Gross, part two

Almost the whole of Christian theology could perhaps be deduced from two facts: (1) That men make coarse jokes, and (b) That they feel the dead to be uncanny.                                                              C. S. Lewis, Miracles

In commenting on the trend in juvenile literature toward gross-out humor (in order to appeal to boys),I don’t see much speculation as to why so much juvenile humor is obsessed with bodily functions.  In fact, that’s one characteristic that defines “juvenile.” Yes, little kids giggle uncontrollably at the very word “underwear,” but why?  Yes, 5-8 year-old girls (and 5-21 year-old boys) roll on the floor at any mention of poop, boogers, pee, snot–I won’t go on–but what makes these particular emissions funny, when blood is something else?  Lewis’s point is that human beings are a peculiar phenomenon, feet of clay and head of cloud, forever at odds with their own nature.  “I do not perceive that dogs see anything funny about being dogs; I suspect that angels see nothing funny about being angels.” 

Presumably, both dogs and angels feel at fully at home in themselves, whether bounded by skin or spirit.  But humans, who are somewhere in between, laugh at bodily functions and shiver at ghosts.  If this were an inborn characteristic we would expect it to show up very early, and so it does.  Ghost stories are just as popular as gross stories among kids, and what could explain the peculiar popularity of zombies among young adults?

Recent lab tests at Yale University indicate a sense of morality in babies as young as six months.  But a natural tendency, by definition, is not a refined sensibility.  Little children may have a rudimentary understanding of right and wrong but still need to be trained in the nuances, especially regarding their own tendency to make exceptions for themselves.  The humor inherent in the angel/animal dichotomy that translates to potty jokes is no reason to react in horror, but neither does it mean we should forego, or even delay, the training in what’s appropriate.  Isn’t “doing what comes naturally” the antithesis of education?

Ex ducere, the Latin root of education, means “to lead out of.”   Maybe we could start by leading out of the bathroom.

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One Response to “Gross, part two”

  1. Emily Whitten Says:

    Made me laugh twice. Thanks.

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