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Saturday, March 6, 2010

For the Weekend

Flat Line

Few incidents in life carry the potential to elicit as wide of an array of emotions as road kill. It can be downright tragic and in other instances, wildly funny, but why? And where do we draw the line? For most of us, the accidental auto-slaughter of a golden retriever is heartbreaking whereas the tire-ironing of a common bullfrog may not be. In fact, depending on the position of the poor frog, possibly arms and legs out-stretched, it may actually be funny. For those who think all road kill is tragic, there is still an arguable range of sadness. Surely, a family pet death evokes stronger emotion than that of a pan-caked raccoon.
So what exactly is the spectrum of sadness involving road kill? At first glance, it seems very straight forward. Give anyone a list of animals and ask them to order them from comic to tragic. With slight subjectivity, a collection of these lists would turn out very similarly. We can all agree that the inadvertent expired existence of a human being is by far more depressing than a flattened field mouse. A linear pattern certainly exists, but it’s more complicated than that.
Add a second dimension to the same question: the gore factor. Clearly, some road kill is more gut-wrenching to observe than others. Revisit the frog. A paper thin amphibian with no entrails in sight most likely won’t make one avert their eyes. What may be difficult for some is the suspension of laughter. A poor, pulverized pit bull is not so funny. Ask the same group of people to rate goriness and the results would probably be even more similar. We now have a planar representation within which to plot our road kill emotional state. If only it were that easy.
Our understanding could be enhanced with a third dimension, a fourth, a fifth, and so on. Without going into much detail, we’ll hit a few of them. There is the quantity factor. For example, if one finds a paved possum humorous, then no doubt, two would be doubly so. There is the delayed reaction factor. Think skunk. There are a multitude of others, blurring the delineation between comedy and tragedy: the eye-contact factor, the trajectory factor, personal taste (maybe you hate Chihuahuas), the tread factor, the exotic factor, the collateral damage quotient, and etcetera. Use your imagination.
You will have to decide for yourself what tickles you and what doesn’t. So for every squashed squirrel, Panini-ed pigeon, tread-ridden turtle, steam-rolled stray, and waffled weasel, laugh appropriately and mourn when meaningful. Just be glad it wasn’t you.
By: S. Cole Garrett


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