JF Ptak Science Books Post 1131
[A continuation of sorts on an earlier post "Did Teeth Exist in the Renaissance? Art and the Toothy Smile, 1300-1600"]
Did more people in the U.S. laugh in 1924 than at any time in American history?
The mass-consumed smile, the social laugh, the pantomime, the big grin, the sly eye, the devilish smirk, the latent laugh, the absorbed chuckle, the impish grin, were all elements of the human comedy that were difficult to see in the theatrical realm. When performers were in front (or within, etc) a large audience, many subtleties of humor and comedy inherent in communal story telling that could be conveyed by facial expressions were simply lost.
The culture of the magnified moment, especially in comedy, I think, was not discovered until the motion picture was invented. It was then, and then particularly with the invention of the closeup, that comedians were finally able to display the vast quiet parts of their craft, especially in fine pantomime. This sort of thing was just not visible in the performers on a vaudeville or burlesque stage. It was with the motion picture and the close-up that made the facial expressions as keen as and broadly appealing as slapstick, or the good-bad paradigm, or even The Chase.
Fatty Arbuckle, Chester Conklin, Fred Sterling, Charlie Chaplain, Ben Turpin and especially Buster Keaton (whose facial expressions were exceptionally wide without really ever changing his expression) all came to greater prominence because of the close-up. There were more people from more different social and economic backgrounds seeing more comedy by more comedians--and seeing more of the comedians–than at any time in human history. And I guess we can infer that they were laughing more, because the output of comedies (Ben Turpin producing 150+ movies in one year alone, for example) continued to grow.
[I think that if you had to identify one single development that would allow the non-comedy to move to the top of the marquee was the invention of the serial–showing a series of episodes, which building one on the other, leading to a longer, intertwined story, developing characters and of course the audience, the returning audience.]
In the chicken-and-egg scenario, perhaps what moved the laughter forward more so than the close-up was standardization of motion picture practices, especially in the display department. That allowed movies to be more easily distributed, making for lower prices, more audience, more profit, more movies, more laughter (etc.).
Standardization is an interesting story, and as much as it seems to take the creative edges off of some things, it adds to it in other ways. “Standard Operating Procedure”, the codification of law/de jure, defining words in a consistent manner, having the same rails for all trains, establishing consistent screws threads, creating surgical procedures, developing prescription standards, having interchangeable parts for things like guns and cars and gin reapers, having standard weights and measures, and on and on, are all important things that allow us to not have to repeatedly recreate the daily bits and pieces of our lives. (Even the “little” improvements in this area can have enormous consequences, like, for example, the British Navy standardizing sailing blocks, which went a long way in ensuring ship operation and safety. Stuff like that seems like just a bit-and-piece, until you look at their long-term effects.
Anyway, I could very easily be all wrong about this laughter thing, but from where I sit this morning, its an interesting thing to think about.