“Can Comedy Really Be Taken Seriously?”

“Why did the chicken cross the road?”
The answer to this varies from person to person, just like the answer to the question: can comedy be taken seriously?
Can it?
Why not?
Comedy is not just banana peels and slapstick. It is an essential part of culture—not Western or Eastern culture, but human culture; laughter has no language, no race, no religion. One of the most important roles played by humor is in bridging the chasms between different people, spreading mirth and a spirit of bonhomie. It does this not through political persuasion or moral compelling. Comedy taps into the vein of common human experience, showing us that the “other” person is more like us than we care to acknowledge. The rich man’s child may walk about in finery and the beggar’s child in rags, but when they both laugh, their tinkling laughter brings the same smile to their parents’ faces. An excellent example of humour overcoming long-standing rivalries is the TV programme “The Great Indian Laughter Challenge”, which also features Pakistani comedians. We are at our most vulnerable when trying to make someone laugh, and it takes a special kind of bravery to walk on stage and do so in front of hundreds of strangers—more so if you’re from a traditionally opposing side. Through this show, we have seen how the people across the border are like us despite so many differences, and I believe it has done more for peace in three seasons than decades’ worth of political speeches in the past.
This also highlights another important aspect of comedy: political and social comment. From the satires of Aristophanes to the occasionally offensive humour of Borat, comedy has been used throughout the ages to bring us face-to-face with harsh truths we may have been denying. We realize how much or how little we have changed and we see the irony of some of our best-intended actions. It allows us to step back and take an honest look at ourselves and what we believe in. Humour lets this be a humbling experience, but not humiliating and therein lies its genius.
Great comedy makes its point without being predictable or patronizing. This is also a reason why comedy is an excellent way to see the change in society’s mores and conventions. The hugely popular Pakistani talk show hosted by Begum Nawazish Ali is special not just because the guests (politicians and the ilk) are asked candid questions in a country where people have learned that speaking up may get you into trouble, but also because Begum Nawazish Ali…is a man. Never before has the serious issue of tolerance towards people such as cross-dressers been so openly presented, that too in a decidedly conservative country such as Pakistan. It would not have been possible had humour not been incorporated into the show. In this way, we can see that times comedy may even prompt social change. How would this be possible if comedy could not, on some level, be taken seriously?
It is argued that comedy runs the risk of trivializing any issue it touches upon and distracting people from working on it.
However, I ask you: did Michael Moore’s deliciously anti-Establishment wit undermine the sombre topics he addressed in “Dude, where’s my country?” Did the visit of an entertainers’ group to U.S. troops in Iraq trivialize the grim reality of the Iraq war? Have the jokes of Pakistani comedian Umer Sharif ever belittled the plight of the country’s women? On the contrary, they have done more to highlight them. “Funny” will always be considered synonymous with “accessible” and that is a great way to start when you want to educate people about particular problems.
The only thing that is in danger of being trivialized is comedy itself. Life is hard enough, but if we lose the ability to laugh at it, what will we have left? Comedy is an expression and understanding of our lives and our selves. It is a celebration of the Human Story, the little time we are given on this earth between oblivion and eternity. It is an integral part of our humanity, while also being vital for our psychological well-being. These are some very real, very serious aspects of comedy. But the beauty of it is, there is no need to feel guilty for enjoying its lighter side. It would not be comedy otherwise.
So have a laugh. And let us all wonder—why did the chicken cross the road!

“Science Will Create The Perfect Human Being”

Science, I believe, is a blessing more than it is a curse. Knowledge, and the desire to find out about the world around us as well as within us, is truly an admirable thing. Technological advancement has served only to cement this belief.
But is science close to creating the perfect human?
I think not.

Although any real speculation on this started with Mendel’s research on genetics, people have long been fascinated by the notion of ‘perfection’. Myths have been concocted, folktales told, about seemingly perfect people…and yet, even the ancients understood and acknowledged one fundamental thing: the concept of perfection changes. It is not the same for everyone, or even every century. So much of our understanding of it is based upon the arbitrary: beauty, success, intelligence, and the like. How can science possibly create a human who is a universally acceptable expression of these ideals?

Beauty, for example, is particularly hard to define. That old adage, “Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder” has more wisdom to it than we realize. Near the end of the 1990s, scientists announced they had mathematically discovered the common characteristics of beautiful people. More recently, they have made similar discoveries about successful people.
They still aren’t any closer to using this information in the creation of a human.
Our knowledge of genetic engineering is rudimentary at best. True, it has improved vastly in the last few decades but it still more akin to groping in the dark for a light switch than declaring, “Let there be light…” Just last year, the Korean scientists who claimed to have cloned a dog were discredited when their data was found to have been fabricated. Like the French emperor who failed in his attempt to have the tallest army by forcing tall people to marry each other, selective propagation of characteristics in humans is little more than a hit-or-miss operation.

Nonetheless, there are people who are lured by promises of ‘designer babies’. Usually, such claims turn out to be fake but the people’s choices hint towards bigger problems—gender discrimination one of them.
We must ask ourselves: even if we could, should we?
In our desire for perfection, would we simply be providing a cover for intolerance?
Seen this way, perhaps such perfection would be more destructive than enriching.

Some say a human being free of all faults would improve the entire species’ gene pool. But even biological perfection is not always the best idea. Sickle-cell anemia is a genetic diseases that causes the production of malformed red blood cells; yet, in Malaria-hit regions of Africa, it is sufferers of this condition who survive. Their imperfect cells protect them from malaria, and thus, from death.
So much for biological perfection.

Galileo once said, “How can I believe a God who gifted man with intellect would forbid the use of such a gift?”
Science is a miracle. It has improved the lives of people all around the world, with even the simplest of medicines saving countless lives.
But it would be misleading to say it has—or will—improve the people themselves. Those (myself included) who support genetic engineering, stem cell research, or any other technology that some tout as the key to a being with flaws, should also support an individual’s right to being accepted as he or she is. All human beings are equal, and equally imperfect. Therein lies our humanity.
I do not doubt science will one day create a human, but in no way shall that human be “perfect”.

N.B. The prompt was “Science will soon create the perfect human being. Discuss.”

“Clouds”

“What’re you doing?” Symar asked.

I didn’t answer. Up in the sky, wisps of clouds were moving towards the west. Some formed strange shapes I couldn’t figure out.

“What do you suppose that is?” I wondered aloud.

“What? The cloud? It’s a cloud.” Symar deadpanned.

I looked at her.

“What are you doing here?” I asked.

Symar made a face and said, “The village fête. They want you there.”

“Tell them I’m fine here.”

Symar pulled me off the ground and began to lead me towards the field where the festivities were going on.

“I hate the village fête. Noise, crowds, people staring at you…not my idea of pleasant.” I grumbled.

“They were staring at you because you happen to be the world’s worst dancer. And you had one foot in a bucket of…of…something.”

I decided the best reaction would be to keep quiet.

As evening approached, I left the festival to go back to my cloud watching.

Symar joined me.

“How can you even see them now? Besides, why do you love watching clouds so much?” she asked dully, picking blades of grass.

“I…they’re like people. There’s just something about them…”

“Maybe you’re a cloud maiden. Maybe you’re one of them clouds up there, but you fell down and your parents found you. Like in the legends. Clouds being real people who’ve passed on or something.”

“Really?” I asked.

“Nah, you’re just a crazy freak. And a lazy one at that!” she said and began laughing.

I made my ‘Oh-God-can’t-believe-how-lame-you-are’ face, but it didn’t work.

I couldn’t sleep that night. Something Symar said had struck a chord. I got up and went to the window. The clouds were blocking out the moon.

My heart began pounding. Could it be? I thought. I decided to test it. I climbed down the trellis and ran over to a field. There was a ridge-like projection in that field, about eight feet high.

I climbed it and stood at the edge.

This is stupid, what kind of an idiot jumps off a ledge because of something an equally idiotic friend said as a joke? I thought.

And yet, there was more to this. As if I’d known all along…

 

I ran through the grass. I had an awful feeling that Billie was going to do something stupid.

I was right; she was standing on a ledge.

“Get down, you idiot!” I yelled.

“Oh, hi Symar. Just checking my cloud maiden-ness. Like you said.” Billie called out.

“I can not believe you bought the cloud maiden story! Come down before you fall and break a bone!”

“No, Symar. You were right. Tonight, the clouds…watch what happens!” Billie said and jumped.

She plummeted straight downwards and lay at the bottom in a heap.

“Ow.”

I laughed, a little nervously perhaps.

“See?” I said.

“Symar, my neck…” Billie whispered, and then lay still.

“Billie?”

Silence.

Then Billie turned into smoke.

Her entire body became a cloud that billowed away in the night air.

They had come for what belonged to them.

And they had taken it.