It was the first finals’ week of 2016. The first-years had made the library their base camp, trudging back to their rooms only when stationary and food supplies fell short. Eyes were red and dark circles were glowing a deep purple. A fellow student stood up from his seat next to me and stared long and hard up at the high atrium ceiling. Standing under one of the threatening, low-hanging lights, he said- “I hope this light falls on me and I die.”
This was my introduction to what can now be called an intriguing aspect of FLAME’s unique culture- dark humor.
Dark humor typically treats sinister, morbid or distressing subjects in humorous terms. Trauma can be dealt with when it is joked about. When you bring humor into a dark or tragic event, you lessen its impact and reduce its severity. This could be why so many students on campus joke about their stress levels and anxiety. When the deadlines inch closer, the dark humor comes bubbling up and before you know it, we’re laughing while talking about killing ourselves.
Research emphasizes the distance between the individual making the joke and the content of the joke itself. Jokes about suicide are funny when the listeners have never been exposed to the phenomenon in their personal lives. On the other hand, the humour falls flat on a listener who has lost a loved one to suicide or struggled with suicidal tendencies himself. When there is a distance between the comic and listeners and the tragic event, the joke is applauded. When this distance is absent, the joke does nothing to hide the true horrors of the event.
This approach, does not, however, explain how people engage in self-deprecation. Gone are the days of keeping insecurities hidden. The coping mechanism has shifted from suppression to veiled expression. Jokes about body weight, skin color, loneliness and singlehood are only a few of the many examples one may find on campus. Maybe in using humor to talk about these deep-rooted personal issues, a door is opened to a different sphere- one where your insecurities are not met with pity or disgust, but with shared laughter.
The fact that this laughter is shared and that none of the listeners find such humor odd or somewhat unsettling shows the extent of its acceptance on campus. Dark humor is not met with hesitation anymore. Instead, it is welcomed and even encouraged. A large part of this campus experience is shared. The stress, workload and concerns are common to all. The homogeneity of the group allows for easy acceptance and growth of this kind of humor. You can joke about your sleep-deprivation, excessive caffeine intake and the amount of work you have because the people around you share that experience. In many ways, the humor and the experience are mutually reinforcing. If you are part of the experience, you can understand and accept the humor, and if you understand the humor, you are part of the experience.
On campus, dark humor is a lot of things- a coping mechanism, a means to fit in and a determinant of “coolness”, but more than anything, dark humor is the perfect mask- a size that fits all and one that all wish to fit into.
Author: Arundati Ail