Is US Culture Veering Toward The Dark and Deadpan?

NSA_Logo_Prism_Floor_640_1_s640x427(image) According to Wikipedia, “deadpan” is a uniquely American neologism less than a century old. The term arose from the slang term “pan,” for face: “Keep a dead pan,” a gangster told an associate in 1934’s The Gay Bride. In other words, don’t show your cards.

“Deadpan humor,” of course, is playing a joke straight, pretending you’re unaware of the punchline. It’s often related to “dark” or “black” humor, which makes light of otherwise serious situations, often with a cynical or satirical tone.

Why am I on about this now? Because I think as a society we’re rapidly shifting into a dark, deadpan culture, driven almost entirely by revelations around the NSA’s PRISM and related programs. We know we can’t pretend we’re not being monitored – so we resort to deadpan humor to handle that new reality.

Over the past few months, on the mailing lists and sites I read, and in the personal conversations I’ve had, the NSA keeps coming up as a deadpan or black humor punchline. On scores of conference calls and Google Hangouts, someone has joked about the government listening in. One time, while discussing a sensitive issue around use of data in our industry, one of my colleagues asked if anyone was taking notes. “Don’t worry, the NSA’s got that covered,” another colleague deadpanned. This kind of humor seems to be spreading all over our culture.

I’m not sure that’s a good thing. Black and deadpan humor is usually a response to an overwhelming sense of powerlessness – it thrives in  authoritarian states or  in places encountering deep turmoil (East Germany, RussiaSyria, Egypt).

I’m not sure we want to join those ranks. Do you see this happening as well?

10 thoughts on “Is US Culture Veering Toward The Dark and Deadpan?”

  1. it’s just the baby steps towards recognizing the holistic interrconnectedness of all of life, until now the province of mystics and a few idealistic minds, and it is the future of us all ..

    we have not yet devised industries or institutions or understanding of the larger realities of a conscious life but are being forced to do so over the rest of this century.

    there will of course be resistance, especially from institutions .. they have no chance, of course, and it’s beginning to dawn on them

  2. When we know our words and thoughts are being monitored by powerful government forces that can and will use them against us as they see fit, it eventually forces us into silence. This is the death of the First Amendment, and with its demise the rest will follow.

      1. I would like to think that is possible John, but I have strong doubts that is possible enough people are motivated to do so. Too many people will believe the combined words of our ‘moderate’ politicians, media and educational system who will continue the lies as we drop deeper into this hole. The day will come where we can turn this around, that i do believe, but my fear is that the worse is yet to come.

  3. “…deadpan humor is usually a response to an overwhelming sense of powerlessness…” – which might just be common sense here. Or does anyone feel sort of empowered, concerning the NSA revelations? Any choice, or other way to make a better world? What options do you have to change the government?

    1. It starts with asking your representatives their stance, and letting them know this is an issue for you.

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