East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Wisecracking heroes and real life

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Let’s have a good laugh, shall we?
Or, rather, let’s talk about laughing.

Yesterday I read a review of a book.
The reviewer was not very merciful in his analysis and basically he confirmed my starting opinion – that I better save my money.
But there was an observation, in that review, that struck a wrong note.

It is not believable that during a zombie pandemic people still feel like joking.

No, I said, this is wrong.


And I know it’s wrong because I grew up with stories filled with wisecracking heroes, of course.
But also because I read a fair selection of history books and memoirs.
And if there seem to be a constant in real life accounts of battles, natural disasters, assorted catastrophes and personal drama, is the fact that humor is a human traits that helps survival.

If it weren’t for the brief respite we give the world with our foolishness, the world would see mass suicide in numbers that compare favorably with the death rate of lemmings. (Groucho Marx)

If we check medical literature, there seems to be a direct connection between humor and resilience, the ability to bounce back when hit hard.
Soldiers, surgeons and nurses, policemen, firemen and emergency personnel – those that face stressful situations in daily life usually show a sense of humor.
Sometimes it’s called a sick sense of humor – but it’s always better than being really sick.
It can be argued that in stressful situations, when humor fails, problems such as depression and PTSD set in.


This does not mean, of course, that trench warfare was a laugh-a-ton or that people walked away from plane crashes telling jokes – but the ability to laugh is indispensable to spark a minimum of hope.

Men and women under stress crack jokes to give themselves – or those around them – courage, to foster a sense of camaraderie, to just put a stop to the wall-to-wall horror coming at them.
Some want to play it cool.
Some try to cheer up their companions.
Some simply go a little crazy not to go crazy big time.

There is more than a grain of truth in the cliché of the wisecracking swashbuckler, of the tough guy slinging barbed one-liners, of the comedy relief character being silly in the face of tragedy.
Claiming that faced with a global catastrophe of Biblical proportion all humor would be gone is failing to see what could grant a hope for survival to the last few men standing.
It means not knowing how people roll.


Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

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