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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 73.djvu/149

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NATURE, ORIGIN AND FUNCTION OF RUMOR

the plains. Swift rhythmic movements of organic life in the large, and the orderly expression of life processes, as the heart-beat, the mystery of sleep, birth and death, may inspire awe and dread, but never humor.

There is a large group of objects and actions which incite feelings of contempt, disgust and loathing, such as parasites, creeping and slimy things, filth, skin and eye diseases, all forms of tyranny, treachery, poltroonery, ingratitude and, according to Bain, "the entire catalogue of the vanities given by Solomon."

All common and customary activities and events and objects of familiar notice constitute, so far as the pleasure-pain field is concerned, an indifferent zone.

By this eliminating process it appears that the conditions averse to humor are: (1) The macroscopic things of the world, including her laws, order, harmony and rhythm, (2) those things which are inimical to life and freedom, (3) those things, largely of the social order, that have become habituated, regular in occurrence and necessary to human comfort.

 

(b) Humorous Stimuli

There remain for consideration: (1) Animals and their actions, (2) man, (3) his actions, (4) clothes, (5) customs and manners, (6) words, language and thought.

1. Animals.—The statements that "There is no comic outside of what is properly human," and that the lower life and inanimate objects provoke humor only when endowed with human qualities, are perhaps true and the many exceptions pimply prove the rule. Small animals, like small people, are more likely to provoke humor than large ones. The bantams and games, are the clowns and Don Quixotes of poultrydom, while the Plymouth Rocks and Shanghais are the prosaic members. The poodles, terriers and spaniels are the fun-makers of the kennel; the St. Bernards, great Danes and bulldogs command our serious respect and sometimes more. When an animal of one class does the task common to an animal of quite a different class, it is apt to provoke humor. An ox in shafts drawing a top buggy, mules, asses or buffalos running a race, an elephant drawing a chariot are examples. But if the animal is set to doing a human task the humor is intensified. The inimitable Æsop, endowing animals with human craft and qualities, made this style of humor classical for all time. It appears in modern humor in the stunts of Johnny Bear, in the clever tricks of Brer Rabbit and Brer Fox and in the county fairs, charity balls, political conventions, clinics for appendicitis and the like conducted by divers species humanly socialized.

2. Man.—Man may provoke humor by his size, especially if extremes meet. The undersized is likely to amuse—especially in his pre-