Saturday, June 02, 2018

Maybe millennial humour just isn't that funny

My millennial daughter has been trying to convince me that, in the millennials' world at least, humour and jokes do not have to be funny. I - old, haggard and unenlightened as I am - contend that she is talking about something else entirely, and that humour does indeed need to be funny in order to be humour, by definition. She merely shakes her head at me pityingly, secure in the knowledge (like all younger generations since time immemorial) that I just don't get it, indeed that I can NEVER get it, not being myself a millennial.
Well, I remember using similar arguments with my own parents, and I am sure now, in retrospect, that they are spurious. Every generation thinks they are special, that their way of thinking is the right way, and every generation is almost certainly wrong in that. It did get me wondering, though, about millennial humour. Is it actually so different, so special?
Many an established comedian would, and indeed has, argued that the millennial generation is the death of traditional comedy, necessitating stand-up comics to pussyfoot around, and often completely abandon, much of their stock subject matter (e.g. minorities, races, women, etc) in deference to the fragile sensibilities and political correctness of the younger generations (Jerry Seinfeld has been particularly outspoken on this, and now won't play colleges and universities at all because he sees them as too PC). Now, personally, I have never found this kind of "edgy", boundary-pushing humour particularly funny anyway, relying as it does on titillation and outrage, not actual humour, in much the same way as the previous generation of comedians relied on the gratuitous use of taboo swear-words and bodily functions to raise an embarrassed titter from its audience.
There has been a surprising amount written on millennial humour, probably because so few boomers really understand it. It seems largely to revolve around absurdity, abstractness, darkness, surrealism, sarcasm, self-reference and self-deprecation. There is nothing particularly new about any of these planks of humour, but this generation seems to take them to new lengths. Check out, for example, Tim & Eric, Hey Beter or the Harambe the Gorilla meme. Much of it is visual, involving memes that are tweaked to ever-more-absurd levels, often using Photoshopped images or low-fi, deliberately amateurish visuals, with short dead-pan captions which often have little or nothing to do with the visuals.
This, it seems, is highly amusing to a certain segment of society, to the exclusion of pretty much everyone else, who mainly find it mystifying and a little tedious. Commentators have posited that the flavour of millennial humour is a result of the fact that traditional sources of meaning (e.g. religion, family, work) have become less strongly for their generation, but I don't really buy that: it just smacks of over-earnest PhD theses to me. Let's not overthink it.
Anyway, none of this helps me understand my daughter's sense of humour. She does have a good sense of humour; I know that, because I often laugh at her jokes, as she does at mine. But, every now and then, she will throw in a comment that just sounds like a serious comment or at best a sarcastic throwaway quip, which is just not really funny, and that's when the eye-rolling starts. But, hey, maybe I'm right, maybe millennial humour just isn't very funny.

No comments: