Day 119 / 365
This post is by the ever talented Elizabeth Stilwell, who along with her conscious lifestyle blog, The Notepasser, has created a tumblr of Sustainable Memes to help humorously spread the green gospel.
Humor can motivate us to discuss uncomfortable topics. I’ve been thinking about the series of events that led us to the unavoidable truth about Bill Cosby. A few years ago, Hannibal Buress (already a successful comedian) let loose in a Philadelphia comedy club: “Pull your pants up black people, I was on TV in the ‘80s,” Buress mocked, “Yeah, but you rape women, Bill Cosby. So turn the crazy down a couple notches.” Someone snagged a video and it when viral, leading to inquisitions into Cosby’s predatory behavior. Sad as it may be, the accusations had been made before (by the actual victims), but this time, we listened. Was it the humor that broke down the Huxtable facade? The particular way Buress took Cosby’s moral outrage to task?
The Humor Research Lab’s Benign Violation Theory suggests that anything that is threatening to one’s worldview will be humorous, as long as the situation also seems benign. For example, a debate about the unrealistic standards of beauty can feel heated or threatening; but a comedy sketch on the same topic may be threatening, but as a passive viewer, it is also perceived as benign and thus, humorous. Comics like Amy Schumer accomplish this masterfully.
Using the example of Buress, comedy can be an effective vehicle for takedown, an effort I often find myself a part of in the sustainability movement (DuPont anyone?). That’s not to say we should be mounting more personal attacks (Cosby being the exception rather than the rule).
Psychiatric nurse and comic, Rob Gee, uses humor to skillfully broach issues around another challenging topic: mental illness. The Guardian quotes Gee as saying, “Every joke has a target and therefore every joke has the potential to be cruel or hurtful. It also has the opposite.” Returning to Benign Violation Theory, rather than mounting personal attacks on individuals, we can poke fun at an entrenched idea or social construct. This is often the case in sustainability where we are challenging norms like eating meat, buying new, or using traditional fem-products.
We should also celebrate our community’s own unique and weird qualities. In Darling Magazine, Sara Scott Pape wrote, “We have been conditioned to laugh not with, but at others.” She encourages us to invite “others to laugh deeply about situations and circumstances, and things that are silly, witty, adorable and clever.” Easy humor is often base and mean, so I want to challenge us all to get comically creative. Memes are a superb vehicle for creativity, so I’m inviting you to help me bring more humor to the world of sustainability. With good reason—climate change, worker exploitation, animal rights—we are a mostly humorless group (sorry!). However, just as many of us use good design to appeal to wider audiences, we can use humor to speak to the masses and spread our message too.
Elizabeth wants you to help her populate her Sustainable Meme’s Tumblr with memes about sustainability. Head over to Elizabeth’s blog, The Notepasser, HERE, to find out how to make your own sustainable meme’s!