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    Censoring Humor is No laughing Matter

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    American poet, novelist, and short story writer Charles Bukowski once said, censorship is the tool of those who have the need to hide actualities from themselves and from others. Their fear is only their inability to face what is real, and I can’t vent any anger against them; I only feel this appalling sadness. Somewhere in their upbringing, they were shielded against the total facts of our existence. (Bukowski)

    Bukowski is saying censorship only works to hide reality and is essentially masking the truth. He is saying the only reason censorship is even employed is that some people cannot face reality and they don’t want to perceive reality. This is a result of them being protected from the truth and now they want to keep hiding the truth both from themselves and from everyone else.

    This is important to lawmaking especially, as no country is truly free without all of its citizens having the freedom to speak their thoughts. Humor is a useful and arguably essential tool to have available as it provides many benefits both for individuals and for the public. Because humor is important to the wellbeing and development of society as well as the mental and physical wellbeing of the individual, humor should not be censored by the government.

    Some people may argue that not all humor should be censored, only the offensive humor. However, this would only serve to degrade the quality of some comedians. As noted by Susan Seizer in her article, “On the Uses of Obscenity in Live Stand-Up Comedy,” which details how obscenities are used in comedy and what effect this has on those explicit words, “Obscenity in these performances serves to heighten and intensify the expression of the speaker’s perspective, affect, and experience” (Seizer 230).

    This is to say that foul language is used to improve comedy by putting more emphasis on a certain topic or punch line. Censoring humor by removing obscenities would cause many humor routines to lose some, if not all, of their comedic impact which would also cause the audience to suffer from a worse performance. This can all lead to the comedian doing worse financially thus damaging them mentally as financial stress can, and often does lead to mental stress.

    This can lead to many comedians pursuing different occupations as a necessity which would deprive the public of potential hours of entertainment and stress relief. Seizer asserts in her article that by putting regulations on the type of language comedians are allowed to use, the regulating entities, such as the FCC or network television stations, are ironically giving obscenitites more power as it is common for a taboo to garner a much larger reaction than a non-banned subject. In fact, as stated in Seizer’s article,

    By using swear words in consistently idiomatic, non-denotational, and non-referential ways […] comedians provide nightly refutations of what Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the court in FCC v. Fox Television Stations 2009, has ruled impossible to use words like fuck and shit to do something other than evoke sexual or excretory images. (Seizer 210)

    This is to say the more these words are used in non-literal ways, the less their literal definition is thought of when they are used. Censoring these words would only strengthen their negative effects and would only serve to degrade the lives of the comedians and audience alike.

    Censoring comedy can lead to a decreased understanding or discussion of the law. Peter Goodrich, in “The Importance of Being Earnest: Satire and the Criticism of Law,” a work analyzing the use of, or lack thereof, satire in the analysis of law wrote, “Put in terms of the rhetoric of genre, satire is the opposite of the solemnity of law.”

    Being the opposite of solemn, which is serious and not cheerful, using satire is necessarily a less serious and less depressing method of examining the law. The ability to examine any subject from multiple points of views allows for new understandings of that subject, thus allowing the examiner, the general public, more opportunity to fund flaws and areas of improvement. This is significant for multiple reasons.

    Being able to analyze how they are being governed is important for the freedom of the public and the protection of the public’s rights as it allows them to observe if something is unfair or unjust. Additionally, it allows for a comedic release of stress brought upon by laws deemed bad or simply annoying which can help a person cope with anger or frustration they may have towards certain laws.

    As briefly mentioned, comedy can be beneficial to the mental health of humans. Kruczek and Basińska write, in their work “Humor, Stress and Coping in Adults,” an article analyzing how humor is used by adults to help reduce stress and how effective it is, “Coping with stress using humor depends on gender and age and is positively correlated with adaptive coping stress style and coping strategies and negatively with sense of stress” (Kruczek Basińska 181). Although its efficacy varies from individual to individual, humor overall helps with coping with and reducing a person’s levels of stress.”

    Additionally, the study shows that older people are more likely to use and benefit from using humor to deal with stress and if their type of humor would be censored, they would not only lose an effective coping mechanism, their differing views on certain topics would be lost to the public thus diminishing the amount of available discussion on certain matters. By restricting the available methods of a population’s stress relief, that population will suffer from increased stress and decreased mental states.

    In addition to helping with stress relief, humor can be used as an effective tool in therapeutic communication. In an article studying how humor can be used as an effective tool for therapy, “Humor: An Essential Communication Tool in Therapy,” written by Sophia F Dziegielewski et al., it is written:

    For example, during formal training on HIV/AIDS, instructors are encouraged to use humor ever possible. According to these trainers, the use of humor counseling arena can be one of the “most effective icebreakers” it can be utilized as a bonding tool, and it can relieve the immense tension from the ever so serious situation that the client faces. (Sophia et al. 75-76)

    Humor, when used correctly, is an effective instrument for getting people to lower their gaurds in order to have deeper more meaningful conversations which can also have benefits in an individual’s private life. The article goes on to say “humor can be integrated in the therapeutic process as a method of enhancing catharsis” (Sophia et al. 80).

    Catharsis is the process of releasing strong and often repressed emotions which is greatly beneficial to a person’s mental status (Google). If humor were to be restricted on subjective bases such as trying to censor sex or violence, then these issues will be made harder to deal with as there would be no chance of a professional employing these important and effective methods.

    Humor can also have practical effects in education. In their article about the effects of humor and how humor is perceived in traditional learning environments, “Is Humor an Appreciated Learning Tool?” Sarah E. Torok, Robert F. McMorris and Wen-Chi Lin, wrote “When asked about the potential out comes of using humor in the classroom, students mentioned that humor has the power to make teachers more likeable, facilitate understanding of course material, lower tension, boost student morale, and increase student attentiveness” (18).

    The use of humor has been shown to help capture students’ attention and create a more friendly environment in the classroom as well as creating a better relationship between teacher and student. This not only helps the students learn and relax more, it also helps out the teacher. In “Is Humor an Appreciated Learning Tool?”, it is stated,

    The thought of holding the attention of twenty, fifty, or sometimes one hundred or more students might make even the most confident teacher leery, If teachers want students to learn, then they should consider making learning more palatable, even enjoyable. (Torok et al. 14)

    If both the teacher and the students are in a good mood learning is made easier. This is due a happier student being more likely to be more attentive to the lecture and a more mentally healthy teacher is more likely to deliver a higher quality more comprehensible lecture making the learning process even easier. Unfortunately, some people still hold the old belief that humor is unprofessional and has not place in a formal education setting.

    John Morreall writes in his article, “Humor, Philosophy, and Education,” an examination of humor’s role and its perception in philosophy and formal education, “The child with musical talent may be sent to the music room, and the on with artistic ability may go to the art room, but the child with a good sense of humor is sent to the principal’s office” (120). He was alluding to the point that classrooms often try to suppress humor as it is seen solely a distraction and nothing more.

    Morreall then states the fact that school is supposed to prepare its students for adulthood and the outside world. Despite this, by discouraging and even stigmatizing humor in the classroom children are being deprived of an essential tool and character trait necessary for a well-rounded human being. If comedy were to be censored in the classroom it would only serve to lower the quality of learning and limit its potential as well as to deprive kids and young adults of a necessary skill required to create greater social bonds. In fact, the importance of humor in development is reiterated in an article about humor’s role in positive psychology.

    Kim R. Edwards and Rod A. Martin said in “The Conceptualization, Measurements and Role of Humor as a Character Strength in Positive Psychology,” an article analyzing studies of humor’s role in the development of humans, that humor is one of the important character strengths in the VIA that a human should have in order to be successful and in good a good mental state (05).

    The VIA classification is an inventory of strengths that enable humans to prosper and be overall well-functioning well rounded individuals. Humor is an integral part of being a human socially and mentally. Thus, if humor were to be censored this would have negative effects on the development of humans as well as having a negative impact on society as many people use humor as a social skill to bond with others and to entertain.

    Aside from aiding in learning, humor can also have positive effects in the workplace. The article “How Workplace Fun Influences Employees’ Performances: The Role of Person-Organization Value Congruence,” written by Jie Tang, Min-Shi Liu, and Wen-Bin Liu, details an investigation on how fun affects people in the workplace and says this about managements’ views on fun and its uses in regards to employees, “An increasing number of managers have incorporated humor and play into the workplace endeavoring to help employees experience fun at work, by encouraging them to participate in activities such as celebrations, birthday parties, or camping” (1788).

    This is due to the fact that adding in fun to the workplace actually increases not only a worker’s motivation but also his/her productivity. The article includes a study that shows that the higher the perceived workplace fun the higher the job performance. This is due to similar reasons that humor in the classroom increases students’ attentiveness and performance. When fun is introduced into the workplace, employees, much like students, build a friendlier relationship with their superiors which reduces stress levels among employees.

    In turn, amore relaxed employee is more likely to enjoy their occupation and the more they like what they do the more they are likely to do it and do it well. A large part of having fun, in most social circles, is cracking jokes with and about workplace buddies, school peers, friends, family, etc. Some may argue that jokes are not necessary to have fun, but as pointed out by Tang et al, perceived fun can be influenced by outside factors such as culture.

    This means that not everyone has fun in the same way and by decreasing the available means of enjoyment there is an increase in the likelihood that less employees will have fun which not only negate the desired effects of a more fun workplace, but it will also decrease motivation and productivity as the stress of being excluded by a person’s coworkers can add to that person’s existing work related stress leading to a further decreased mental state.

    By censoring humor in the workplace, because of the thought that jokes are inappropriate in a professional setting, the employees would suffer as they would have a diminished means of relieving stress and having fun as well as constantly worrying about watching what they say even if it’s a lighthearted and harmless joke among friends and coworkers.

    It can be argued that politicians may maliciously use humor in order to persuade the public in situations where they would normally not be persuaded in comparison to its mental health benefits. Humor may be a good bonding tool but it is not effective at persuading as using humor as a persuasion tool has no observable significant effects.

    According to “Effects of Humor on Persuasion,” an article researching and analyzing what effects humor has on persuasion attempts, written by Dorothy Markiewicz, a researcher at the Brock University Department of Psychology, “Since the majority of the research reviewed has yielded non-significant results, one is faced with the question of whether humor in face has no significant effects on persuasion” (419).

    Although Markiewicz admits that the studies themselves may have been employed in sub-optimal conditions the results still indicate that using humor as an attempt to better persuade someone does not overall yield positive results. In fact, humor can often be detrimental to persuasive attempts. This is because if the humor employed is too complex or references something unknown and/or obscure the message can often be lost to the audience; additionally, using too much humor in a professional setting can lead to the speaker’s audience perceiving them as untrustworthy, because the speaker is making a joke in or about a serious situation implying the speaker does not take it seriously (Markiewicz 411).

    Though the article shbows studies having both positive and negative effects on persuasion when using humor as a tool, the overall results are negligible and statistically insignificant, leading to the logical conclusion that humor is not a generally effective persuasive implement. Therefore, if humor has no significant effect on persuasion then it cannot be successfully argued that humor should be censored as that would achieve nothing and only take away the other benefits humor provides.

    Censoring humor in any regards will most likely only lead to negative effects and whatever few, if any, positives result from its censorship are heavily outweighed by the detriments. Censoring leads to a loss of information, discussion, and form of stress relief which can only be bad to society. Although there can be seemingly valid arguments as to why some forms of humor should be censored and/or illegal there are many more reasons why it should not be.

    People’s sensibilities may be affected but a few hurt feelings is no reason to ruin humor for everyone else. In fact, more benefit can be derived from the enjoyment of humor than detriment from those who are offended by it and other than the chance to offend someone, humor has no real downsides and in fact cannot be effectively used for bad or detrimental reasons.

    The only thing censorships will achieve is the stripping of rights and the loss of important tools. In the wise words of Lois Lowry, “Submitting to censorship is to enter the seductive world of ‘The Giver’: the world where there are no bad words and no bad deeds. But it is also the world where choice has been taken away and reality distorted. And that is the most dangerous world of all.”


    Works Cited

    1. Dziegielewski, Sophia F., et al. “Humor: An Essential Communication Tool in Therapy.” International Journal of Mental Health, vol. 32, no. 3, 2003, pp. 74-90. JSTOR. Accessed 25 Nov. 2018. Accessed 24 Nov. 2018
    2. Edwards, Kim R., and Rod A. Martin. ‘The Conceptualization, Measurement, and Role of Humor as a Character Strength in Positive Psychology.’ Europe’s Journal of Psychology, vol. 10, no. 3, 2014, pp. 505-19. EBSCOhost, doi:10.5964/ejop.v10i3.759. Accessed 14 Nov. 2018
    3. Goodrich, Peter. ‘The Importance of Being Earnest: Satire and the Criticism of Law.’ Social Semiotics, vol. 15, no. 1, Apr. 2005, pp. 43-58. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1080/10350330500059122. Accessed 14 Nov. 2018
    4. Kruczek, Agnieszka, and Anna M. Basińska. ‘Humor, Stress and Coping in Adults.’ Advances in Psychiatry & Neurology, vol. 27, no. 3, 2018, pp. 181-95. EBSCOhost, doi:10.5114/ppn.2018.78712. Accessed 14 Nov. 2018
    5. Markiewicz, Dorothy. ‘Effects of Humor on Persuasion.’ Sociometry, vol. 37, no. 3, Sept. 1974, pp. 407-22. JSTOR, doi:10.2307/2786391. Accessed 24 Nov. 2018.
    6. Morreall, John. ‘Humor, Philosophy and Education.’ Educational Philosophy and Theory, vol. 46, no. 2, 2014, pp. 120-31. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1080/00131857.2012.721735. Accessed 25 Nov. 2018.
    7. Seizer, Susan. ‘On the Uses of Obscenity in Live Stand-Up Comedy.’ Anthropological Quarterly, vol. 84, no. 1, 2011, pp. 209-34. JSTOR. Accessed 25 Nov. 2018.
    8. Tang, Jie, et al. ‘How Workplace Fun Influences Employees’ Performance: The Role of Person-Organization Value Congruence.’ Social Behavior & Personality: An International Journal, vol. 45, no. 11, 2017, pp. 1787-801. EBSCOhost, doi:10.2224/sbp.6240. Accessed 25 Nov. 2018.
    9. Torok, Sarah E., et al. ‘Is Humor an Appreciated Teaching Tool? Perceptions of Professors’ Teaching Styles and Use of Humor.’ College Teaching, vol. 52, no. 1, 2004, pp. 14-20. JSTOR. Accessed 25 Nov. 2018.

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