Goat humor

The other night, I watched Tere Bin Laden, a Bollywood comedy about Osama Bin Laden (it came out before he was killed) and the war on terror. It was quite funny in the ways I expected--a lot of dark, absurdist political humor--but it was also funny in a way I didn't expect: namely, there was a lot of goat humor.

What do I mean by goat humor? Well, in that movie there's a TV news report on a peace agreement between the Afghan warlords and the American military. The peace is formalized when a delighted Afghan warlord VERY proudly puts a goat he is carrying into the arms of a somewhat-baffled American general.

The movie is full of this sort of thing--one of the major characters is a chicken farmer who has a genuinely touching emotional connection to his prize rooster. It's a riff on modernization--sure, we Bollywood South Asians fly around the world and are modern media junkies, but we're not too far removed from being dirt farmers whose main source of pride is their livestock.

You see something similar in Stephen Chow's movies--he's from Hong Kong, which is an expensive big city and can seem like a very glamorous place. But Chow's characters are almost always comically poor: In one movie he lives in a literal dump; in another, he lives in a stairwell; in a third, his bed is a piece of cheap lawn furniture (and yes, he does wind up having to romance the girl of his dreams there). There's always that idea that if you scratch a sophisticated and urbane Hong Konger, you'll find someone who used to live in a closet with eight other people and knows full well how to kill a chicken. 

It's interesting to me because it's a type of humor that is largely absent from American comedy nowadays--but that didn't used to be the case. Shows like The Beverly Hillbillies, characters like Ma and Pa Kettle, all of that rube humor dates from a time when urbanization and modernization weren't simply big words but actual experiences in many American lives. Now we're so past it that we think of rural poverty as a Serious Social Problem rather than as the way we used to live--and the way our grandparents, embarrassingly, pretty much still do.

I guess the modern American equivalent are comedies about celebrities and slacker comedies: We might seem glamorous and perfect, but really all we do is sit around on our couches, smoking weed and eating Doritos.