“Please Don’t Eat the Daisies”

Photo by Roman.

If the tulips in the courtyard are looking more than a bit ragged… chewed on, to be precise, this is the culprit. The bunny looks like someone’s dinner, if you ask me.

“Please Don’t Eat the Daisies” is also the title of one of the late Jean Kerr’s biggest hits. A 1957 comedic memoir of a Manhattanite exiled to suburban housewifery, the book was made into a movie (starring Doris Day and David Niven) and into a TV situation comedy series that ran for a few seasons.

I mention this because, as part of my Geezer Downsizing Project, I reread Kerr’s book several months ago. The mere act of reading the book destroyed any resale value it may have had as the book disintegrated with each turn of the page. But it was worth doing. When I was an adolescent, the book had seemed enormously funny to me. Upon rereading, I admired the craft that went into it, but I did not smile never mind laugh, not even once.

This is not unique. Other works have lost their humor for me. I could not and cannot abide J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, but Salinger’s Franny and Zooey was once upon a time, for me, a romp hilarious. Now? Don’t ask. And Giovanni Guareschi? No, you really don’t want to know.

This is interesting to me as I don’t believe it is humor that has changed but instead its audience. And thinking of how the audience has changed led me to propose a Grand Unified Theory of Humor: We laugh at things that make us uneasy.

I’m not a scholar but I figured I should make a stab, at least, at research and so arrived at the Wikipedia entry for “humour” where, without surprise, I found I had been anticipated by the benign-violation explanation of humour: “The theory says ‘humour only occurs when something seems wrong, unsettling, or threatening, but simultaneously seems okay, acceptable or safe’.”

The Wikipedia entry is a better statement because, after all, we don’t laugh at everything that makes us uneasy. Some things just make us… uneasy. On the other hand, both formulations would also seem to discount the social dimension to humor. Funny is as contagious as a yawn, and maybe as elemental. Laughter gives us permission to laugh. Laughter can encourage a change in perspective. The focus on “uneasy” or “wrong, unsettling, or threatening” seems to ignore the role of surprise and delight.

Actually, these things can be encompassed by the “benign-violation” theory, but it requires more explanation, evidence and logic chopping than I’m competent to provide. In any case, I’ve already moved on to another question: Is it possible to gain useful, quantitative information about the state-of-mind for any given population by examining in some way the jokes that are in circulation within that population?

I’m far too lazy to do more than pose the question. But you might keep it in mind the next time you laugh: Does your chortle leave you naked?

Beeves in Summer

Cool cattle in shades…

The photos below were taken in the Summer of 2003 not far outside of South Jacksonville, Illinois, from an overpass crossing a stream. The stream is a branch of Mauvaise Terre Creek that flows into Mauvaise Terre Lake and then on through Jacksonville. They had quite an amazing flood some years back, I understand.

It was a very warm day. A local farmer was in the habit of letting his cattle hang out along the creek and under the bridge.

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Cattle from bridge. Photo by Roman

The cattle very obviously enjoyed the spot, but they had little trust for strange humans. After some consideration, the consensus among them was to return to the barn.

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Cattle consensus: return to barn. Photo by Roman.

The trade-off for allowing the cattle to hangout as if they were trolls is increased erosion of creek banks, soil loss, plus some downstream pollution from waste. Most farmers are pretty hip to such things so it’s likely the farmer felt the kindness worthwhile. The soil erosion is somewhat apparent in the photo below:

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Cattle returning to barn. Note soil erosion on the left bank. Photo by Roman.

I believe South Jacksonville and Jacksonville get their water from wells.

Bye bye Elsie, Elmer and friends.

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Cattle returning to barn. Photo by Roman.