Humor in Review

Humor has taken a turn for the worse these days. At times, we don’t even see just how raunchy, immoral and degrading the humor of our days has become. When my Ft. Wayne Seminary professor for Missions, Dr. Rev. Eugene Bunkowski, returned from Nigeria after being a missionary there for 20+ years, he would comment to us about this change in American humor, and how cutting it had become. The change in American humor was obvious to him but not to us, because it had crept up on us. Or was it? How often have we uttered the words, “I was just kidding.” and felt a twinge in our conscience because maybe we realized that we weren’t kidding? This is not new in our days. Proverbs 26:18-19 says;

Like a maniac shooting flaming arrows of death 19 is one who deceives their neighbor and says, “I was only joking!”

Laugh tracks on TV and Radio programs have been one of the greatest tools in changing our humor and culture. The media doesn’t talk about this but it does understand the influence that humor laugh tracks have on changing our attitudes, values and even normalizing that which is sinful in God’s eyes. The best evidence of the importance of laugh tracks is seen in the production of the TV show M*A*S*H*. There was a discussion that took place when this show came out, shortly after the end of the Vietnam War, about the use of laugh tracks. A YouTube video of Larry Gelbart, the creator and producer of M*A*S*H* has him talking about it. Initially, some wanted to not use any laugh tracks for the entire sitcom while others wanted them. A compromise was reached, and the laugh tracks were used everywhere but in the surgery scenes in the OR. Notice how there was a sense among the producers of M*A*S*H* that some things were serious subjects and should not be dismissed or marginalized with the use of canned laugh tracks. The makers of M*A*S*H* understood the power and influence of humor and the use of canned laugh tracks by the media.

Often, in the case of major social issues and morality changes, humor is the door through which immorality enters, becomes mainstream and acceptable, and by which change is implemented. Humor is to desensitize us to sin of many sizes, shapes, and colors. We start by making fun of it. This gives the outward appearance that we don’t approve but the real thing taking place is that it brings certain sins into the public domain and opens up a discussion on it. The sitcoms try to use humor to first get us sitting and listening to their latest proposed change of morality agenda. After all, if we can laugh about a moral value then maybe we can negotiate a change to our values. If the sitcoms can get us to listen to their shows, and not change the channel, that’s always the first step in normalizing sinful behavior, by getting us to tolerate the mention of it. They try to switch our normal gut reaction from one of righteous indignation over what God has called sinful to the more relaxed attitude of seeing the unrighteous behavior as funny and maybe tolerable. However, unknowingly, this then places Christians in a position of judgement over the person and their behavior, when it should be God. Then the media attacks Christians as being sinful for laughing at sin, and they put us on the defensive and on the run. We then feel discredited by our own inability to address worldly sins with God’s Word (Law and Gospel) that we retreat in despair and humiliation. This now successfully takes us out of the public arena and discussion on any number of society’s sinful behaviors and opens the door to anyone but Christians to speak up about secular society’s behavior and sin. At this point they are perhaps correct; we should not see people caught in sin as something to laugh at. But guess who just won?

I’m not going to tell you what comedy programs to watch. I am going to encourage you to, in the Words of Paul;

15 See then that you walk [e]circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, 16 redeeming the time, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, 20 giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another in the fear of [f]God. -Eph. 5:15-21. And Walk in wisdom toward those who are outside, redeeming the time. Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one. –Colossians 4:5-6

This may mean turning the channel or walking out of a theater, both of which I am doing more frequently these days. We live in an evil age. But we are a light and beacon to others of our Savior, Jesus, who dispels the darkness of sin through exposing it but then through offering forgiveness and redemption. And when people ask you why you are different, remember….. your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, -1 Peter 3:15 ESV