Meanis the true crime, memoir, and coming of age story of Myriam Gurba. So far in the book, Gurba has talked about topics such as sexual assault, being queer and mixed race, and her childhood. Gurba’s style of writing makes the reader feel as though she is there speaking right to us. Her incredible attention to detail and intelligent use of storytelling is welcoming even though some of the stories told can be hard for some people to read. They could be triggering, or just uncomfortable for some. But, Gurba tells these stories in a way that the reader feels good about reading them. One of the ways she does this so well is through the use of dark humor.
When starting to see how Gurba uses dark humor perfectly, I started to think; why is dark humor actually funny? In the article Awfully Funny, Eric Jaffe discusses the reason why people are able to see them as funny. Jaffe consults a study conducted by Peter McGraw of the University of Colorado, he states “McGraw and colleagues attempt to answer that question in two recent papers published in Psychological Science. The researchers propose an explanation of humor called the “benign-violation theory.” The theory is grounded in the idea that people are amused by moral violations — threats to their normal worldviews, for instance, or disparaging statements — but only so long as those violations are harmless. When the tone of the threat is playful, or the setting safe, a violation that might otherwise elicit sadness or fear instead leads to laughter.” Basically, this theory says that dark humor is funny when used in the right situations and timing. The article goes on to talk about how it all depends on the individual hearing the joke as well. Everyone has different experiences, so even if the joke is executed perfectly, someone could still find it unfunny and in bad taste. In the study, McGraw states “The role that psychological distance plays is as a moderator of the degree to which something is wrong and the degree to which something is okay.”
Gurba is able to make jokes about her stories because they happened when she was younger and has had time to grow a distance from these experiences. If someone were to make a joke to about sexual molestation a week after the person was molested, the reaction would be very different than if someone made a joke ten years after the fact. Gurba is able to take these dark topics, and tell them in a way that is serious, but also adds some comic relief so it is not all doom and gloom.
Gurba, Myriam. Mean. Coffee House Press, 2017.
Jaffe, Eric. “Awfully Funny.” Association for Psychological Science, www.psychologicalscience.org/observer/awfully-funny.
- Do you enjoy Gurba’s use of dark humor? Do you have a dark sense of humor? How has this effected the way you read Mean?
- Could this use of humor draw people away from reading the book? Or could it help people read more about hard topics?