Such jokes fall flat on their face today.  One needs to be a history major to understand them.  I remember that, in my teens, I was not catching some of the jokes in the early Bugs Bunny cartoons – a classic reference being the newspaper headline in the cartoon “The Old Grey Hare” that said: Bing Crosby’s Horse Has Not Come in Yet (1:40).

At the time I watched that cartoon in the ’70s, I had to assume that the headline had originally been funny when it came out in the ’40s, but that was long before my own time, and I knew I was missing something.  It would not be until decades later that I found out what the Crosby joke referred to, thanks to the internet – namely, Crosby was infamous for investing in failed racehorses.

The classic, Arsenic and Old Lace, showed a lunatic who thinks he is Teddy Roosevelt, who charges up the staircase and later tells the hero (Cary Grant) that, after he retires from the presidency, the name of Roosevelt will no longer be heard in Washington anymore.  Needless to say, the movie was made during Franklin Roosevelt’s administration.  A jocular reference to the Afrikaans veldt in the movie was probably obscure even in the 1940s.  One needs to be graduate student in history to catch all the humor.

Aggravating the problem is today’s politically correct tendency to edit out or censor some of these oldies because of ethnic, racial, and gender sensibilities.  This can backfire.  The once popular Speedy Gonzales is considered politically offensive and racist by our betters today.  However, it turns out that Latin-Americans still love Speedy Gonzales, who always outwitted the Americano cat.  Latin groups lobbied to have Speedy returned to TV and the media.

Of course, some ethnic groups – almost always white – are still allowed to be stereotyped and pilloried, and the reruns of these caricatures remain politically acceptable, such as the Irish cop or the dim-witted WASP.  Oddly, such white groups often embrace (go to 1:30) their own stereotypes rather than decry them.

Upon examination, we can assume that not only does such politics usually interfere with humor, but it is often poisonous. What does this tell us?

It tells us that true humor expresses the human condition rather than a political statement.  The same can be said of drama. Right now, the media are abuzz about the debut of a gay character on Star Trek.  This politically correct brouhaha will date the episode and probably ruin it for posterity.

Great humor usually reflects on timeless themes, avoiding the ups and downs of cultural fads.

This bring us to an astounding fact.  When asked to mention the two greatest comedic achievements of American TV, one would be surprised how often the answer is either I Love Lucy or The Honeymooners.  Neither of these shows was political.

“Lucy” was voted the best show of all time, beating out finalists “Seinfeld,” “M*A*S*H,” “All in the Family” and “Cheers.” All five finalists were comedies.

I have to suspect that The Honeymoooners was in the top ten contending list.  I Love Lucy‘s presence – indeed, her win – does not surprise me at all.  The Honeymooners probably suffered in consideration due to its short run.

M*A*S*H‘s and All in the Family‘s presence does surprise me.  They were highly politicized, and they certainly date. M*A*S*H, though nominally about the Korean War, was actually dealing with the counter-cultural aspects surrounding the ’60s anti-Vietnam War crises.  There is no way that a cross-dressing soldier like Max Klinger would have been treated so “gently” during the ’50s.

As a curiosity, I have found that aficionados of I Love Lucy often disdain The Honeymooners and vice versa.  It seems that each show appealed to a different segment of the audience.  While I can tolerate The Honeymooners, my preference is for I Love Lucy.  I have a dear friend who is the opposite.

I Love Lucy was not only apolitical, but a good-natured series.  There was no vicious humor.  Ethnic jokes were self-effacing and kept to a bare minimum: usually after Ricky would mangle his English to say something like “I can ‘splain,” to which Lucy would reply, “Start ‘splaining.”  The most endearing ethnic joke was when Ricky told the fable of Little Red Riding Hood to his son in Spanish.

The show was just the old eternal War of the Sexes shtick, yet it worked.  Western civilization was given such gems as the Vitameatavegamin routine and the chocolate assembly line routine.  Then there was the Tango routine, which produced the longest studio laugh in television history (start at 9:45).  The legend is that the director even had to trim the laughter down.  The audience was beside itself.

Now, I Love Lucy was long before my day.  It was long in reruns before I started watching it regularly as a teenager.  So I am not going to assert that “my generation” was the apex of American civilization.  Likewise, The Honeymooners was also made before I was born.  Though I disdained my elders at that time, I had enough sense to recognize that I Love Lucy was good – very good.

The reason these shows last is because true art latches unto to something timeless that strikes an eternal chord.  The media during the fifties tried to suppress dissent.  Controversial topics were avoided, and the prudery could reach absurd levels – such as Ricky and Lucy sleeping in different beds.  I do not defend that.  Yet the writers overcame the restrictions.

What developed afterward in subsequent decades went to the other extreme.  Those shows date poorly, like The Mod Squad, famous for its cops who dressed like hippies and whose chief cultural artifact will be Lincoln Hayes saying, “Solid.”  The ’60s were self-absorbed and pretentious.  The 1997 comedy Austin Powers captured the ephemeral conceit and idiocy of the ’60s era.  Oddly, Austin Powers will also date poorly as the memory of the sixties era it mocked fades into the fog of history.

But I Love Lucy has real potential to endure in the popular imagination for centuries.  Its humor caught a nerve in a good-natured way.  So did The Honeymooners, albeit to a different audience.  While Ralph Kramden might have been annoying to watch, who can ever forget Norton addressing a golf ball by saying, “Hello, ball”?  It is fascinating to see how many young people are attracted to this (see comments).

The overbearing control imposed by the then media censors had at least one good result.  It forced the writers to be funny.  They could not rely on shock or vulgarity to carry a mediocre script, as is so common today.  Network censors still exist, though now they cut out any mention of Jesus or morality or any perceived but often nonexistent racism or genderism, except against whites.

This is not to say the ’50s were halcyon days.  They had their problems.  Yes, the TV was a bit too repressed.  Ricky and Lucy should have been allowed to sleep in one bed, and the word “pregnant” should have been allowed when Lucy was expecting.  The networks shamelessly peddled cigarettes, and the Lucy show even peddled its own furniture line.  The South was still practicing Jim Crow segregation.  Life was not perfect.  It never is.

But for that moment in history, TV was forced to concentrate on good-natured shows about the human condition – a condition that exists apart from politics, fads, trends, and crises.  That is why these shows will last, long after more “important” shows are forgotten.

The same is true in photography, painting, and music.  What survives will be that which is good, not politically “important.”  Much of modern art will not survive the test of time.

Philippians 4:8: Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.

What is often ignored is that Paul was appealing to pagan virtues, not merely Christian ones, in that verse.  There are eternal verities discernible to all.  Art, if it is to last, if it wants to be eternal, must appeal to those criteria, not what is politically catchy at the moment.  I Love Lucy was still generating $20 million a year in royalties for CBS in 2012.

Now, one could argue that copyright should not extend that long, but the point remains.  Paul’s advice is good for art, and for the artist who wants to be remembered.

Mike Konrad is the pen name of an American who writes on various topics.  He also just started a website about small computers at http://thetinydesktop.com.

When I was in my very early teens, I remember watching All in the Family.  I thought it was the funniest show on TV at that time.  I watched reruns of it for a while, but by the end of the 1970s, I could not stand it.  Political humor does not date that well.  True comedy is timeless.

It was not that Carroll O’Connor wasn’t quite a talent.  In many ways, he was.  It is rather that the punch lines refer to now forgotten personalities and cultural crises.  How many today under 50 would remember that President Nixon used to be called “Tricky Dick,” and how many would catch the joke when O’Connor’s character Archie Bunker would misstate the then-president’s name as Richard E. Nixon?  (His middle name was Milhous, and the middle initial should have been M.)

Such jokes fall flat on their face today.  One needs to be a history major to understand them.  I remember that, in my teens, I was not catching some of the jokes in the early Bugs Bunny cartoons – a classic reference being the newspaper headline in the cartoon “The Old Grey Hare” that said: Bing Crosby’s Horse Has Not Come in Yet (1:40).

At the time I watched that cartoon in the ’70s, I had to assume that the headline had originally been funny when it came out in the ’40s, but that was long before my own time, and I knew I was missing something.  It would not be until decades later that I found out what the Crosby joke referred to, thanks to the internet – namely, Crosby was infamous for investing in failed racehorses.

The classic, Arsenic and Old Lace, showed a lunatic who thinks he is Teddy Roosevelt, who charges up the staircase and later tells the hero (Cary Grant) that, after he retires from the presidency, the name of Roosevelt will no longer be heard in Washington anymore.  Needless to say, the movie was made during Franklin Roosevelt’s administration.  A jocular reference to the Afrikaans veldt in the movie was probably obscure even in the 1940s.  One needs to be graduate student in history to catch all the humor.

Aggravating the problem is today’s politically correct tendency to edit out or censor some of these oldies because of ethnic, racial, and gender sensibilities.  This can backfire.  The once popular Speedy Gonzales is considered politically offensive and racist by our betters today.  However, it turns out that Latin-Americans still love Speedy Gonzales, who always outwitted the Americano cat.  Latin groups lobbied to have Speedy returned to TV and the media.

Of course, some ethnic groups – almost always white – are still allowed to be stereotyped and pilloried, and the reruns of these caricatures remain politically acceptable, such as the Irish cop or the dim-witted WASP.  Oddly, such white groups often embrace (go to 1:30) their own stereotypes rather than decry them.

Upon examination, we can assume that not only does such politics usually interfere with humor, but it is often poisonous. What does this tell us?

It tells us that true humor expresses the human condition rather than a political statement.  The same can be said of drama. Right now, the media are abuzz about the debut of a gay character on Star Trek.  This politically correct brouhaha will date the episode and probably ruin it for posterity.

Great humor usually reflects on timeless themes, avoiding the ups and downs of cultural fads.

This bring us to an astounding fact.  When asked to mention the two greatest comedic achievements of American TV, one would be surprised how often the answer is either I Love Lucy or The Honeymooners.  Neither of these shows was political.

“Lucy” was voted the best show of all time, beating out finalists “Seinfeld,” “M*A*S*H,” “All in the Family” and “Cheers.” All five finalists were comedies.

I have to suspect that The Honeymoooners was in the top ten contending list.  I Love Lucy‘s presence – indeed, her win – does not surprise me at all.  The Honeymooners probably suffered in consideration due to its short run.

M*A*S*H‘s and All in the Family‘s presence does surprise me.  They were highly politicized, and they certainly date. M*A*S*H, though nominally about the Korean War, was actually dealing with the counter-cultural aspects surrounding the ’60s anti-Vietnam War crises.  There is no way that a cross-dressing soldier like Max Klinger would have been treated so “gently” during the ’50s.

As a curiosity, I have found that aficionados of I Love Lucy often disdain The Honeymooners and vice versa.  It seems that each show appealed to a different segment of the audience.  While I can tolerate The Honeymooners, my preference is for I Love Lucy.  I have a dear friend who is the opposite.

I Love Lucy was not only apolitical, but a good-natured series.  There was no vicious humor.  Ethnic jokes were self-effacing and kept to a bare minimum: usually after Ricky would mangle his English to say something like “I can ‘splain,” to which Lucy would reply, “Start ‘splaining.”  The most endearing ethnic joke was when Ricky told the fable of Little Red Riding Hood to his son in Spanish.

The show was just the old eternal War of the Sexes shtick, yet it worked.  Western civilization was given such gems as the Vitameatavegamin routine and the chocolate assembly line routine.  Then there was the Tango routine, which produced the longest studio laugh in television history (start at 9:45).  The legend is that the director even had to trim the laughter down.  The audience was beside itself.

Now, I Love Lucy was long before my day.  It was long in reruns before I started watching it regularly as a teenager.  So I am not going to assert that “my generation” was the apex of American civilization.  Likewise, The Honeymooners was also made before I was born.  Though I disdained my elders at that time, I had enough sense to recognize that I Love Lucy was good – very good.

The reason these shows last is because true art latches unto to something timeless that strikes an eternal chord.  The media during the fifties tried to suppress dissent.  Controversial topics were avoided, and the prudery could reach absurd levels – such as Ricky and Lucy sleeping in different beds.  I do not defend that.  Yet the writers overcame the restrictions.

What developed afterward in subsequent decades went to the other extreme.  Those shows date poorly, like The Mod Squad, famous for its cops who dressed like hippies and whose chief cultural artifact will be Lincoln Hayes saying, “Solid.”  The ’60s were self-absorbed and pretentious.  The 1997 comedy Austin Powers captured the ephemeral conceit and idiocy of the ’60s era.  Oddly, Austin Powers will also date poorly as the memory of the sixties era it mocked fades into the fog of history.

But I Love Lucy has real potential to endure in the popular imagination for centuries.  Its humor caught a nerve in a good-natured way.  So did The Honeymooners, albeit to a different audience.  While Ralph Kramden might have been annoying to watch, who can ever forget Norton addressing a golf ball by saying, “Hello, ball”?  It is fascinating to see how many young people are attracted to this (see comments).

The overbearing control imposed by the then media censors had at least one good result.  It forced the writers to be funny.  They could not rely on shock or vulgarity to carry a mediocre script, as is so common today.  Network censors still exist, though now they cut out any mention of Jesus or morality or any perceived but often nonexistent racism or genderism, except against whites.

This is not to say the ’50s were halcyon days.  They had their problems.  Yes, the TV was a bit too repressed.  Ricky and Lucy should have been allowed to sleep in one bed, and the word “pregnant” should have been allowed when Lucy was expecting.  The networks shamelessly peddled cigarettes, and the Lucy show even peddled its own furniture line.  The South was still practicing Jim Crow segregation.  Life was not perfect.  It never is.

But for that moment in history, TV was forced to concentrate on good-natured shows about the human condition – a condition that exists apart from politics, fads, trends, and crises.  That is why these shows will last, long after more “important” shows are forgotten.

The same is true in photography, painting, and music.  What survives will be that which is good, not politically “important.”  Much of modern art will not survive the test of time.

Philippians 4:8: Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.

What is often ignored is that Paul was appealing to pagan virtues, not merely Christian ones, in that verse.  There are eternal verities discernible to all.  Art, if it is to last, if it wants to be eternal, must appeal to those criteria, not what is politically catchy at the moment.  I Love Lucy was still generating $20 million a year in royalties for CBS in 2012.

Now, one could argue that copyright should not extend that long, but the point remains.  Paul’s advice is good for art, and for the artist who wants to be remembered.

Mike Konrad is the pen name of an American who writes on various topics.  He also just started a website about small computers at http://thetinydesktop.com.



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