Black Humor in America

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Black Humor

One of the most underappreciated and unrecognized forms of comedy is black humor. Black humor often deals with events that are not often associated with other forms of comedy, such as war, murder, insanity and death. The main reason that this form of comedy is so underappreciated is that it requires some thinking on the part of the audience and many people are not willing to do that. The types of humor that are popular today do not require much thinking and can be characterized as one-liners. However, black humor has been used as an effective means of satire usually towards a tragic event.

One of the biggest misconceptions about black humor is that it involves race. Black humor is not a form of African American humor but rather it "is used in literature, drama, and film to express the absurdity, paradox and cruelty of the modern world" (Black, Columbia). This form of comedy is often reflective of the situations going on in the world. One example of this is the movie Dr. Strangelove, a film about nuclear war, being created during the Cold War era. There are many different forms of black humor but they almost always deal with a serious event.

Black humor first began in American film in the middle 1920s. Many scholars agree that the first film was Gold Rush in 1925. However that movie only slightly embodied black humor and the first true film was The Bride of Frankenstein in 1935. Many American black humorists were influenced by black comedy in Britain. Many of today's movies or books today contain elements of British black humor. "In America, black comedy as a literary genre came to prominence in the 1950s and 1960s. Writers such as Terry Southern, Joseph Heller, Thomas Pynchon, Kurt Vonnegut, Harlan Ellison and Eric Nicol have written and published novels, stories and plays where profound or horrific events were portrayed in a comic manner" (Black, wikipedia).

Black Humor is as prominent today as it was in the 1960s. According to Merriam-Webster's Encyclopedia of Literature: Today, black comedy can be found in almost all forms of media. The worst examples are shallow attempts at grabbing attention with shock value, coating otherwise uninteresting content with a veneer of hip edgy-ness. The best examples are works of high satire that tell us something profound about ourselves and the world we live in. (Black Humor) An example of a shallow attempt at black comedy is the television show South Park. In this animated show, the creators use extreme profanity and often make fun of tragic events in a tasteless way to produce laughs. Another poor example of black comedy is the video game Grand Theft Auto. The creators of this game use extreme violence as their shallow attempt at comedy. However for as many poor forms of black humor, there are five times as many good examples. Some of these include the television shows Curb Your Enthusiasm and The Office, movies Fight Club and Death to Smoochy, and books Catch-22 and American Psycho.

One of the most famous and well respected black humorist and filmmaker is Tim Burton. Tim Burton is "an eccentric film director known for his off-beat and quirky style" (Burton, Who2). He has created many films that can be categorized in the black comedy genre including: Beetle Juice, Edward Scissorhands, Corpse Bride, and The Nightmare Before Christmas. The last of these films is a tremendous example of a black comedy because it is a stop-action animated musical film about the inhabitants of Halloween Town who take over Christmas one year. Although it was not actually written by Burton it was taken from a poem he wrote. The trademarks of Tim Burton include the frequent showing of dead dogs, sheep, and scarecrows; the main characters tend to be outsiders and he uses shadows for a scary effect (Burton, sensesofcinema). Furthermore, George Orwell was born in India in 1903 and was the author of one of the most well known black humor novels of all time,...
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