Monday, February 6, 2017

Late Night Messages and Laughter

            At 1 a.m. on Wednesday, I received a text message from my RA in a group text message for our floor.  There was no content in the message, just a video.  Somewhat confused, I watched it while I was lying in bed.  In the video, my RA walked through the door to the lounge in our building, carrying an umbrella and a fire extinguisher.  He was out of breath, and announced that he had an important message for the residents of our floor.  He then proceeded to tell the camera about the Super Bowl party he would be hosting.  He went into extreme detail, explaining all the different kinds of food he would have and listing the specifications of the television he owns.  At the end, he walked out the door, shouting, “PSA. Brado out!”  This alone made me laugh quite a bit.  Less than five minutes after finishing the first video, I received another.  Shortly after that, I received a third.  After about half an hour, I had gotten 6 videos from my RA.  Each of them was a slightly different skit of him running around the lounge and excitedly shouting various details about the party and his new television.  Every time my phone buzzed to deliver a new message, I began to laugh, wondering how many skits my RA could possibly dream up.  The one that made me laugh the hardest was a video that began with a view of some cabinets, which quickly panned to my RA hula hooping, telling the cameraman that he needed to get into top physical condition for the party on Sunday.  These videos made me laugh because they were completely unexpected.  As each video appeared on my phone, I laughed harder and louder.  The videos were funny because they were completely unexpected, but at the same time, not very surprising.  My RA is extremely enthusiastic whenever he tells us about events he is planning for our floor, but no one seems to share his enthusiasm.  In these videos, he seemed to be acknowledging that people typically do not share his enthusiasm, as if he gave a knowing wink to the audience.  These videos were meant to inform our floor of the Super Bowl party happening this weekend, but the sheer number of them made me think that there was some sort of deeper purpose.  It was obvious that my RA wanted us to laugh at the videos, so I did not feel like I was making fun of him in anyway.  The announcements were for a real event, but the tone was not serious.  One of the funniest parts of the announcements was the absurdity of them.  My RA did not always use a logical story-like sequence to explain the events of his videos; in one, he was locked in a closet after searching rope that he needed for the party.  Upon his release, he began giving all of the same party details that he shared in the other videos.  There was no explanation given for the rope, and it is not an item typically needed for a party, so its presence was absurd yet purposeful, because it provoked the desired response of laughter.
The video that started it all

            These videos from my RA were very funny, but they were not funny in the same way that Tales of the Tikongs was funny.  The people of Tiko were funny because their stories were told in a sarcastic way, using past tragedies combined with time to provide a social commentary.  This provides more insight into the subject matter that is the source of the comedy.  The videos did not provide a commentary on any social ills.  The laughter they created was not rooted in malice or feelings of superiority, like Plato and Thomas Hobbes believe.  In fact, I believe that the videos made me think of my RA in a more positive, friendly light.  My laughter did not make him appear inferior.   The source of my laughter in this situation can most likely be contributed to mix of joy and wonder.  Descartes writes, “Nevertheless joy cannot cause [laughter] except when it is moderate and has some wonder or hate mingled with it” (22).  In this sense, Descartes’ ideas on the source of laughter are correct.  The videos did give me intense feelings of happiness that greatly improved the quality of my life, but they did provide a small amount of joy that brightened my evening.  This joy was not mixed with feelings of scorn, for the videos did not conjure up any resentment in myself.  Instead, I felt a sense of wonder.  The series of videos were much longer than I had initially expected, which intensified my laughter over time.  Herbert Spencer provides a physiological explanation of this laughter that is caused by incongruity.  He believes that energy and emotions build up over time along with expectations of a situation.  He writes, “Had there been no interruption, the body of new ideas and feelings next excited, would have sufficed to absorb the whole of the liberated nervous energy.  But now, this large amount of nervous energy, instead of being allowed to expend itself in producing an equivalent amount of the new thoughts…is suddenly checked in its flow” (Spencer 107).  When I was sitting in my bed, getting ready to go to sleep, my emotions had mellowed out and all of the excitement from the day was passing calmly.  When I got the message from my RA with the video, the flow of my emotions was interrupted by the unexpected emotions brought on by the video.  This interruption caused a release of feelings that was my laughter.  The spontaneous and absurd video message did not fit with the events of my evening, and changed my feelings before I went to bed. 

            Something similar to Spencer’s explanation of humor happened when I was reading Polk County as well.  When the first scene is being set, there a brief mention of women earning prestige by serving prison terms (Hurston 273).  I did not fully absorb that note when I first read it, so the idea of the women having criminal records was not at the front of my mind as a read.  Because of this, the moment when Quarters Boss came in to tell Big Sweet that she had killed three men so far, I was surprised.  This surprise turned to laughter when I read Big Sweet respond, “I know it. I kilt ‘em my ownself, didn’t I?” (Hurston 336).  I was not expecting such a brazen response, nor was I expecting the overall situation in that scene to occur.  According to Spencer, this disrupted the flow of my emotions, forcing a physical manifestation in laughter.  My mind was thrown off its balance in a way, and I needed a moment to laugh to recover.

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