A changing definition of “funny”

by Nathan Peters – Horizon News & Features Editor


After a hard day of classes and a long night of homework I prefer to settle down and watch a little television before I go to bed. At 10:30pm on channel 24 here at the college, one of my all-time favorites comes on, “Leave it to Beaver.” One can’t help but smile at the innocent, clean mischief that little Beaver Cleaver, his brother Wally, and all their schoolmates find themselves in. At the show’s conclusion I’ll often turn to NBC to watch a solid block of comedy by Jay Leno who is followed by Jimmy Fallon.

“Leave it to Beaver” offers a very different comedic approach when comparing the show to Leno’s or Fallon’s. Granted it was created in the late 1950s, but this comparison offers a great look at what we now label as “comedy” or “funny” compared to what we used to slap that label on.

Our cultural definition of “comedy” has shifted and a new standard for what is “funny” has been put into place. The more and more I watch the popular shows of today, the more this shift is made clear. Today’s comedy survives on crude humor, such as sexual innuendos. Granted this humorous style may have been around for quite some time, but it was a lot more subtle then it is today.

I would be willing to bet large sums that one could not sit through an episode of Late Night with Jimmy Fallon or Family Guy without sexual jokes being used to draw the laughs. It is as if a joke is no longer funny unless it holds a sexual connotation. It is becoming so common that it is almost suffocating and exhaustive. I like to laugh and I enjoy making others laugh, but where does one draw the line between appropriate and inappropriate? Is sexual abuse and degradation the norm? If that is the case, what does it say about the moral character of our country?

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Seth MacFarlane, creator of shows such as Family Guy, American Dad, The Cleveland Show, and the 2012 movie Ted, hosted the Oscars on Feb. 24. I did not watch every minute of the Oscars, but I did have the television on while I worked on other things. I am not a big MacFarlane fan so I tuned out much of what he was saying, but at one point in the show something caught my ear and infuriated me so much it was impossible to ignore. MacFarlane had decided to sing a song, “We Saw Your Boobs,” in which he lyrically pointed out nine actresses who had bared their breasts on the silver screen. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing and apparently I was not alone. Within minutes of the songs conclusion online news, bloggers, and social media had erupted calling McFarlane out, stating that he was sexist, exploited misogyny and was highly offensive. Nothing less should be expected of MacFarlane, after all he gained his fame for being immature and inappropriate.
As Salon.com reporter Katie McDonough points out in an article following the Oscars, “Four of the films MacFarlane crooned about featured nudity during or immediately following violent depictions of rape and sexual assault, stripped of their context and played for laughs.” Is that really funny? I don’t think so. Yet so many people did think so.

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I often think of what this new “humor” means for our country and what it is doing to our character, especially of a younger generation.

According to parentstv.org, a guide for determining what is appropriate and what isn’t, “Family Guy” is not recommended for children under 18, yet Entertainment Weekly states 4.3 million people age 12-34 are watching “Family Guy.” We’re talking 12-year-olds being exposed to sex, language and violence. 12-year-olds. That is young, but this is the new reality.

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Gone are the innocent humor days of “Leave it to Beaver” and here, perhaps to stay, are the crude ways of “new humor.” Who knows if there is a line that should or ever could be drawn between what should and should not be appropriate. Perhaps not. That being said the ball is in the viewer’s court on what we choose to consume. It is up to us to decide where we stand and where we draw our line.

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