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Humor term paper

"The idea that humor is good for one's health is as old as this biblical verse from Proverbs, "A merry heart doeth good like a medicine; but a broken spirit drieth the bones," and as new as the 1998 Patch Adams film starring Robin Williams. In this movie, which is based on a true story, Williams plays the part of an unconventional medical student who upsets the hierarchy in his school's hospital by breaking into patients' rooms and playing the role of a clown against the orders of the administration, but with the tacit approval of the hospital's nursing staff. While the controversial film probably offended more doctors than it converted to the power of humor, the general public warmed to its wish-fulfilling message that laughing and acting silly can work as a tool for healing. Although the film is exaggerated, it nevertheless illustrates a controversy among nurses, doctors, and the general public. In a review of the movie by Bob Fenster (Arizona Republic, Dec. 24, 1998), Fenster objected to what he called a "two-hour lecture from a guy who has mixed up the Hippocratic oath with the song lyrics, 'Be a clown, be a clown, be a clown."' He went on to say that if he were the real Patch Adams, he would sue for malpractice because "no doctor could be this smarmy and self-righteous and still heal anybody." While agreeing that humor can make you feel better, Fenster thought the movie didn't acknowledge the occasional need for "medicine and surgery," and concluded with, "Some people will buy into Patch Adams. But you have to be able to stomach a heaping platter full of hokum to do it."

"Other joined the chorus fearing the demise of American humor. Early in the decade the country's premier humorist, James Thurber, gave "humor and comedy five years to live." A few years later, however, he concluded that this harsh sentence had been a trifle inaccurate, diagnosing instead that humor "just went crazy." Walt Kelly, the creator of the satiric comic strip Pogo, stated what many had fearfully come to believe, namely, that political freedom and the corresponding access to ridicule and wit were on the wane: "Our most recent laughter has been somewhat nervous. We have been trying to keep an eye on all sides before we laugh but the true humorist has found it nigh impossible to laugh . . . while peering back over his shoulder." Likewise, the Beat poet and commentator Kenneth Rexroth angrily railed against "the decline of American humor." From his perch as theater critic, Robert Hatch lamented that "the Eisenhower Administration was easily as laughable as Hoover's but by then we had so lost a sense of destiny that attempts to lampoon Ike and his entourage turned rancid."

"MacHovec (1988) suggests that the clown is a simple figure"immediately recognized and direct in intent or purpose"that elicits smiles and laughter even without speaking or doing anything, and that exists in the deepest and darkest recesses of the unconscious mind. MacHovec also provides historical samples of the variety and versatility of humour, some of them up to 3,500 years old. For example, the following 3,500"year-old riddles and sayings derive (via archaeological excavations) from the ancient civilization of Sumer in southern Mesopotamia; such riddles, proverbs, and sayings antedate the Biblical book of Proverbs, and all of the known Egyptian proverb/precept compilations, by several centuries (cf: Kramer, 1956, pp. 154"159): "Can one conceive without sexual intercourse? Can one get fat without eating?" and "You can tolerate a lord or a king, but the man to fear is the tax collector." According to Kramer, the Sumerian proverbs were compiled and written down (in "cuneiform") more than 3,500 years ago and many had no doubt been repeated by word of mouth for centuries before they were put into written form. On the other hand, according to Wells, there apparently is not a single element of the amusing in the art or literature of the Babylonian and Assyrian civilizations, so "the ancient Babylonians and Assyrians must go down in history as serious-minded folk."

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