience to relate the humorist's material to their own thoughts, thus allowing them to openly express themselves through laughter and enjoyment. It also has the potential to inspire people to think in a different sense. Through comedy, a humorist can quickly change one's views or opinions of a certain subject or argument by making that argument more entertaining and funny. By making an underlying message laughable, it makes it easier for the audience to understand what the message of the material is actually conveying. De Botton's opinion of the vitality of humor in a society is true in that it is necessary, because it helps not only fulfill people's entertainment and expressive needs, but it also serves a purpose as an instrument of spreading a message to its audience.
“There are countries in which the communal provision of housing, transport, education and health care is so inferior that inhabitants will naturally seek to escape involvement with the masses by barricading themselves behind solid walls. The desire for high status is never stronger than in situations where 'ordinary' life fails to answer a median need for dignity or comfort.
Then there are communities—far fewer in number and typically imbued with a strong (often Protestant) Christian heritage—whose public realms exude respect in their principles and architecture, and whose citizens are therefore under less compulsion to retreat into a private domain. Indeed, we may find that some of our ambitions for personal glory fade when the public spaces and facilities to which we enjoy access are themselves glorious to behold; in such a context, ordinary citizenship may come to seem an adequate goal. In Switzerland's largest city, for instance, the need to own a car in order to avoid sharing a bus or train with strangers loses some of the urgency it has in Los Angeles or London, thanks to Zurich's superlative train network, which is clean, safe, warm and edifying in its punctuality and technical prowess. There is little reason to travel in an automotive cocoon when, for a fare of only a few francs, an efficient, stately tramway will provide transport from point A to point B at a level of comfort an emperor might have envied.
One insight to be drawn from Christianity and applied to communal ethics is that, insofar as we can recover a sense of the preciousness of every human being and, even more important, legislate for spaces and manner that embody such a reverence in their makeup, then the notion of the ordinary will shed its darker associations, and, correspondingly, the desires to triumph and to be insulated will weaken, to the psychological benefit of all.”
― Alain de Botton, Status Anxiety