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on What is Funny

Page history last edited by Andrew Alder 8 years, 8 months ago

How many feminists does it take to change a light globe?

One, and its Not Funny.


What is funny?


Within my lifetime, in the culture (urban Australia) of which I have mainly been part, there's been a great deal of healthy reflection on that. The feminist above has a point. If he/she/it can't see the funny side of it, then arguably, and in my opinion, it's not funny. And if it's abusive, it's unfunny.


The same goes for the he/she/it jibe in the preceding paragraph. I find it mildly funny. But if the GLBT persons who are the victims of its humour do not share this view, then IMO it's not funny, regardless of my view. If they are offended, then it's even unfunny. Does that seem contradictory? The paradox is that we've left something out: Context.


And the most important part of context is audience. Not the only part, but it will do for a start.


This reflection was inspired by my rediscovery of the brilliant musical Flower Drum Song. It's definitely on the par with My Fair Lady ("the perfect musical") and The Sound of Music. The song Love Look Away is musically and dramatically up there with anything that Grand Opera offers (which brings up another relevant point, the close relationship of humour and pathos) and this is a dimension that  My Fair Lady lacks, although it's there in a subplot of The Sound of Music.


The music is delicious. There's not a loser among the songs, the variety is great, the orchestration masterful and coherently supports the plot, the overture short but appropriate and a satisfying orchestral work in its own right. The lead vocalists all get showcase songs. The cast number Grant Avenue is a classic.


The plot is great, there are thought-provoking insights on feminism and, dare I say it, blending of cultures, that are 'way ahead of their time. There's a satisfying resolution, a happy ending with a tragic subnote that you only even notice on the second time through, so absorbing is the plot overall. 


But it's rarely performed, and was completely rewritten (and many say badly, audiences voted with their feet, despite the undoubted competence of the team who did it) for its unsuccessful 2002 revival. Why? What went wrong?


The problem is, its humour... and there is a lot of it, and this was a major reason for its success in 1958. By the end of the 1960s, the 1958 musical was unfunny in its characterisation of Asian people, and in 2002 this was still seen as a problem.


I'd love to rehabilitate the original. And I think it might be possible. How? The answer is simple... if Asian people can see the humour in it, then it will again be funny.


It was funny before only because we didn't care what the Asians thought. That is perhaps sad, but it wasn't the worst part of our imperfect culture, and we have grown up. We now do care for thier feelings.


Is it too much to hope that the Asians among us have grown up too? Can they now laugh at themselves where the characterisations are accurate, and also laugh at and with we Westerners when they are not? The jokes in the orginal are now at least, and probably more, at the expense of the Western view of Chinese people than at their expense. Jacky Chan can laugh at such things. 


Feminism has grown up. The joke with which I led this reflection was given to me by one of them. She thinks it's hilarious. 


Social workers have always had good senses of humour and the ability to laugh at themselves, and have used the original light globe joke effectively to educate the rest of us. In the sense that we needed education, the joke was on us. Maybe one of them even wrote it, unlikely but possible. Oh, haven't you heard that one:


How many social workers does it take to change a light globe?

One, but the light globe has to want to change.


Ow wouldn't it be loverly!  




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