Democracy = fewer jokes

During a recent conference, the International Society for Humor Studies discussed topics as varied as gelotophobia (the fear of being laughed at) and humor as a rehabilitation tool for prison inmates.  While I am something of a hypochondriac and now think I suffer from the gelos disease, I also think I am able to tell a decent joke.  I think, despite my upbringing in an affluent and democratic country with plenty of freedoms, I can still turn a punchline.

British sociologist Christie Davies might disagree.  He’s noted the way that Eastern Europe has poorer jokes now that the Communists are no longer in charge.  He sites new freedoms, especially to address grievances, as outlet outside of joke forms.  I can see this to a certain extent – tell a joke, play off a complaint as something ‘not serious’ and the repercussions are minimal.  It works for any kind of situation involving bitterness or fear.  But at the same time, it doesn’t seem like it would make the standard jokes of the day less funny.

Do we only laugh when things are bad?  I mean, I’m a big proponent of the ‘laugh so you don’t cry’ philosophy.  Lose the farm?  Have a laugh.  Break you leg?  Cackle away.  Near-death experience?  Now that’s terribly funny.  But still, there are happy funny things too.  Tickles are funny.  Certain words (frumpy, mongoose, or skedaddle) are funny.  And the old classics (like “your mom is an old classic”) are always funny.

So – what’s up with Eastern Europe?  Does their growing government need shelter from laughter?  Or are they all just keeping their mouths closed out of their own gelotophobia?

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