September 21, 2013

On Wit

I have always admired those who possess a healthy dose of wit.  Not sass or meanness, but wit.  You could be a witty curmudgeon, and I'd still respect you, or at least I'd respect your wittiness if not your overall character.  I've been thinking quite frequently about wit lately: the role it has played/plays in society, our current degradation of all things witty to idiosyncratic, slapstick humor; the deep misunderstanding of what wit genuinely entails.

Wikipedia says this of wit:
"Wit is a form of intelligent humour, the ability to say or write things that are clever and usually funny.[1] A wit is a person skilled at making clever and funny remarks.[2] Forms of wit include the quip and repartee."

The American Heritage Dictionary (fourth edition) defines wit as:
"Perception and understanding; intelligence.  Keenness and quickness of perception or discernment."

Films that focus solely on a monologue with the audience or on a dialogue between two people can sometimes perceptively illustrate wit.  For instance, this film, although savagely heavy on sadness and brutal in honesty, is fully engrossing and thought-provoking in terms of its rapt exploration of human nature, intellect, and the drawn-out fragility of life.  Another film, Chinese Coffee, strategically places the audience smack dab in the middle of an intense rivalry-friendship between two writers.  These two films best exemplify wit to me.  Through their character development, these works explore and reveal that wit can be funny, satirical, perceptive, clever, intelligent, or even downright critical and mean.  Or all of the above.  The inclusion of wit brings a certain cleverness--a textured depth and nuanced complexity--to these films.

So I cannot help but cringe when I see poor representations, or, worse yet, poor interpretations of wit.  Wit, unlike humor, does not always make you laugh or raise your spirits.  Instead, wit lingers on the tongue like smoky, rich coffee: its an acquired taste; a brain tease with a vast emotional and intellectual core.  And although its aromatic depth is sometimes overlooked, it is still, curiously, appreciated.

No comments: