Concerning the Practicum of Good Humor

I was chatting with a friend recently. This was an actual friend, not a pixel “friend,” such as someone on Facebook you’ve never actually met, or might have known years ago but you never talk on the phone or sit across a table from one another. Such a person I would call a “pen pal,” or updating that for the Age of Information, a “pixel pal.” Words are important.

My friend and I were discussing what we observe to be a decline of laughter in younger generations. We decided that maybe they’re laughing on the inside. Perhaps their laughter, like so many other things, is pixelated, manifesting in LOL abbreviations or emojis rather than contractions of the diaphragm and an exercise of the abdominal muscles. I know the traditional type of laughter is healthy for body, mind and spirit. I’m not sure that clicking and finger poking is, but what do I really know? I’m not an expert associate professor at a junior college to be quoted by mainstream media in the continuing narrative of the falling sky.

“She spends a lot of time up in her room on the phone,” said my friend of his daughter. “Sometimes she has company but I don’t hear them laughing like we used to when we were that age.” He was talking about the red faced, belly laughing, can’t-catch-your-breath type of laughter that is both cause and effect of a good friendship.

Upon reflection we had to agree that we also don’t laugh like that as much as we once did. (I was trying to be kind. Tracey and I frequently laugh out loud with each other but I didn’t want my friend to feel bad.) A common but unfortunate side effect of “adulting” is the loss of that very innocence and trust we all strive to provide for our children, without which good natured silliness and abandon is difficult.

It’s hard to exercise the abdomen with a good belly laugh with the weight of a billion pixels laying across your chest, and so many, perhaps a majority of us who consume media are hooked on the dangerous drug of feeling upset and angry. “I may be vile and pernicious, but you can’t look away,” wrote Frank Zappa, and we look from dawn to dusk, at the breakfast table and in the bedroom.

Overall, I think the older generations still have an advantage when it comes to enjoying humor. We’re not as constrained by ever evolving language taboos and we still remember the slapstick adventures of growing up out of doors. Oh, there is plenty of laughter to be seen and heard, but I’m not talking about the snarky, SNL political derision type of humor, or studio audience humor where you never see the sign that flashes “laugh,” or award show humor where the camera pans across a field of celebrity faces opening their mouths to display their expensive dental work.

The “field” of celebrities brings to mind something I thought was funny. The School of Social Work of the University of Southern California recently announced that it was eliminating the word “field” from their curriculum, to “honor and acknowledge inclusion and reject white supremacy,” among other lofty goals. The school intends to replace the word, “field,” with “practicum.” In other news, the Estate of the Late W.C. Practicums could not be reached for comment. Amazon announced that it was considering rebranding the popular Kevin Costner movie as “Practicum of Dreams.” Future Farmers of America declined to comment.

Perhaps there is a clue here to the decline of heartfelt laughter. Younger generations are growing up and entering adulthood immersed in a sea of concerns that were absent from our own youth. They are habitual consumers of falling sky information which has escaped the containment of “news” reporting to infect all forms of social media. Not only that, but they are constrained by a host of loosely defined but tightly enforced rules about microaggression, so careful not to offend, so vulnerable to being offended.

“No one can offend you without your permission,” said a mentor to me when I had taken offense at something inconsequential. It’s ironic. There is such animosity between left and right, young and old in this time of generational change. Yet fundamentally all agree. Words are indeed important. Proverbs tells us that “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, And those who love it will eat its fruit.” The conservative balks at the efforts by the young which acknowledge this very truth. The liberal becomes a pharisee of this truth, inclusive of all but dissenting opinions. They both “eat its fruit,” but no one laughs when someone slips on the banana peel.

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