J500 Media and the Environment

Laugh and They’ll Laugh With You (Hopefully) by KaylaReg

I lived with the female version of Ras Trent for two years of college.

She was completely unmoved by what her brain was like on drugs or how she too could kill her younger sibling while driving under the influence.

Only one anti-drug campaign I know of ever made her stop and think, simply because it was so funny that she didn’t know what she was watching.

Like it or not, we live in a world of multiple and sometimes conflicting truths, where reality is often different for each person. In such a world, laughter can be the best tool for putting all of its complexities in perspective.

William McDougall, one of the theorists discussed in Dr. Jim Lyttle’s research on humor, claims that laughter gives us a sort of release from the stresses of living in a conflicted society. It’s why we laugh at the satiric hyperbole of Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. We understand the absurdity of the movie because we see very real reflections of it every day, like Atrazine in our water and fast-food being likened to cocaine. When we can find humor in even what seems to be the most desperate of dilemmas, the situation can’t paralyze us in fear and we can still work to fix it.

Unfortunately, I’m not sure whether people are seeing much humor in things these days.

Consider this video telling us that if we don’t shape up immediately, global warming will kill our daughters and we will be responsible.

Buzzkill, right?

This is my very basic illustration of the paths of humor. Laughing at an out-group will set a norm for exclusion. Self deprecation will allow members of an out-group feel comfortable. Shared laughter creates a bond and sense of community between groups.

Such advertisements are just begging for parody from Will Ferrell, Adam McKay and John C. Reilly’s Green Team and the psychotic earth day spokesman. At least these videos make environmentalism look better than the “tree people” of this Ali G Show episode and it couldn’t hurt environmentalists to take a little ownership over such self-deprecation. It works for politicians, and few things are more political today than Mother Earth.

Since the political polarizing of environmentalism, the saviors and enemies of our planet are seen in terms of left and right, Democrat and Republican and who signed what legislation and who worked against it. Such absolutes construct artificial dividers of people based on opinions and affiliations, undermining the whole “we’re in this together” idea of the environment.

According to Lyttle, anthropomorphic and sociological studies have repeatedly shown that shared laughter creates a sense of community among diverse populations and reflects tolerance, acceptance and sympathy towards others. Remember what The Cosby Show did for defusing stereotypes and empowering the black community?

We can bash the Monsantos of the world all day and night, but it won’t get the average farmer to stop using its products. If anything, demonizing Monsanto products (that frankly help many farmers support their family) only excludes its customers from the conversation, throwing away any knowledge the group could have offered.

If environmental leaders want people to jump on the bandwagon, they might want to take a hint from the Huxtables and stop taking everything so seriously.

Green Police, a Super Bowl advertisement for a hybrid car, is a great example of how environmentalism can poke a little fun at itself and still reinforce a positive, progressive message. Jack Black’s Earth to America promotion encouraged me to be part of a movement towards progress, not a frenzy to stop a speeding train. I wanted to learn more about coal and clean air after I giggled at the Cohen Brothers’ This is Reality video.

Ultimately, laughter influences our attitudes, understanding, and brings people together better than any amount of finger-pointing or doomsday warnings ever will.

Swami Beyondananda argues that by embracing societal conflicts with humor, we’re better able to process its paradoxes and see solutions that fall outside of our normal thinking. No better example exists than America’s greatest humorist Mark Twain. By making us laugh at the often complicated and multiple truths of humanity, he completely changed American perception of slavery and racism.

So even though Ed Begley wants you to know that “there’s nothing funny about climate change,” I’m going to respectfully disagree. I’m sure we can find plenty of humor in climate change as well as everything else in life, and it’s something to be embraced.

Lighten up, principal Begley. It’s time to have some laughs.

-Kayla R.

8 Comments so far
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I don’t know if you’ve ever seen Ed Begley, Jr.’s show, Living With Ed, but it is actually very funny. I am wondering, do you think humor can help all situations? War? Famine? Drought? Starvation? Disease? All of these things can be associated with the environment in certain ways but I’m not sure humor can be used there. Maybe I’m just not that funny. I really liked reading your post, it was really unique. I’m just not sure I think laughter will help non-global-warming-believers or Monsanto-supporters change their minds. -Kristina B.

Comment by kristinabev

I agree—the hyper-serious, doomsday approach may be more apropos in communicating the severity of the issue (and it is), but let’s face it: Many people simply do not want to inject lugubrious issues into their life. Laughter could be an effective medium for bringing some of these weighty issues into mind, inciting some reflection, and making environmental issues accessible and casual in conversation. Interesting post!
—Jacob M.

Comment by jmuselmann


I agree with how you are looking at this. Most people do not want to be preached at, and sometimes laughter will ultimately make them pay more attention (Jon Stewart would concur). I understand Kristina’s concern, but I think she is overthinking actual human reaction to major issues. You referenced “Dr. Strangelove”, which came out at a time when nuclear tensions with the Soviet Union were very real, and that was both successful AND hilarious.
~Ben C.

Comment by Ben


WOW. I was nodding my head with every point you brought up! I couldn’t have said it better myself! I think you are so right on with everyone being able to relate to humor and laughter. Everyone should read your posts and take tips from it; I did.

-Tess H.

Comment by tesshedrick


When do you think laughing wouldn’t help? Or maybe it’s just finding the right jokes to say. I think that a lot of music uses humor to address social problems. Since music stretches so many cultural boundaries it seems to back up your point. What do you think about art as a way to combat social inequalities?

Sean T.

Comment by Sean T.

I just feel that I already have A LOT of people tell me they think Global Warming is already a joke… I’m not sure it will convince the unconvinced. I think only those already onboard will get the jokes… -Kristina B.

Comment by kristinabev

Thanks for all the feedback everyone. It took me a super long time to write this post and I’m glad it sparked some conversation.
Kristina- I have seen the Living With Ed show, and yes I think it’s pretty funny, but it only reaches people who pay for Green TV (I believe that’s the channel it’s on) and are already on board with the green movement. No matter what your views of South Park are, you have to admit that it reaches far more people than Living with Ed and has consequently impacted how a lot more people view environmentalism. And I mean, come on, Manbearpig was hilarious! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people make a “if global warming is real, why is it so cold?!” joke. People are laughing at environmentalists no matter what, so we might as well take some ownership and laugh with them. I’m not saying it will solve anything, but research has shown when you engage in humorous self-deprecation, people are more likely to like you. If people at least like us, maybe they’ll start listening to what we have to say. It couldn’t hurt to try.
Sean- I think laughing will always help, it’s just a matter of finding the right joke. Humor can reinforce as well as deflate stereotypes, impact our social consciousness in positive and negative ways, and just plain ole cause change. I think the same thing can be said for art and music, think about the Chicano movement, which relied heavily on art and theater. I understand there’s absolutely nothing funny about the water shortage or food inequity, but if we become so overwhelmed by them, how can we expect them to fit in our pool of worry? It’s by acknowledging the ridiculousness of society that we can accept the absurdity of a situation instead of become outraged by it and come up with the creative solution it needs. I think laughter definitely helps.
-Kayla R.

Comment by KaylaReg

I’ve been surfing online beyond three hours today, yet I never found any interesting article like yours. It’s pretty worth enough to me. In my view, if all website owners and bloggers made good content whenever you did, the internet would be a lot more useful than you ever have.

Comment by http://www.councilforresponsiblegenetics.org/blog/post/Dispute-Escalating-Over-Genetic-Resources.aspx - FAILED, timeout

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