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Can we be funny anymore?

Boneless chicken ranch

Larson's Boneless Chicken Ranch was simply the funniest thing we'd seen all year.

My family was sitting around the dinner table talking….what we usually do. Someone made a reference to the Boneless Chicken Ranch, and we all cracked up. My kids, of course, learned about the iconic Gary Larson cartoon through us, and through the fact that I treasure the Far Side books I purchased as a teen.

I can’t remember exactly when I saw it, but I do remember what it was like to see something that funny in my teens and young adult life. First of all, funny things weren’t so easily accessible. We didn’t have the Internet. We didn’t have Youtube. We didn’t have everyone’s aunt sending forwards of forwards of forwards of Jewish haiku.

Funny things were found in a few places. First of all, the funnies, of course. The funnies happened in the newspaper every day, but really, Sunday was the day you lived for if you really cared about them. Then there was TV, most of which really wasn’t funny at all. Rare episodes of Happy Days were mildly memorable; Saturday Night Live had a long run of impossibly funny stuff and then it was yawn-worthy; when we were teens, our PBS station started playing British comedy. But heck, we didn’t even have a VCR. Each week, we pored over the TV Guide, looking for something good to watch.

When we came across something funny, we wanted to share it. Somehow, when my kid said “boneless chicken ranch,” it brought me back to what we used to do: We would see something funny, and it would remind us of someone we knew, and if the person wasn’t someone we’d see in short order, we’d clip it out and mail it to them! It seems astounding now. We’d clip something from the newspaper and put it in an envelope with a stamp. (No wonder the Post Office is in such trouble now.)

So, here’s an example of something really funny: I saw that someone linked to an intriguingly titled piece on Youtube about lip-reading Mitt Romney. I clicked on it. It was pretty darn funny (and refreshingly, I bet Republicans would find it funny, too, because seeing such a stiff guy say all those outrageous things really was worth a giggle whether you’re going to vote for him or not). But aside from being funny, it was not worth clipping out, getting it into an envelope, and sending it. There’s just too much funny stuff out there. I gave it a giggle and moved on. Didn’t even bother to forward it. (Or maybe I did. Can’t remember. These things have become so inconsequential.)

But my point is that this has got to be making a huge change in our culture, and in our kids’ experiences. Everything is so easily accessible. You used to have to work to be entertained. Kids would have to ride their bikes two miles to get to the arcade, or they’d have to wait four months till the hit movie got to their town. But now funny is everywhere, shocking is everywhere, sincere is everywhere. On Facebook on any given day I see all sorts of political drivel that I agree or disagree with. 20 years ago I wasn’t assaulted by 2×3 inch posters when I had conversations with my friends.

Will our kids be very jaded about everything? Or will they be much more engaged? Will they be harder to entertain? Or is the ubiquity of entertainment lowering their standards, so that pretty much anything will entertain them?

It’s possible that we who are parents will never know, but it seems obvious that this change is fundamental. Almost as earth-shaking as the day I opened the Sunday funnies to see the Boneless Chicken Ranch for the first time.

Posted in Culture, Parenting.

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