Sunday, March 22, 2009

No wonder it's getting harder...

As I stare another Farm Journal deadline in the face, the paucity of new material weighs on me.  After 15 years of humor, I've covered many acres of farm humor. I enjpy the work, but recently discovered a new appreciation for the fact it is work.

All humorists approach the task differently. At the risk of being self-serving, I have tried to avoid three topics:
  • Manure jokes - done to death, folks.  The fact that we handle animal waste and others don't ceased to tickle me at about age 12.
  • Ditzy females - too many farm humor articles are about women trying to do work for which they are poorly prepared and unkindly measured.  Self-denigrating humor by female farm writers (I left the gate open and the cows all got out...) does poor credit to the thousands of female farmers who by ingenuity and perseverance rise to meet the challenges of our male-dominated profession.
  • Unsafety - Stupid farmer tricks.  We lose too many farmers and children to thinking scorn for safety measures is a mark of manliness or ability.
In the end though, I do note a familiarity in my work - repetitive patterns of humor.  I just found out why.

Evolutionary theorist Alastair Clarke has today published details of eight patterns he claims to be the basis of all the humour that has ever been imagined or expressed, regardless of civilization, culture or personal taste.
Clarke has stated before that humour is based on the surprise recognition of patterns but this is the first time he has identified the precise nature of the patterns involved, addressing the deceptively simple unit and context relationships at their foundation. His research goes on to demonstrate the universality of the theory by showing how these few basic patterns are recognized in more than a hundred different types of humour.
Clarke explains: "One of the most beautiful things about the theory is that, while denying all previous theories, it also unites them for the first time. For decades researchers have concentrated on limited areas of humour and have each argued for causality based on their specific interest. Now that we have pattern recognition theory, all previous explanations are accommodated by a single over-arching concept present in all of them.
"The eight patterns divide into two main categories. The first four are patterns of fidelity, by which we recognize the repetition of units within the same context, and the second four are patterns of magnitude, by which we recognize the same unit repeated in multiple contexts.
"What this all means is that the basic faculty of pattern recognition equips us to compare multiple units for their appropriateness within a certain context, effectively selecting the best tool for the job, and then to apply our chosen unit to as wide a range of contexts as possible, effectively discovering the largest number of jobs that tool is good for.
"Basically humour is all about information processing, accelerating faculties that enable us to analyse and then manipulate incoming data."
Clarke lists the patterns that are active in humour as positive repetition, division, completion, translation, applicative and qualitative recontextualization, opposition and scale. [More]

This kind of deep thought drains much of the fun, don't you think?

Lemme see.  Stop me if you've heard this: A farmer, a corn borer, and Pamela Anderson walk into a bar...


Anonymous said...

I've been reading your FJ posts for at least 10 years and the blog for a couple of years. Our backgrounds are somewhat different; I grew up on a tobacco farm, got an engineering degree and went to work in the lumber business, but so many of the things you make fun of are the things that those who have lived close to the land can identify with. You make us laugh at ourselves much like Mark Twain. Your response to 9-11 was the best journalism on that event that I have read. I got my children to read it because it offered hope in a time of senselessness.

John Phipps said...


I am humbled by your very kind words. My writing has become increasingly important to me, and comments like yours lift my aim to do (as I say on USFR) "even better".

Thank you for reading my work.