The Romantic literary critic, Northrop Frye held that dramatic comedy is a conflict between two opposing societies – the “Society of Youth” and the “Society of the Old”. Frye thus saw theatrical comedy as a struggle between the evolving culture and the accepted conventions, played out in humor.
I recently observed close-up the particular (or peculiar) humor of our evolving culture while I sat for a haircut as some younger patrons conversed about their “relationships”. One young man who was married within the last year stated that “some days he is absolutely in love with his wife and other days he can’t stand her”. This made all the other younger people there laugh. Afterward, a young woman announced that her boyfriend tells her that “every other day he is planning her murder”. This, she thought, was very funny along with how her boyfriend says of her (to other people) that “he has to wake up to that”. Apparently, this was funny also, along with her retort: her boyfriend is not so great himself.
Right about now you are probably thinking that I need to find another place to get my hair cut. Yet, I find going there an education about the prevailing culture. On occasion I will use the opportunity to speak to people about deeper things. They are always surprised by the injection of morality; but I think some find it refreshing.
As to comedy, Aristotle once said that when we laugh, we laugh at the ugly. He said this because he thought contrastingly that when we contemplate, we contemplate on the beautiful. By “ugly” Aristotle meant the “inferior” or the less than perfect. Greek comedy was about human behavior and there is much there that is imperfect to poke fun at.
Yet how many comedies have you seen about majestic waterfalls or brilliant skies or glimmering caverns? Not many (if any); this is because the beautiful is not the province of comedy, but of serenity and wonder. The same thing can be said about the sacred, which for the Catholic is the ultimate sense of the beautiful.
When we speak of the sacred we can speak of either the divine or the blessed. God is sacred because he is divine (i.e. perfectly good). Marriage is sacred because it is blessed. Through God’s blessing, the natural union of the man and the woman comes to serve a divine purpose. The actual interaction between the man and the woman is not perfect; but the blessing makes marriage an enduring effort toward the beautiful. Humor is certainly needed in every marriage, but marriage itself and the love between the man and the woman was never meant to be laughed at. Neither was it meant that one spouse would plan the other’s murder – even in jest.
Sadly though, marriage has become a subject of ridicule for an army of unrelenting jesters in media, advertising, and entertainment. This amusement proceeds; we sit, watch it on television and we laugh; we allow it to pervade marriage and the family as it begins to play out as the new normal for our “modern” society. However, this is no prime time comedy. It is a real life tragedy.