Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Dissecting a Joke, weekly feature

The Joke:

Before they settle in bed and call it a day, wife asks hubby: "Will you still love me when I am old and ugly?"

Hubby: "I am doing it, am I not?"


The Analysis:

A good joke is a microcosmic view of the human condition. The above joke, in three sentences, encompasses insecurity, aging, the institution of marriage, empathy (or the lack of it), love and its demands, being adjusting but feeling trapped and resentful, etc.

Women like to appear beautiful and young because that makes them feel safe, powerful and in control. They can attract providers, and they can manage to stay in the "market" and be less worried about desertion by their current partners. Getting old is also a reminder of one's mortality, which is distressing.

Huge expenditures are willingly made to appear younger and to hide one's age. The desire to appear beautiful and to look young drives the multi-billion dollar industries of cosmetics, plastic surgery, fashion apparel, etc.

The contract of marriage is (among other things) a way to try to minimize the stress and fear of desertion in a female and the socially harmful unbounded lust in a male. And by keeping the two fleeing people together by force of law and communal pressure, the society also tries to ensure a somewhat reasonable upbringing (and the sharing of the responsibility) of their joint progeny.

But of course, the contract does not mean that the fear of the male's desertion in the female and the male's lust is thereby extinguished. The result is a continued insecurity and resentment. To get reassurance, the female may seek comments about her continued attractiveness. Or in this case, when she is quite sure that she is not going to be attractive anymore, she can just directly ask for reassurance.

Now the interesting part is, why does the male usually lie? There are umpteen stories and lighthearted advice columns floating on the internet which advise a husband to be sensitive to his wife's self-image when he answers her questions about whether she is looking good or fat etc.

The husband is tied down with the legal contract, so he can't easily escape from an unpleasant home. If he wants the (admittedly shallow) peace and happiness that comes with him and his wife "getting along", he better not say something which upsets her. I can guarantee that in a normal couple, if one spouse disregards the emotional well-being of the other (e.g. by always speaking the truth, regardless of consequences), the relationship will break down.

So, most relationships survive on everyday, mundane deceptions and feel-good lies.

The joke is funny because the husband, shockingly, tells his wife bluntly that she is already old and ugly (when she was asking for a reassurance) but that he nevertheless "loves" her. Obviously he doesn't "love" her, otherwise how could he have said something so "insensitive", eh? The joke is funny because his banal expression of love is anything but to his wife, who doesn't really want his unilateral love (which is his prerogative and therefore can end at any time) but an assurance of her lovableness (which will ensure his love, at least intermittently, whether he wants to or not). When she is no longer lovable, she loses the power over the husband, who here is resignedly acknowledging both her unattractiveness and his cuckold-like inability to desert her.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

counter joke:
getting married to have free sex is like buying a Boeing 747 to get peanuts on the flight.

- Dadi ma ke kisse kahani