Older and Wiser, but TMV

My brother Mark is kind enough to keep track of my blog’s birthday. It, thedilettantesdilemma.com is seventeen years old today. It has been a long time since the first blog, when I explored the question of where, exactly, we get the word “blog.” The short answer is the the b- of web log assimilates to log making it blog. The longer answer has to do with actually logs, pieces that were once parts of trees.

We hear so much about people “sharing” too much information. TMI has therefore become a widely recognizable observation. That’s not the issue I want to raise today. I want to consider TMV: “too many variables.” [1]

George Carlin has been the object of a lot of conversation recently because of his HBO special. Carlin was not exactly a part of my developmental experience. Stan Freberg was. I remember sitting in a White Castle on Main Street in Dayton, Ohio listening to the juke box play “John and Marcia,” a selection that featured Freberg saying those two words (only those two words) with a variety of emotional colorings. Somebody paid a dime for that.

Carlin was not a part of my own development, but it was a big part of my family’s development. My kids were my access point to his humor and allusions. I listened to him because they thought he was funny; and then I thought he was funny, too, for most of the same reasons.

But my daughter, Dawne, says that following the same process, her sons put her in touch with Dave Chappell and Bill Burr. As she sees it, Chappell and Burr and part of the family’s developmental process, not her own.

So humor develops in a linear manner? I wanted here a representation of a very confused person. I think I chose well.

This is where all the variables come in. Humor looks linear sometimes because successful comics give recognition to their mentors, but of course they adapt what they learned from their mentors as well. So if you can say that famous comic Z was the protégé of Y, who in turn was the protégé of X, there appears to be a kind of linear development there.

Also, there is the sense that humor explores the rub points of a culture It treats discrepancies in a humorous way. But we know that the rub points change over time. Humor that relies on being “cutting edge” finds its edge dulled as the shock value drains away. Commonly, the solution is to move on, to find another sensitive topic or to violate the norms governing the current topic is a more flagrant way.

But this kind of development isn’t at all linear. In fact, I am not at all sure it isn’t circular. Humor has been seen since the time of the Shakespearean fools as a way to deflate the pretentious. Surely what we are pretentious about moves in a great cycle from one kind of thing to another. Just tracking virtue claims alone, there are eras where wealth is lampooned, then status, then piety, the bourgeois respectability, and then conformity, and then non-conformity. Does that sound linear to you.

So the new comics need to distinguish themselves from their mentors and also to address the newly available targets of their era. And their fans need to accept that kind of humor as a contribution to their own repertoires or to their children’s repertoires. The children need to have a humor that distinguishes themselves from their parents and also some that invites the parents in as junior members. Jokes are tried out. Eyeballs are rolled. Subjects are changed.

So my current position is that this succession of comics has too many variables for me to understand it now. Nothing about this complexity prevents me from enjoying it, however, and I am a big fan of the humor that families can enjoy together but just hinting as a joke they all share.

[1] For those of you whose thoughts went first to the Tobacco Mosaic Virus (TMV), I wish you well. For the rest of us “TMV is a simple rod-shaped helical virus (Fig. 13.20) consisting of centrally located single- stranded RNA (5.6%) enveloped by a protein coat (94.4%)

About hessd

Here is all you need to know to follow this blog. I am an old man and I love to think about why we say the things we do. I've taught at the elementary, secondary, collegiate, and doctoral levels. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. I have taught political science for a long time and have practiced politics in and around the Oregon Legislature. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. You'll be seeing a lot about my favorite topics here. There will be religious reflections (I'm a Christian) and political reflections (I'm a Democrat) and a good deal of whimsy. I'm a dilettante.
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