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Student Question

Why and how is humor used in postmodernism?

Quick answer:

Postmodernist writers use dark humor to bring attention to and critique society. For example, they often include jokes about serious topics like death or create parodies of serious situations like war. Through humor, postmodernist writers highlight the absurdity, dehumanization, and increasing lack of meaning they saw develop after World War II.

Expert Answers

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A lot of postmodernist writers use humor ironically. Postmodernists are critical of what society became like in the wake of World War II and often portray the world as becoming a wasteland of sorts. They use dark humor and parody to bring attention to the ridiculous, shocking nature of the chaotic world.

Typically, postmodern humor features jokes about serious topics like murder or war. By writing characters who make light of such topics, postmodernists highlight the dehumanization they see in their society. Joking about awful things shows how humans are becoming increasingly disconnected from the atrocities and forms of exploitation taking place in their world. The parodies postmodernists use may come across as funny, but they really serve to represent loss of individual identity and meaning.

For example, consider how Vonnegut uses humor to convey deeper meaning in Breakfast of Champions. He describes the state of the planet as “trashy” and explains that this is because “the Creator programmed robots to abuse it for millions of years, so it would be a poisonous, festering cheese when you got there." This line constructs a whimsical, humorous image of robots turning the earth into cheese. Yet upon deeper reflection, it becomes clear that Vonnegut is critiquing the way human activity has gradually destroyed the Earth. The use of the word “robots” in particular emphasizes a loss of the emotions and identities that make humans unique.

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