I was standing at a checkout register making a purchase the other day and the clerk asked, “Are you in our computer system?” I looked at her and said, “No. I’m standing right here in front of you.” She looked at me in puzzlement for a moment, then smiled.
Had he been there, a former editor of this newspaper would have groaned, rolled his eyes, and said, “Dad joke!” I sometimes think he felt everything that passed my lips was a dad joke. Perhaps he’s right.
I guess I can’t help myself. I’ve been a dad for quite some time. And I’ll admit I’ve used all the classic dad jokes over the years. When he was much younger, my son would say, “I’m hungry.” I would counter with, “Pleased to meet you, Hungry. I’m Dad.” Of course, now I use that one on my grandkids.
Or how about calling what was left of a dish of Swiss chard after dinner the “chard remains.”
Not all dad jokes are ancient. They keep up with the times. This morning, Siri said to me, “Don’t call me Shirley.” Apparently I had accidentally left my iPhone in “Airplane” mode.
And dad jokes can be intellectual. Do you know the difference between a numerator and a denominator? It’s a short line. (Only a small fraction of people actually understand that one.)
The other day a friend of mine was showing me his tool shed and pointed to a ladder. “That’s my stepladder,” he said. “I never knew my real ladder.”
Even some classic Vermont humor can be considered a dad joke. Remember the one where the tourist asks the old Vermont farmer, “Have you lived here your whole life?” In puzzlement the farmer lifts his cap, scratches his head, and replies, “Well, . . . not yet.”
Sure, dad jokes are simple, even dumb. So I’m used to feeling like comedian Rodney Dangerfield, who, when a joke fell flat, would straighten his tie, wobble his head, and say, “Whoa! Tough room!” Still, sometimes they can elicit a smile.
Not like what is passing for great ideas nowadays. According to essayist Dave Holmes in the Summer 2021 issue of Esquire magazine, what he calls our “Hot-Take Economy” has created a form of smart that is indistinguishable from dumb. He calls this “elevated stupidity,” a condition to which even the smartest people can fall victim.
Elevated stupidity is a state in which the ability to argue rhetorically using a huge vocabulary is considered the same as being smart — regardless of the idea.
Thus you can have someone argue against statehood for the District of Columbia by eloquently claiming D.C. residents already have tremendous political influence because government officials can see residents’ yard signs as they drive by.
Or you can have the lieutenant governor of a large Western state suggest at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic that senior citizens take a chance on survival with COVID-19 in order to preserve the American way of life. Holmes says that once you remove all the fancy words and rhetorical flourishes of the argument, this idea sugars off as “Feed the COVID monster enough grandmas and it will go back to sleep.”
Holmes does not spare any band of the political spectrum. He points out that the current Speaker of the House did not need to say anything about the George Floyd case after the verdict was announced. Instead, she thanked Floyd for sacrificing his life for justice, as if he had a say in it.
We are at the mercy of elevated stupidity, says Holmes, because of a “hot-take economy” in which the news media, podcasts, and innumerable web publications all vie for “fuel,” and the cheapest option for that fuel is ideas no one has heard yet. Whether or not an idea is bad is irrelevant as long as it’s argued well and it fills up air time or a podcast.
Holmes goes on to suggest we are not amused by nor discount bad ideas on our own because we are too tired and overwhelmed by the daily bombardment of information to analyze things for ourselves. We therefore give the task over to subcontractors who appear to have already done the necessary reading and thinking, but too often that means we are delegating our serious thought to “an exhausted racist with a thesaurus.”
So I think I will stick with dad jokes. For the most part they are harmless. Who knows, they might even be good for you. Recent studies have shown that a good dose of humor, however groan-worthy, can lower the risk of cardiovascular illness, increase the body’s ability to fight pain and prevent disease, and even help you live longer.
So can eating your vegetables. Please pass the “chard remains.”
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