Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Holy jokes! That's REALLY not funny!

So we were discussing that annoying Christopher Hitchens article--the one that links the ability to bear children with a significant decline in funniness--when someone raised the question, "Was Jesus funny?" Far be it from me to try to resolve the thorny theological issue that caused so much bloodshed in The Name of the Rose, in which merely speculating about whether Jesus had a sense of humor could result in the gruesome death of the speculator and the immersion of his body in a vat of blood drained from freshly slaughtered pigs. There's something about torture that just takes all the fun out of humor, you know? So rather than risk such treatment, I'll just paraphrase the words of Umberto Eco himself: if Jesus wasn't funny, why did he get invited to so many dinners?

A laughing Jesus I can envision, but a laughing Mary? She's not laughing in all those byzantine icons, but then neither is anyone else. In fact, if religious art is any indication, the laugh was a heresy introduced after the Second Vatican Council. I'm trying to recall an image of Mary that suggests laughter, but nothing is coming to mind; the most we ever see is a sort of Mona Lisa smile--quiet, subtle, mysterious. If Hitchens is right, then Mary was less likely to crack a joke than to purse her lips and say, "That's not funny." And the minute those lips were pursed, you can bet some byzantine artist would come along and start slathering on the gold leaf. Did you ever try to crack a smile through half an inch of gold leaf? That's gotta hurt. If Mary followed the Hitchens model of humor-free females, where, then, did Jesus get his excellent sense of humor?

Our furry green friend points out that Hitchens's argument relating humor to powerlessness is a bit circular: men use humor as a smoke screen to hide their own powerlessness, while women use humorlessness to hide their power. If this theory is correct, then surely ultimate power should be linked with ultimate humorlessness, which gives us a stern Jesus straight out of The Name of the Rose. Meanwhile, Mary, the submissive, servantlike handmaiden of the Lord, ought to have a lucrative career in stand-up comedy.

But this is all, of course, mere speculation--as is Hitchens's article, for that matter. I'm sure it would never enter into anyone's head to immerse either of us in a vat of pigs' blood simply for the sin of getting serious about humor. But if someone has to suffer for the cause, let it be Christopher Hitchens. He's the one who links humor with powerlessness, and the way I see it, he can use all the powerlessness he can get.

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