16 Pages

The Paradoxes of Humor and the Burdens of Despair

When telling friends and colleagues about the invitation to present a paper in Australia on “humor and despair” in later life, I observed a curious reaction. Most simply did not seem to hear the word “despair” and immediately connected my topic to jokes about growing old. Some even started sending me copies of these jokes, which exist in abundance in cyberspace. Although this paper is most decidedly not about jokes on aging, nevertheless I was intrigued to observe the types of jokes I received, many of which seemed not to heal or transcend despair about aging, but rather to deny or even wallow in despair about aging. My experience reflects empirical studies of jokes about aging that show that the majority express negative attitudes about “physical and mental ability, appearance and attractiveness, sexual ability or interest, and age concealment” (Palmore, 1986, p. 118).