Friday, July 13, 2007

I do TOO get it!

More terror torn from the headlines. I'm still looking over my shoulder for things that least resemble aliens and therefore might be and now, it seems, I'm losing my most prized possession.

Page A6 of today's Vancouver Sun, dear blog hearts: Aging's sad joke: We no longer get the punchline

Bad enough that the granny path steals my precious nouns. Bad enough that I'm repeating my few amusing anecdotes to the same people every few days. Now I'm told that my anecdotes are not, in fact, funny, and when other people tell me jokes, I'm apt to just gaze at them rheumy-eyed and say vaguely, "That's lovely, dear. Bless your heart."

According to the article in the paper, this thesis was scientifically tested by a group of university researchers by presenting one group of elderly people (between 65 and "late 80s") and another group in their "early 20s" with the same opening lines of jokes. Each volunteer was asked to select one of four possible endings to the jokes. The article explains:

While one answer was the expected punchline, the other three included a humourous answer that bore no relation to the start of the joke, a totally straight response and a complete non-sequitur. According to…the graduate student behind the study, the older group was noticeably less likely to spot the punchline.

Okay. Right off the bat, I have the following concerns about the scientific legitimacy of this study.

1. It was created by university students. These are people who, a very few short years prior, thought "poopoohead" and "fart" were the funniest words in the language. These people are qualified to determine what is and is not funny?
2. Let's look at the two test groups. One group is in their early 20s, which definition suggests an age range of four or five years. The other group, between 65 and late 80s, could comprise an age range of 25 years: a generation. Already we have a very skewed comparison.
3. The younger group, besides the aforementioned point 1, would almost certainly not understand any joke not containing one of the following words: fuck, Paris, Kfed, fuck, dude, Britney, fuck. Given that the test was prepared by their age group, the jokes all likely contained one or more of these references. These are either obscure or completely effing unfunny to the over-65 group.
4. The latter group consisted, apparently, of persons up to the age of 89. I'd like to know if there was any pre-screening to determine if these people all recognized their next of kin, never mind recognizing an alleged joke when they see one.
5. Finally, let's consider the description of "possible endings" to the alleged jokes. Besides the "expected" (by who?) punchline, these were: a funny answer unrelated to the joke; a totally straight response; and a complete non-sequitur. So let's imagine an example from this study:

Why did the chicken cross the road?
1. Fuck, dude, to get to the other fucking side!
2. This is a deceased parrot!
3. There was grain on the other side.
4. Number 10 envelopes!

Which of these is the funniest answer? Even though I'm somewhat younger than the older group in the study, I suppose I would help prove their case. I happen to think that almost every time, a complete non-sequitur is likely to be funnier than some arbitrary punchline. And who on earth is some snot-nosed college kid to tell me I'm wrong?

Further in the article, the infant researcher opines, People know that there are certain mental abilities that decline as we get older. Our memory at 80 is probably not going to be as good as our memory when we're 20. Given that, how does that fit in with how well people understand humour? Humour is a higher order mental process, she added.

A higher order mental process!! Well, isn't the arrogance of youth breathtaking sometimes? What about the vast years of experience we old farts have to bring to bear in understanding what is and isn't funny?

We're definitely not trying to say that older adults don't have a sense of humour, but I think that there are certain types of jokes that are more difficult for older adults, she says condescendingly. And indeed. Profanity-laced jokes about Paris, Britney and kFed? Not difficult. No, what word would I use instead? Um…STUPID. BRAINLESS. INFANTILE.

However, just because you're an older adult does not mean that you can't understand humour. All hope is not lost, she added kindly. Why, bless your heart, dear. It's so sweet of you young things to leave us hope when we're so addled and confused.

Now, if you want to talk real humour, jokes based on people being too stoned on the good old gentle Mary Jane of the sixties -- now we're talking. Dave's not here, man. Bwahahahahahahahaha!

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