Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The shock factor

This is a word that the British are familiar with.
There are certain factions of well-known British comedy which are only funny precisely because of their irreverence.
Think Benny Hill or the 'Carry On' films.
Some might be bordering on the offensive, some might be erotic, some might even be racist or sexist.
British comedy is known primarily for its naughtiness. Combined with feigned innocence, usually over the top.
These guys are kings of the double entendre.
The kind of stuff that would make your hair curl, as we say.
The kind of stuff that is forbidden, at least in polite company.
Stuff that would make your grandma put both hands to her cheeks, but smile at nonetheless.


is exactly what I mean. And it is the cleanest one I could find. Barabara Windsor, Kenneth Williams, Sid James. The British Royalty of Toilet Humour.

On a related note, has anyone read the crime thrillers of British writer James Hadley Chase?
Interestingly, most of his books are written in 'American' style, and most are in fact set in the US.
JHC is a great writer. I absolutely LOVE his writing style.
It strikes me however, that perhaps the reason I love his style has something to do with the fact that he loves to 'shock'.
Which makes most of his plots so amusing.
But some just end up freaking you out on many levels. If you have ever read 'No orchids for Miss Blandish' you will know exactly what I am talking about...

Children are naturally irreverent. You know, the whole bodily accoustics thing seems to tickle their fancy. Until society trains them otherwise. And even so, girls seem to outgrow this sort of thing much faster than boys :-)
Adults who are irreverent are in three categories only:

1. They had a frontal lobe removed or damaged in some freak accident or procedure. Has anyone met a person who had a frontal lobotomy? The disinhibition is staggering to behold.

2. They are British comedians as above.

3. They are men.

Say what?
I am not kidding.
I am not one for generalising usually, but I shall have to make an exception here :-)
All men do this. Even the so-called 'nice boys'.

Every boy and man I know has done this. And every boy or man I don't know has done this.
It starts in childhood and it never quite ceases.
A couple I know has two little boys aged 5 and 3. I went to theirs for dinner once. It was early evening on a summer's day. It was bath time for the boys shortly after my arrival. Big mistake.
After their bath, both boys proceeded to run around the entire house naked determined to show Auntie Spacetraveller their 'friends'.
Mum was scandalised. And the boys knew this. I could tell by the expression on their faces. They were loving it that Mum was so embarrassed. I soon realised that it was the shock factor that they were relishing. The more Mum and I acted shocked, the more they did it and the more they howled with laughter.
These were Mum's exasperated words to the boys:
'Didn't we talk about this, boys? What did I tell you about showing your _______ to the girls?'

Ah. So it had happened before. Presumably at playschool or kindergarten.
Dad was not bothered by this stunt. He seemed proud of his mini-mes. He was enjoying this as much as his sons.
Mum couldn't stop apologising. Which amused me somewhat.

A 5 year old does that and it's amusing. A 35 year old does that and it's either 'hello alpha' or '911'.
Context, as they say is everything.

I have noticed that in the same way that women like to 'mock complain' about men they like or love, men like to 'tease' women. They really enjoy making a woman blush or wince. The more she blushes the better. Is this a form of 'negging' by any chance?
If they like a woman this may be done in good humour, as in 'Are those real?'
If they don't, it could be quite unpleasant as in 'Nice dress, my elderly aunt's got one just like it'.
And it really depends on the sense of humour of the woman in question and the nature of the relationship with the man.
Again, context is everything.
If done right :-)
If done clumsily :-(

My former boss was once trying to get me to be time-efficient. He is super talented in this. He crams more into an hour than I would manage in a day. In trying to get me to understand how to utilise my time better, he advised me to follow his example.
'Even when I am ___________ my wife, I am planning my next presentation'.

Total embarrassment especially as others were well within earshot.
But I guess that was the whole point.
Blush or wince.
He and I got along great, but we were not on those kinds of terms. He was not my 'buddy'.
It was uncalled for.
This is the sort of thing that could get a man into trouble if done in the wrong context.
We are both British with suitably irreverent humour, so I did not show I was offended. But I was.
Even though I knew he meant no harm. And he is like that. Totally irreverent.
The same thing said to me by a male 'buddy' however would have been viewed in an entirely different manner.

I wondered if this 'shock factor' thing was some kind of male 'fitness' test. I now believe it is not. Because men don't do fitness tests. Again I ask - is this a form of negging? If so, why neg a woman one is not interested in romantically?
Or is it simply 'saying it as it is'.
Or 'speaking one's mind'.

Which brings me to another important point.
All the 'feminine etiquette' rules consider 'plain speaking' in a woman as a 'no-no'.
I see why.
Because it is very much a masculine trait.
Like swearing.
Not to say women don't or shouldn't swear.
But women are certainly punished more severely for it than men. Just like 'women who speak their mind' are labelled in unfavourable terms.

This 'plain speaking' trait of men can be a source of distress to women. Because of the shock factor it entails. So in this case, it is not so much blush or wince but cry :-(
On some level a woman goes courting trouble when she asks a man, 'does my bum look big in this?' because she definitely does not want to hear the brutal truth. But she doesn't want a man who will fail this test by overpedestalising her either. The clever men know when to keep their mouths shut :-)

I remember a scene in 'Sex and the city' when Carrie Bradshaw tells 'The Russian' that her friend Samantha has just been diagnosed with breast cancer.
The Russian deems it appropriate at that precise time to tell Carrie of his own female friend who had been diagnosed with breast cancer and who had subsequently died from it.
Carrie did not need to hear that story at that time. She was visibly frightened for her friend Samantha, and did not need to be reminded of the possibility that her friend might die.
Try as she might, she just couldn't get The Russian to understand this.
In the end, Carrie gave up.
The Russian was not wrong. People with cancer die all the time. But Carrie did not need the facts at that particular moment. Omission or 'bending of the truth' would have been a kinder strategy by The Russian.

I had a similar experience. I was in conversation with a male friend about a family friend's adult son who had learning difficulties and whose loving mother was hoping to find him a wife.
This is a dear family friend's son. He is practically my brother.
My male friend found nothing wrong in telling me that in his country, they would lob off my 'brother's _________s off in double quick time because he is disabled.
Fair enough. I know that happens in certain societies. But I was disproportionately hurt to hear this about my 'brother'. Perhaps illogically so, yes. But there we are. Like Carrie, I gave up. I knew I was indulging in a futile exercise :-)
I just know that I would never have had had this experience had I been talking to another woman. Unless they meant to hurt my feelings.
Plain speaking.
Gentlemen, please take it easy :-)

And while we are on this subject, a question: what is the explanation for this trait in men? Is 'plain speaking' just another facet of 'logical thinking'?


Anonymous said...

I recall an interview with Dustin Hoffman about his role in Tootsie, where he described trying to find the character's voice. He said he had work with the director and the scriptwriter to change Dorothy Michaels' dialog.

In order for her to sound more like a woman than a man speaking falsetto, many of her statements were rephrased to end as questions.

Instead of, "Red is a beautiful color," she'd say, "Red is a beautiful color, don't you think?"


Anonymous said...

Correction: "Don't you think red is a beautiful color?"

This line may not have been in the film, but this was in the interview, as best I recall.


Spacetraveller said...

@ Bill,

Yes. A question always sounds less abrupt than a statement...don't you think?


Anonymous said...

I fully admit I taught my boys all the dirty words while my wife wasn't around. I figured I was going to get blamed for it anyway....

Seriously, I cannot speak for anyone else, but there is something to be said for shock/irreverence. Of course, mostly I'm irrelevant, not irreverent.

The Navy Corpsman

Spacetraveller said...

@ NC,

Would you have done the same if you had daughters?

Anonymous said...

Yup, although I also realize that their mother would have been the automatic role model due to gender. The key would have been to know when to quit, which would be something I'd watch my children carefully for, for clues. I did that with the boys, and started about four or five years old, shortly before they began school, teaching them how the funny words might still be funny, but only in certain places and certain times, and that school was definitely not one of those places.

Sure, there were embarrassing moments. Sure, I got the 'look' from my wife more than once. But the boys and I had a lot of fun, making fun of the 'rules', and that's memories and good times that will live forever in my mind and theirs. My wife also knew that it was fun sometimes to break rules, especially when no one else was around to see it (coughcough).

But there are rules that are inviolable, like the time my eldest made fun of a kid with cerebral palsy. He didn't sit down for a week. His second eldest son recently made fun of a child with Down's. He didn't sit down for a week. Knowing which rules to bend/break is the hard part of parenting... and sometimes, the fun part, too.

The Navy Corpsman

Spacetraveller said...

@ NC,

"...there is something to be said for shock/irreverence."
Could you please elaborate?

Why do I get the feeling I am about to be educated on something I have never ever heard before? :-)

Anonymous said...

Spacetraveller said...

"Could you please elaborate?

Why do I get the feeling I am about to be educated on something I have never ever heard before? :-)"

It's simple enough. A particular set of rules, more or less arbitrary, designate toilet humor as a low form of entertainment, less classy, or whatever description you care to assign to it. My basic assertion is, entertainment is itself its own reward, that laughing, regardless of the subject of laughter, is good for humans. Granted, there are exceptions, we don't laugh at another person's illness or infirmity. Some comedians say nothing is sacred, however.

But shocking humor still makes us think, as well as sometimes making us laugh... as long as no one gets hurt, why not make up a fart joke? Irreverence for established rules can be taken to extremes, certainly, but questioning authority has produced a lot of growth in human society, as history has shown, repeatedly.

Some people say art should make us think, that challenging preconceptions or rules is how we grow as a sentient species. Is not comedy an art form, more or less? Leaving aside the snide wine and cheese crowd, comedy has always been a mirror held up by a few philosophers to the accepted norms of society. Look at Dante and his Divine Comedy, Socrates and his celebrated form of argument. Just because they're now considered to be classic examples of human thought, does not mean they weren't funny in their day. Diogenes and his lamp, searching for an honest man...

Throughout history, humor has often been the only approved method of challenging human society to examine itself. Freedom of speech is relatively new, and actually quite rare, worldwide. Yet even in repressive regimes such as Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany, or Communist Russia, humor could not be shut down, even with the most brutal of dictators.

Does this mean all comedy is of such grand elegant societal examination? Of course not, nor should it be. Sometimes, a good belly laugh is the best reward of all.

The Navy Corpsman

Spacetraveller said...

@ NC,

I see. Interesting.
Thanks for the explanation.