The 21st century is lacking in terms of empathy and real existential crises, according to researchers. We do not have a war or a cause that we strive to work towards and, in turn, we are devoid of strong human emotions like empathy. We OD on social media-fueled narcissism and have almost turned into cyborgs. Now, many are of the opinion that this has led to an increased appetite for morbidity and dark humor among 21st-Century audiences. But why is it that we love being confused between a grimace and a grin while watching or reading something?
Antonio Barrenechea, Professor of English at the University of Mary Washington has a different opinion of 21st Century's vicarious morbidity fans. "Dark humor responds to our absurd condition with the armor of world-weariness. Except that, of course, we also know we can't really laugh such troubles away — which is why dark humor has a fatalistic dimension built into it," he said.
'Dead to Me' is Netflix's latest addition to the genre, a show that perfectly balances the morbidity of its central characters' lives with its pleasant buddy comedy moments as well as dark humor. Christina Applegate's character Jen forms a bond with Linda Cardellini's Judy over their shared grief and mourning before events take a nasty turn on the show.
The show has plenty of cringe-worthy moments which get you laughing, like a softened version of 'A Clockwork Orange' or the classic cold-war satire 'Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb' would. Dark comedy often satirizes what is otherwise considered as the norm in the society, like the grief counseling session in 'Dead to Me' itself, which has been given a comical spin in many parts of the show.
Barrenechea says that dark humor strikes him as "the most intellectual type of humor". According to a 2017 study, an appetite for the genre, sometimes referred to as "gallows humor", can mean that you are very intelligent and emotionally stable. Barrenechea says that "dark humor contains a degree of irony through which we 'laugh away' the most troubling aspects of human existence," which "makes it sophisticated". "It gives it what I think of as a countercultural existentialist edge," he added.
According to the results of the study, dark humor enthusiasts are also the most intelligent, educated, least troubled, and least aggressive subjects. Whether or not this came with the passivity of the technology-driven world is a question that the survey did not address. Regardless, with a growing taste for dark comedy, here's hoping that we cash in on our increased levels of intelligence, sophistication and passivity.
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