Humor as a Form of Cultural Expression
How can one look at a culture and understand its origins, its values, its accomplishments and failures? Through art, poetry, or other literary, or scientific advances? Maybe even in its political standpoints? All of these methods are acceptable. There is one I did not mention in the above list however. It can be considered trivial by some, but I think it is also important. Perhaps we can understand a culture by its humor.
Even on the surface the jokes of a country generally reflect its habitat, attitude, and its people. In the US for instance, most jokes you hear on late-night television would probably be political ones, bashing this political figure or the next. Why is this so? Perhaps because Americans have strong feelings about the politics in their country, and have the right of free speech. Because of the former the jokes come about, and because of the latter they are aired on national television. As for reflecting the environment, another popular collection of American jokes usually starts with the words “A guy walks into a bar ...” Just by looking at this “prefix” we can see that many Americans spend a lot of time in bars. Thus we see the usual “environment” of all important occurrences in the daily life of an American. In the USSR, most jokes would take place in a store or marketplace, because that is where people spent most of their time -- waiting in lines.
A joke is as much of a national expression as folk stories, tales and legends. Except those three talk about past times, and the joke is current. I originally come from the former Soviet Union, and there the joke was an even more popular media than television, art or books. It was not censored by the government, while the others were. I, as well as most others, have amassed a large collection of jokes on topics ranging from food (and lack of it), to movies, to politics, even the Army. Everything had a joke attached to it. All present conditions and future beliefs were expressed in those jokes. For example, the strive toward communism became a major topic. (There was never any communism in the USSR per-se, there was only socialism which was considered a mid-point between capitalism and communism. The goal of perfect communism was always the promised future.) Some jokes described the promises that were made by the government from the beginning of the state to its very end. For example : “Communism is on the horizon comrades! The definition of horizon : ‘an imaginary line that can never be reached’ .” Another joke was expresses the present as well as the future : “The Communist Man of the future will have very small arms, since all work will be done for him by machines. He will have very small legs, since free and efficient transportation will be provided everywhere. He will have a very small mouth, because he will not have to chew since all food will be provided in the form of small nutritious pills. He will have a very large head,...