Time Flies When Having Fun
Apparently Netflix got a reprieve thanks to Stranger Things. Well. Looking at my feed, the bets to keep me as a client seem twofold: random content selection – quite ironical in itself for a non-linear content provider – and a wall of comedy and stand-up. And yet, my laugh-o-meter has reached a historical low. The batteries of my remote are flat from zapping. Possibly just another symptom of me getting older? Anyway, I have been thinking about entertainment…
Picture for a moment our common ancestral tree. The branches are heavy with tribe members lazing away in the early afternoon sun.
Suddenly Grhonk hits Hruuk in the face with an overripe banana!
The tribe erupts in shrieks, eeeks and snorts. Shock! What was that all about?
For the teeth-challenged older apes, it is just a waste of a perfectly good banana. And to what purpose? Making an indulgent point? The entitlement! What’s next? People sitting on any damn branch they might wish!?
Slouching on a lower row of branches, another group is grumbling. Their body language says it all: rather bed than dead. Or something. Whatevs. Bananas are not props! It just shows the disdain for a fragile resource. Do look up! You can see the leaf canopy eroding, what with the growing tree population. If this continues, we would soon have to climb down the tree and walk through the savanna. So, save the bananas for later! And anyway, there are other sustainable sources of food. Such as grubs. Just as good. More nutritious. Much more fun to catch!
For such a potentially fractious event, the tribe elders have to convene to discuss if:
A) this was accidental, else they would have to invent the copyright;
B) this was a sustainable activity, bananas being after all a natural resource;
C) this somehow disrespected them; or maybe
D) this was intrinsically funny, as it sometimes is.
A is debatable, too much documentation from other tree tribes would be needed. B is for the doom mongers. Hruuk, recipient of the banana whack, is not an ancient one. So, C does not apply. Hence option D ends up being the collective choice. The decision, after due process, was that the activity was indeed enjoyable and worthy of being repeated – within appropriately defined rules, timings and scripts of course. Whether it was ever as funny is another question.
And thus comedy was born.
We can only naturally regret, for the sake of completeness, that the deliberations were not recorded. So this thesis, with all its merits, cannot end up on Wikipedia.
Time flies when having fun…
So, I wonder, did slapstick survive because it was labelled hilarious?
Or just because it was? My heart swings for the former. There are shades and grades of humour. Not all jokes work for everyone. “Humour does not translate” is a trope you will find around the internet. To me, it generally boils down to mastery of the language, and the culture. Agreed, if true, this is a rather tall ask. But it does bring as well its own satisfaction.
Let’s consider the certified global phenomenon Stranger Things as an example. So far, it slowed down the erosion at Netflix. Its global appeal is so massive it can bring back songs from the dead, such as Kate Bush “Running up that Hill”.
The show stacks layers upon layers of different types of humour. Maybe to reach out to as big an audience as possible. Take one such layer, just one character: the Russian smuggler. Can you lay it any thicker? The looks, the style, the accent, the motives, the motivation, the slapstick behaviour, the social, political cultural tropes… Well, could it be to suspend disbelief enough to cover for a sub-plot that forgot to make any sense? Let’s not get into spoiler territory here, but we go into Chuck Norris in MIA without much irony. And if it does not work, then, you always have the laugh track. It works.
The core strength of humour? We crave it. At its best, humour can reach where other mechanics simply cannot. It literally can move mountains. Or get you elected. Like President Zelensky. It can even bring out some truly stranger things, such as The Boys or The Umbrella Academy. It could, it can, it should up-end your expectations, shatter formulaic recipes and raise uncomfortable questions. Like True Story. Or it can generously spread thick to make us accept mediocre content, like mayonnaise, sriracha or ketchup.
That’s just my opinion. That’s just funny ol’ me.
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