Posts Tagged ‘Either/Or v. 1’

What’s Up With Comedy? Preliminary Expectoration

December 20, 2019

What’s Up With Comedy? Preliminary Expectoration

 

This is part of the confusion that manifests itself in so many ways in our day; something is sought where one should not seek it; and what is worse, it is found where one should not find it. One wishes to be edified in the theater, to be esthetically stimulated in church; one wishes to be converted by novels, to be entertained by devotional books; one wishes to have philosophy in the pulpit and a preacher on the lecture platform.[1]

—– S. Kierkegaard

 

 

Does anyone else think it strange that we demand higher moral standards from our comedians than we do from our nation’s political leaders? A comedian’s career can be derailed by a careless tweet. An actor’s career can be derailed by a charge of sexual impropriety. A singer can be called to account for performing at a party hosted by a dictator, or sometimes even just for performing in a country with an unsavory government. But if the President suggests that someone should be beaten or killed, or confesses to a crime, it’s said he was “just joking;” if a dozen or more women testify he raped or assaulted them, they’re all dismissed as liars; if he praises and is praised by murderous, corrupt dictators and even claimed by them as “one of our agents”, it has no noticeable impact on the love of his fans or the respect of his party.[2] Our age accepts any buffoonery from its leaders, so long as they make the crowds laugh; but actual comedians are expected to act like leaders.

In Kierkegaard’s Either/Or, the fictitious anonymous author argues that such confusions reflect a society in disarray. “Our age has lost all the substantial categories of family, state, kindred; it must turn the single individual over to himself completely in such a way that, strictly speaking, he becomes his own creator.” Our lives lack context; there is no essential connection between one and another. There is no passion; nothing has significance in itself, and we are left only with the frivolities that capture our interest for a moment. Our age, even more than Kierkegaard’s, seems fundamentally confused and disoriented. We want big, glitzy megachurches with a good show; we analyze the moral messages implicit in the latest blockbuster movie. Leaders are “just joking” or just using “locker-room talk,” while entertainers are expected to be role-models. We look for things where any serious, thoughtful person would not; and what is worse, we find what we’re looking for, because the age itself is careless and thoughtless.

Such thoughts as these suggest that it is time to think about humor, and about what it means in this age. What is comedy? Why do we take comedy so seriously? Why do we look, not to the saints or the scientists or the journalists or the leaders for truth, but to comedians and to politicians who caper and jape more than any real comedian? I want to think about these questions. Maybe, when I’m done, I’ll find the joke was on me; it wouldn’t be the first time.

[1] Søren Kierkegaard, Either Or, v. 1; edited translated by Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hont, with introduction and notes (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1987) p. 149

[2] Melissa Lemieux, “Russian Media Calls Trump a Moscow ‘Agent,” Jokingly Suggests He’ll Need to Flee to their Country After Leaving Office;” Newsweek 12/16/19 (https://www.newsweek.com/russian-state-media-calls-trump-moscow-agent-jokingly-suggests-hell-need-flee-their-country-1477554)

Is Role-Play Gaming a Religious Exercise? Thoughts on Tolkien, Campbell and Role-Playing Games (pt. xvii)

July 6, 2013

            I don’t know that Kierkegaard really helps us understand role-playing games, except insofar as his distinction between “imagination’s way out” versus “religion’s way out” can help us remember that religious fantasy is still fantasy and not religion.  I saw an advertisement once for a visit to a local church by one of the authors of the Left Behind books.  This was said by the flyer to be “prophecy.”  Religious fiction is not prophecy; it is fiction, “religious poetry” in Kierkegaard’s terminology, presenting possibilities to the imagination but not truly inviting the individual to a personal relationship with God.  A religious role-playing game has the same limitations; and both “religious” and “non-religious” games can provide one of God’s secret agents the opportunity to work.  The “non-religious” one might have the advantage of providing cover, making the secrecy easier to maintain.  I think, though, that role-playing games throw more light on Kierkegaard than Kierkegaard throws on the games.  As Kierkegaard said, “boredom is the root of all evil;” and though he said this pseudonymously and ironically, it has truth.[1]  Boredom is the symptom showing that one’s life is meaningless.  The conditions that make a role-playing game boring are not entirely different than those that make real life boring:  pointlessness, lack of goals or values to make one’s striving be “for something,” a lack of coherence (or narrative structure), or a game/campaign that thwarts one’s individuality for the sake of some external agenda (either the group’s or the referee’s).  Likewise, the game is interesting when one has individual goals that are supported by also being part of group that affirms both individuality and participation; when one strives for goals that have a meaning beyond simply gaining levels; and when what happens in the game and in the character’s life has a coherence rather than being disjointed episodes unrelated to the past or future.


[1] Søren Kierkegaard, Either/Or, v. 1, edited and translated by Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong, with introduction and notes (Princeton, NJ:  Princeton University Press, 1987) p. 285