If You Have to Explain It, It’s Not Funny

My favorite light bulb jokes are these:

How many teamsters does it take to change a light bulb? Ten. You gotta problem with that?

How many feminists does it take to change a light bulb? It’s not funny.

The second came to mind after reading a couple posts about the video that’s gone viral with the academic conducting an interview at home and cameras show his children bursting into his office. Thankfully, Kristen Du Mez offered but did not endorse a gendered reading of the video. She finds it funny but knows that feminists would take the humor right out of it:

Did you think this was a tragically funny moment that we can all relate to? Silly you. This is nothing less than a perfect illustration of white, male privilege.

Leave it to feminists to ruin our fun.

Laugh it up, they say. But what about the poor woman who skids in, a look of horror on her face as the gravity of the situation becomes painfully, irreversibly, and universally apparent in that moment that will live in infamy? She grabs the kids and wrangles them out of the room. But the door. And so she must reappear, this time crawling on hands and knees.

What should we make of all this? Who is this woman? How should we respond, after the fits of laughter eventually subside? Is she the children’s mother? Or is she the nanny? Does it make a difference? Why would we even think she might be the nanny? Her youth? Her race? What assumptions are we imposing on this series of unfortunate events? (She is, in fact, his wife. The agility with which she escorted her offspring out of the room should leave little doubt, but further research backs this up.)

Either way, does this scene provide us with the perfect illustration of The Patriarchy? Here we see a Very Important White Man engaged in his public life, while behind the scenes lurk his wife and children. Until the curtain is pulled aside and they burst onto the public stage, where they most certainly and hilariously do not belong. And so they scuttle away.

I wonder if Professor Du Mez, who is writing a book on Hilary Clinton, will connect the dots.

But just as feminists have a hard time laughing, so do evangelicals whose piety keeps them ever so earnest. John Piper exemplifies the trait:

The dictionary defines satire like this: “The use of irony, sarcasm, ridicule, or the like in exposing, denouncing, or deriding vice, folly, etc.” And then, if you look for a definition of irony, which was used to define satire, the definition it gives is this: “The use of words to convey a meaning that is the opposite of its literal meaning.” So satire, then, is a way of exposing folly, foolishness, error, or evil by saying the opposite of what the author really thinks in such a way that, while claiming to support something, it makes it look ludicrous and, therefore, undermines the attitude or the activity.

Now, in deciding whether it is wise to use satire or irony we should ask, Does the Bible use it in a way that commends it? And, if so, when might it be appropriate, and when not? And, are there other biblical exhortations that would put the brakes on it or guide it, minimize it, maximize it? So, the answer to that first question is Job, the prophets, Jesus, Paul — they all used satire. They all used irony to expose the folly of the people they were dealing with.

Pastor Piper, can’t I enjoy a bit of fun?

So here’s my attempt:

How many evangelicals does it take to change a light bulb? Three. One to pray while one holds the ladder for one who replaces the bulb.

How many fundamentalists does it take to change a light bulb? Four. One to keep two others from fighting while another replaces the bulb.

Image

About D. G. Hart

D. G. Hart lives in Michigan with his wife, Ann, and their two cats, Isabelle and Cordelia, where he teaches history at Hillsdale College. Hart used to be an East-Coast snob (though he still roots for the Phillies) but while living in a small mid-western town he has learned that life exists outside the Northeast Corridor.
He is currently completing a global history of Calvinism and plans to write books on H. L. Mencken and American religion, and on Roman Catholicism and American conservatism.