|Is this it?|
And Nobody Laughed [pp. 255-256]
The last person to laugh in the United Sates was Robert Ketchum on Monday, August 3, 1978. There was no law passed to prevent people from laughing; they just quit voluntarily.
No one knows exactly when people gave up laughing in America. The Republicans claimed it was during the Johnson administration, and the Democrats said it happened during President Nixon’s term in office. Putnam Toynbee, who in 1984 wrote The Definitive History of the Seventies, claims the first culture group to give up laughing was students.
‘There’s nothing to laugh about,’ they said to each other in despair. ‘Everything is rotten. The government, the establishment, the system and life itself. We’re doomed to a plastic existence, and we’ll be damned if we’re going to laugh about it. If we show in any way we’re happy, it will be a sign of weakness.’
Toynbee points out that anything youth did in the United States was eventually picked up by the adult population, and when young people stopped laughing, older people started to emulate them.
Scowling became very fashionable in the with-it crowd. Articles began appearing in the chic magazines that laughter was out. Pretty soon the word had filtered to the hinterlands that anyone who laughed about anything was a fool or a knave.
Advertisers, sensitive to the mood of the consumer, canceled all comedy shows on television; the networks put out memos ordering all laughter bleeped from their programs, and newspapers dropped any stories or comic strips which might produce a chuckle for the reader.
Toynbee says in his book that it was difficult for a certain segment of society to give up laughing, but these people did it privately in their homes, where no one could see them.
A group of friends would get together, send the children off for the night with relatives, and then laugh for two or three hours among themselves.
There were certain key clubs where people could go to hear a comedian or see a funny motion picture from the past. But as the older generation started dying out, the clubs went bankrupt, as there were no young laughers to take their place.
Laughter in public buildings was forbidden and considered exceptionally bad taste. Anyone who laughed in a restaurant or theater was asked to leave.
If someone attempted to laugh on the street or in a park, he was met with stony stares or assaulted by angry passerby.
The government contributed to the anti-laughter campaign by issuing pronouncements every day that things were worse than they were the day before.
To make sure that people wouldn’t go back to their old ways, Washington raised taxes, passed outrageous laws, told of international threats, and gave out grim economic reports. Life indeed presented a dismal picture.
Toynbee claims the last person in the United States known to have laughed in public was Robert Ketchum, who lived in Salem, Massachusetts.
Ketchum was standing on a street corner when a friend of his, Adolph Green, walked by and slid on a banana peel. Before he realized what he was doing, Ketchum burst into laughter.
An angry crowd gathered and grabbed Ketchum and dragged him to the center of the square, where they tied him to a post, threw branches from trees at his feet, and burned him at the stake. All three networks covered the event, and the lesson was not lost on the populace. Toynbee feels it will be sometime before anyone laughs in public in the United States again.