Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Why Are We Laughing?

Someone recently branded me as a humorist and I have no serious argument against that claim, or even a funny one.

It does make me somewhat worried about my trip to France in the fall, where I will be asked to fill out an "occupation" line on a customs & immigration form. The French are not really very funny, although they do have a near monopoly on irony. Perhaps I could list myself as "ironist," instead of "humorist," which, contrary to what most Americans might think, does not mean I work in a laundry; it just means I might be funny in a very French sort of way.

It happens that humorists do not wake up every day immediately thinking funny thoughts. Some days it takes me hours to have even one funny thought, particularly days on which a college tuition is due, until I realize that the entire idea of college is funny.

When my son was a baby, I use to walk him in his stroller early in the morning by Beekman Place near the East River. Sometimes we would see one of America's best literary humorists, Kurt Vonnegut, on our strolls. Mr. V. was a very tall man, who walked two very small dogs. He not only looked funny doing this, he looked downright ridiculous. I always thought he liked starting the day being a little ridiculous, because it helped him write about other ridiculous things.

When I get stuck for ridiculous ideas, I read the business section of an otherwise sober national newspaper of record. Reading banking stories now is like watching a double feature of Laurel & Hardy and the Marx Brothers. MF Global can't find $2Billion of customers' money; JP Morgan Chase loses $2B in a series of bad trades, make that $4B, or maybe closer to $6B; Barclay's will pay $450Million for their share of rigging Libor, the rate on which $350Trillion in various kinds of loans are based.

Talk about funny!

Here's another one. A man named Johnson of Duke Energy thought he was going to become CEO of of the company after its merger with Progress Energy. Immediately after the $39B merger, the new board elected a Mr. Rogers, former Progress CEO, as the new, new Duke CEO. Are you still with me? Mr. Johnson will now receive $44Million from this sort of public utility to exit and not say bad things about Mr Rogers's "neighborhood,"  the company that canned him on his first day.

BTW, Duke lists "nuclear assets" in its energy portfolio, which would be really hilarious, except isn't.

When I get truly desperate for a laugh, I read the front page. Sure enough, yesterday we learned that about 70 brilliant students at NYC's elite Stuyvesant High School were caught cheating on recent statewide exams. They shared test info by cell phone. Here's the funny part: their "punishment." The scam's ringleader might be suspended or have to go to another elite school, and four others might also be suspended. All of the students will get to retake the test on which they cheated. There are no criminal charges pending.

PS On Wall Street
Well, I suppose that's what we should expect from a school named for a guy who met with the native population on Wall Street and "bought" the city for twenty-four bucks worth of glass, the city's first great real estate scam.

Why are we laughing?

I suppose the reason is a collective fear that, if we took all of these things seriously at once, we might have to replace our current bewildered amusement with a sense of honest moral outrage.

No comments: