2011/08/05

Flippancy Impaired

It's hopeless.

There's no getting around it, no denying it, and no more pretense left. (Right? Never going to believe it again. Come on, self. You've learned it this time. Right? Right???)

Like a midget who keeps trying out for the basketball team, the deaf mute who wants to be in the opera company, the fat girl who wants to be in the ballet or the anorexic who wants to be a Sumo wrestler, I just can't get it through my thick head.

Stephanie doesn't do trivial. Stephanie is flippancy-impaired. Social dancing around it, and smalltalk sparring ... I just can't do it. Really and truly, I want to. I've wanted to for my whole life. It's obviously a skills set, and skills sets are acquirable - right? Wrong. Just wrong wrong wrong. And you know what's even wronger? Trying to get someone else to be serious. The idiot in the audience who objects to the comedian on the stage - that's me. And what's another name for that person? A heckler. I let myself become a heckler this week. (Go ahead ... kick me under the table. I know I deserve it.)

I'd like to think I'm in good company. After all, C. S. Lewis was no intellectual slouch, and he had a highly developed sense of the absurd and the ironic. Screwtape Letters, The Great Divorce, and all the Chronicles of Narnia -- they're pretty solid proof that the man knew humor. And he didn't do flippant either. The junior tempter, Screwtape, gets letters from his mentor - the devil named Wormwood. And (remembering that "the Enemy" he speaks of is God) Wormwood explains this problem thus:
The real use of Jokes or Humour is in quite a different direction, and it is specially promising among the English who take their "sense of humour" so seriously that a deficiency in this sense is almost the only deficiency at which they feel shame.

Humour is for them the all-consoling and (mark this) the all-excusing, grace of life. Hence it is invaluable as a means of destroying shame. If a man simply lets others pay for him, he is "mean"; if he boasts of it in a jocular manner and twits his fellows with having been scored off, he is no longer "mean" but a comical fellow. Mere cowardice is shameful; cowardice boasted of with humorous exaggerations and grotesque gestures can passed off as funny. Cruelty is shameful—unless the cruel man can represent it as a practical joke. A thousand bawdy, or even blasphemous, jokes do not help towards a man's damnation so much as his discovery that almost anything he wants to do can be done, not only without the disapproval but with the admiration of his fellows, if only it can get itself treated as a Joke. And this temptation can be almost entirely hidden from your patient by that English seriousness about Humour. Any suggestion that there might be too much of it can be represented to him as "Puritanical" or as betraying a "lack of humour".

But flippancy is the best of all. In the first place it is very economical. Only a clever human can make a real Joke about virtue, or indeed about anything else; any of them can be trained to talk as if virtue were funny. Among flippant people the Joke is always assumed to have been made. No one actually makes it; but every serious subject is discussed in a manner which implies that they have already found a ridiculous side to it. If prolonged, the habit of Flippancy builds up around a man the finest armour-plating against the Enemy that I know, and it is quite free from the dangers inherent in the other sources of laughter. It is a thousand miles away from joy it deadens, instead of sharpening, the intellect; and it excites no affection between those who practice it,

Your affectionate uncle,
SCREWTAPE

Okay. Fine. But what do you call a person who knows this and keep trying to participate anyway? Who goes to the show and tries to stop the performer?

A heckler, that's who. A heckler who needs, for some perverse reason, to try to get the performer to be serious. ---- Next time I stand in line for tickets at life's comedy club, will someone please smack me? Seriously. A distraction at best, and a useless and unwinnable conflict at worst, and for what? Sheesh!

Hi, everyone. I'm Stephanie, and I'm flippancy impaired.

6 comments:

Fred said...

Flippancy is my spiritual gift.

Stephanie said...

I shall endeavor not to heckle.

Missy Hempe said...

I'm sure this has nothing to do with your article here, but small talk and dancing around the "lighter side" of things in conversation is a skill that can be learned. Being too "intense" is often a result of too much tension and seriousness when you were growing up. It's well known that many kids from intense family backgrounds have to teach themselves how to be flippant, silly, etc. I studied carefully for many years to learn how to interact like my silly friends. ;) I still feel like I'm always the most intense person in a room and wish people would be more serious. Now to clarify, I am NOT saying that I think you are unable to be flippant because of family dysfunction . . . you're on your own for that one - I'm just saying why *I* find it difficult. :)

Stephanie said...

I know what you're talking about, Missy ... and I did kind of go through that for a few years. Now, though, my sense of the absurd and the ridiculous has won out, and some stuff's just funny. That comedian on the stage picking someone out of the audience to publicly rib, poke at, and generally humiliate, though? Yeah. Not funny to me. I oughta know better than to take a place at the table.

Marchi Wierson said...

now, I know you have a sense of humor because I am your cousin and you are the only one besides me who remembers mr. picklehead. perhaps a more selective choosing process would be in order for your source of humor entertainment. anyway one could say your flippancy is seriously funny.

Stephanie said...

Well, if you're going to bring Mr. Picklehead into it ...!

(And as to your proposed remedy for the situation, I will just say that I reached the same conclusion, took appropriate action, and now do my laughing outdoors instead of in the smoky club. Hilarious, I do. Absurdity is my friend. But flippancy? Meh.)