“Through humor, you can soften some of the worst blows that life delivers. And once you find laughter, no matter how painful your situation might be, you can survive it.” Bill Cosby
I’ve spent some time lately watching old movies. It’s a form of therapy.
Now when I say old, you have to understand that I am referring to films made before 1960. Any film I could have potentially seen in a theater I don’t consider old; just vintage, like myself.
I find the most comfort in the black and white comedies of the 30’s and 40’s. I’m going to guess that this has a lot to do with my childhood, but I will save the psycho-babble of my ill-spent youth in front of the Zenith. Watching the simple hapless souls of Chaplin or Lloyd try again and again and AGAIN to do the right thing in a world too complex to grasp their open-hearted optimism is gut-wrenchingly funny.
Time and time again these bastions of day-to-day survival bash heads with the complex overworked world of business and law enforcement, only to lose the battle, but win the war.
What war? And what do all the men of comedy from that era have in common; Keaton, Arbuckle, Laurel, and Hardy? After viewing hours of black, grey, and sepia-tone images I have decided the war and commonality is dignity.
Dignity is the brass ring we all reach out to acquire, and these woebegone men of comedy all seem to miss the goal by miles. Food, comfort, and romance always seem well out of their bounds for the majority of these films. Sometimes they get the girl, sometimes they get the meal, but mostly they get chased from doorway to doorway with no hope in sight for saving grace or civility.
But they always wear a suit, tie, and hat. These are gentlemen lost among the unrefined. While the bit players around them are either in uniform or workman’s attire, these seekers of dignity grace the screen ready for dinner and dressed (as best they have) to kill.
In that contrast lies the humor. Being beaten down by authority, while wearing black tie and tails is funny stuff.
Funny, and identifiable.
We’ve all been there. Spilling coffee down the front of us just before the big meeting. Farting during the big present.The search for dignity while the world laughs at us is just as discouraging for us as it was for Chaplin’s Little Tramp. But like him and all the others, we do the only thing we can. We get up, brush ourselves off, and find a way to waltz around authority as it pushes and tugs at our lives.
What keeps us waltzing?
Maybe it’s eternal hope. The hope that this time the guy/gal will notice me. The anticipation that just this once, my deeds will be embraced for their goodness. Without hope, crawling out of our homes each morning can seem useless, and humorless.
So I laugh at these souls running ragged in the street, because they are us, but I also laugh with them.
When they lose, they shrug and move on to tomorrow.
Oh, but when they win. The contentment we feel.
It’s our affirmation of dignity.