The Humour of Dementia

I found this funny. I know it probably shouldn't be funny, and the people whose families have experienced Alzheimers may struggle to see the humour.

But dementia is one of those rich, forbidden veins of humour. Geoffrey Atherden's Mother & Son here in Oz being a case in point.

I'm curious why dementia can be so side-splittingly funny. Anybody have any ideas? It seems one of those questions which might answer something essential about the human condition. Bergson wrote an extended thing on humour, concluding generally (from memory) that humour is normally a clash of dynamic life with mechanical rigidity. (I must do a blog entry about how machines, robots etc. get such a bad rap by being called 'mechanical'.)

But it's something specifically about the absence of memory that makes this sort of thing funny, to some anyway. And maybe it's funnier when it's short-term memory that's affected - Iris Murdoch watching the Teletubbies towards the end of her life isn't humorous. It does sort of support Bergson's thesis, in that without short-term memory you can't really function properly in everyday situations, making you like some idiot robot smashing things while trying to get a cup out of the cupboard. Jacques Tati's Mon Oncle, with Uncle Hulot visiting the ultra-modern house of his sister and becoming a bohemian round peg in all of the house's modern bourgeois square holes.

Uncle Hulot. Tati's bohemian slayer of bourgeois life. But funny anyway.

But it seems something a bit more than that. Why is it funny to be dysfunctional in this specific way? I've never found losing my car keys funny, nor has anybody living in my house when I arbitrarily blame them for hiding them. There's also possibly some sort of link to the general comic device of the idiot. It's the sweet idiocy of the eternal present in some way that makes some types of dementia hilarious.


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