What happened to black humor?

Have you seen any episode of Wednesday? Unless you’ve been hibernating, you know that Tim Burton’s soap opera for Netflix It is number one in 83 countries and, with 1,020 million hours viewed in the first weeks of broadcast, it is on track to equal the absolute audience record for stranger things 4. For a story that mixes adolescent drama with supernatural elements and touches of suspense, it’s not bad at all.

Lead actress (Jenna Ortega) borders on the character of gifted sinister young lady and even is trending topic on Instagram and Tik Tok with thousands of imitations of her peculiar gothic dance inspired by the eighties performances of Siouxsie and The Banshees. For his part, Burton can score a new success in his extensive curriculum of highly entertaining audiovisual productions between dreams and fantasy. And to top it off, the project, which is already announcing a second season for the end of 2023, rescue the Addams Family from oblivion, giving all the prominence to the gloomy –and until now discreet– daughter of the extravagant couple formed by Gómez and Morticia Addams. Good for all of it!

For fans of this fictitious family, created by the American cartoonist Charles Addams in 1938 for the magazine The New Yorker and later turned into a television series on ABC –to take on The Munsters who were triumphant on CBS!–, Wednesday It was presented as a more than exciting sequel. Not only because of the undeniable talent of the director-producer behind it (Burton), but because it somehow recovered an iconic aesthetic and last name, loaded with nostalgia for some, associated with macabre comedy and the fascination for the spooky and the dark. .

“What have they done with that bewildering, insane black humor that was the trademark of the Addams house?”

Unfortunately, the original script by the creator of Edward Scissorhands (1980) was duly polished – predictably, with Netflix shares in free fall on the Nasdaq – so as not to scare family audiences one iota. And the final result, despite being remarkable, is fundamentally based on mystery, with an epic, emotional and almost tender ending. I am happy for them and for their figures of Compartir, but I feel a bit cheated. What have they done with that bewildering, insane black humor that was the trademark of the Addams house?

It seems as if today this concept was outlawed for the sake of misunderstood goodness and political correctness. Nevertheless, black humor is part of the history of artistic creation, although it has not always been accepted in the pulpits of high culture; habitually branded as a residual genre or, when it was signed by unquestionable authors, considered a temporary weakness that had to be tolerated but in no case applauded.

Philosophers as respectable as Bergson, Freud or Nietzsche have studied this slightly extreme variant of humor to conclude that its hilarious or simply ridiculous approach to dangerous, tragic or painful situations, which usually generate fear, commiseration or pity, is one way like another. anyone to face the harsh reality. And there are contemporary thinkers who go further, suggesting that this sickly strand of wit could be considered as the last resort of the educated Western citizen to laugh, given the loss of naivety and lack of spirituality to face a finite existence. But we’re getting a little thick…

For me, this cynical and pessimistic humor, which Charles Baudelaire called “the fierce comic” to describe the tortuous universe of Whims of Goya, has the rare ability to subvert our moral prejudices, appealing to intelligence and imagination, to show us from a ridiculous perspective that life should not be taken so seriously. And that rents me.

Without having to go back to the Greeks or the Renaissance – watch out for the dark jokes present in Lazarillo de Tormes or in the works of Cervantes, Quevedo and Rabelais!–, in recent centuries this humorous masquerade has been a recurring weapon for the most unclassifiable artistic-cultural manifestations to subvert the established order or denounce unacceptable situations, peppering their speech with irony, parody or sarcasm. At the same time, there are people who, lacking the proper distance, This kind of jokes does not always fit with sportsmanship for considering them cruel, inopportune and frivolous. So, before revealing your devotion to black humor –whether in book, film or television space– to the first guy you’ve had a Negroni with, make sure you’re on the same wavelength.

Only a crazy surrealist like André Breton would have thought of publishing, in occupied France, the first black humor anthology (1940), which was immediately banned by the collaborationist Vichy regime. That compilation of 45 authors forever coined the term black mood and helped to make numerous firms known to subsequent generations of readers.

Of all those cited by Breton, I prefer jonathan swift that, in his work A modest proposition to prevent children of Ireland’s poor are a burden to their parents or their country (1789), proposes to alleviate the famines and the economic crisis that Ireland was going through by eating the babies of the poor.

«I have been assured by an understanding that a healthy and well-bred tender child constitutes, at one year of age, the most delicious, nutritious and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked or boiled; and I do not doubt that it will serve equally well in a fricassee or in a stew”, suggests the author of Gulliver’s Travels (1726). A perfect kaffir, wow.

And my other favorite among so many bizarre literati is Thomas deQuincey, with his Of the murder considered as one of the Fine Arts (1827), who proposes to examine homicide under strictly aesthetic criteria. “The final objective of the murder is the same as that of the tragedy according to Aristotle, that is to say, to purify the heart through mercy or terror,” says the also signer of the autobiographical Confessions of an English opium eater (1822).

But there are many more names worthy of being taken into account by unbiased book eatersfrom the well-known Edgar Allan Poe, Lewis Carroll, Villiers de l’Isle-Adam, the Count of Lautréamont, Alfred Jarry or Apollinaire to more obscure figures such as Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, with his aphorisms, or Joris-Karl Huysmans, whose Unwillingly (1884) was transferred to script by Luis Buñuel and Jean-Claude Carrière for a film project that never materialized.

And here we come to the modern era of black humor. If the essay or the novel were already a powerful dissemination vehicle for this variant of the most destroyer, you will have already intuited how much you can gain in confusion and anguish from such a unique joke associated with disturbing images. Think of the filmographies of the Coen brothers, Tarantino or our admired Tim Burton. Remember series like Fargo either two meters undergroundbut also cartoons like futurama, The Simpson, South Park, family guy either Bojak Horseman. Have you felt misplaced at times with some past scene of turns?

as i always am more in favor of suggesting than explicitly showing, I think that it is not necessary to go to the extreme of the uncomfortable or the scatological to cause a bit of restlessness or anxiety in the viewer. Splendid examples of bygone black-and-white feature films brimming with the darkest humor come to mind, such as the stroller (1960), Placid (1961) or The executioner (1963), to the greatest glory of the screenwriter Rafael Azcona. And what do they tell me about The quintet of death (Alexander Mackendrick, 1955) or Arsenic out of compassion (Franck Capra, 1944) or The loved ones (Tony Richardson, 1965)?, which is precisely an adaptation to celluloid by Evelyn Waugh, another great novelist, follower of this irritating trend, whose lineage would include other essential firms such as Kurt Vonnegut, Roald Dahl, Philip Roth or Tristan Maya.

Precisely at the initiative of the latter, it has existed in France since 1954 the Grand Prix de l’Humour Noir, which aims to “reward the authors who best know how to make people laugh in a catastrophic situation”. “This includes –explains the jury– evoking with detachment or even with amusement the most horrible things or things that are most contrary to the prevailing morality. That is why black humor, which makes us smile at the most serious things, is potentially a weapon of subversion. This humor is necessarily a source of shame, insofar as the laughter it provokes must embarrass the laughing person between his natural reaction, laughter, and his reflex reaction, horror or disgust.

A pity that, in the first season of Wednesday, we have been spared this essential facet of such a gleefully truculent and dysfunctional family. Without it, the Addamses seem like an almost irrelevant parody of themselves. And we need a little more mischief and irrationality in the fictions we consume to face hopelessness and bitterness on a daily basis.

What happened to black humor?