Silly is for kids and comedians. Steven Lake explores the forces that make silly and manly mutually exclusive.
In my household, the answer was NO. Acting silly was a sign of immaturity best excised from your personality as quickly as possible. Kids act silly whenever they feel . . . silly. They do it to have fun, to make others laugh, or to bother adults.
Somehow, having fun through silliness was seen as the road to emasculation. Heaven forbid you became an adult and were still silly. No one would take you seriously, and if you were not taken seriously you wouldn’t get a job, find a wife, and be respected in the community. You would be seen as the village idiot and that would be a blemish on the family name, I guess.
I suspect this household dynamic was true for many boys. The idea of being responsible was big and being silly is the opposite. Unfortunately, many cultures see life in black and white terms and there is no room for inclusionary ways of thinking like, maybe one can be responsible and silly at the same time.
Along with responsibility comes seriousness. With seriousness comes a heavy overcast of down energy. If this down mood becomes chronic, depression can be the final result. Terrence Real in, I Don’t Want to Talk About It: Overcoming the Secret Legacy of Male Depression, writes about how boys are taught to mask feelings of vulnerability, and being silly is definitely a vulnerable place.
By restricting access to vulnerable aspects of the self we (boys and men) narrow our expressivity and suffer the consequences. And the consequences are profound. We try to mask our depression by self-medicating with drugs and or alcohol, workaholism, and distancing from those we love. Not healthy.
And yet, acting silly is so much fun. The drive for silliness is so strong that we look for excuses to drink or do drugs to become less inhibited and get silly. We all know some of the crazy things that happen in a booze infested atmosphere. The straightest and most uptight person will do the most unexpected bit of outrageousness.
Why do we need alcohol or drugs to allow ourselves to be silly? Seems silly to me. Why can’t we just give ourselves permission to do all that crazy stuff while sober? I suppose it goes back to our conditioning as children and the expectations of society as to what and how a man should behave.
We have this introjected duality about the child and adult aspects in our psyches. Certain behaviors are relegated to children and others to adults and never the twain shall meet. Yet, we know instinctively, that having fun, humor, and playfulness is important for the enjoyment of life, but the habit of self-constraint is strong and the thought of public approbation keeps us stuck in a boring definition of “adult.”
Clowns are silly. We pay money to see clowns. And at the same time, being called a clown is a put-down. We seem to have mixed feelings about clowning around. “Don’t be silly” is a phrase used to dismiss someone’s idea or behavior. I have seen husbands say that to their wives who were just trying to lighten the atmosphere. It works at bringing any sense of levity to a grinding and immediate halt.
To be silly invites being laughed at (that is the purpose of it). Being laughed at is a huge fear for adults and reinforces our unwillingness to be silly. Now, I don’t like being laughed at any more than the next person. Rather, I want you to laugh with me.
Being silly is a process of engaging someone to play with you. And play is not only needed, it is healthy for the organism. Laughing sets off a series of bodily responses including the release of chemicals and hormones which are beneficial and feel good as well.
Who are the icons of silliness in the entertainment business? Jim Carey, Will Smith, John Cleese, and Robin Williams are four men that come to mind. I admit to being a Robin Williams fan and have been from the first day I saw him. All of these men can be extremely silly. But do you take them seriously? Can you see them as men with gravitas? Are they seen as debonair, alpha males, or every woman’s dream? I don’t think so.
Even though these actors have expanded the type of characters they portray and have done “serious” films, I for one, just cannot see them as romantic leads. Somehow, the cultural stereotypes of what constitutes a leading man are entangled deep within and resist my desire to expand beyond these limited points of view.
Fortunately, there are men portrayed as romantic leads today that break the classic mold. They typically have a sense of humor – might even be a bit silly, make mistakes and are very human. Maybe there is hope.
But what about you? Have you developed your silliness quotient? Have you noticed that it is easiest to be silly when by yourself, especially if there is a mirror? Being silly with a loved one, if they are appreciative, is next on the scale of difficulty. Being silly with a best friend is definitely possible. Being silly with a group friends is when it becomes challenging. This is when drugs and alcohol tend to enter the picture. The hardest is with people you don’t know (though some would say that is the easiest as you don’t know them so who cares).
Some people never allow themselves to be silly. Such a shame. It is not only an undeveloped aspect of the self, but a repressed side of their personality. Everyone was a child once and absolutely silly in their younger years. For some people this was so long ago they have forgotten what it is like to be silly.
If you are not convinced of the need for silly in your life, I remind you that the number one trait that women find most attractive in men is humor. And silly is one type of humor. But don’t do it just to get or please a woman. Be silly to be yourself. Find freedom through silliness. Let out your inner child, live longer, be healthier, and re-discover your inner silliness. Silly is as silly does.
Photo: Flickr/Tim Murtaugh/TV Board Games: Mork & Mindy