BS and The Art of Humor (the blank stare project, part I)

Quote of the Day: A poor life this if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare.” –W.H. Davies, the official Travellinbaen blank stare QOTD

Anyone who’s been around the blog for a few days knows of TB’s intentional overuse of the “blank stare”. This weekend I found occasion to deploy the blank stare so many times that a blog post was inevitable, and in contemplation of what to write I decided to expound on what exactly the blank stare signifies and why it is so often the perfect vehicle by which to convey humor. But an exact description is elusive. Like certain other things, the “blank stare” is hard to define, but one knows it when one sees it. Or does one. (?)

The double meaning is the first place where the blank stare is useful. What is funny about the joke is it can be interpreted in two ways. Neither interpretation is particularly funny, but the existence of an alternate meaning is in itself the gag. This is in some ways a cruel form of the device because what is funny is that someone doesn’t see the levels. We are laughing at that person. The beauty of it, however, is that if you simply see both meanings, you are now in on the joke and can laugh at some other person, real or theoretical, who is bound to miss it. We are laughing because in this instance we find ourselves smarter than someone else. But you can’t really laugh about such things. Its bad form. So you stare blankly, with only the slightest twinkle of the eye, but one in which like minded folk will recognize and thus share.

The blank stare is in fact always most useful when outright laughter is either not called for or is inappropriate. It could be that the subject person of the laughter is sitting beside you in a restaurant or it could be because what is funny is only mildly so. An example–yesterday TB went to eat at a Chinese buffet. The first thing I noticed was the “B” rating from the health department. But then an Asian family was seated next to me. I immediately thought, hey that’s a good sign. If Asians eat here it probably means they consider this place pretty good and probably safe, and an Asian would know, right? I returned with my plate of black pepper chicken, fried rice, etc about the same time as my neighboring diners. On their plate? Pizza, roast beef, and fried chicken. A classic blank stare moment.

Another instance well suited to the BS is when you see something that should be unbelievable but it is instead perfectly and sadly normal. These are usually drawn from everyday life–the things that send some people over the edge, including sometimes yours truly. However life is much easier if we just laugh at them, or maybe shake our heads in resignation, or to my way of thinking stare blankly. Some examples I’ve collected with my iphone in the last few weeks (the sign partially obscured by the lamp is from a parking garage reads “Safety is our top priority. 00000 days without an accident.”):

This is but a partial thesis on effective blank stare usage. BS is so widely applicable and useful that a full description is impossible. And different people use it in different ways. I have one friend who uses it most often sarcastically, another who uses it in chiefly in resignation and still another who usually goes the incredulous route. Influenced heavily by these ARB’s, I, as this blog clearly proves, use it constantly.  In BSPPII, I’ll write about people and places where the blank stare should be used more, and how it could make the world a better place.

About travellinbaen

I'm a 40 year old lawyer living in Ridgeland, Mississippi. I'm several years and a couple hundred miles removed from most of my old running buddies so I started the blog to provide an outlet for many of the observations and ideas that used to be the subjects of our late night/happy hour/halftime conversations and arguments.
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5 Responses to BS and The Art of Humor (the blank stare project, part I)

  1. I should point out, the “Deliverance” sign is a particular favorite of mine. Note the surroundings–“firewood for sale” spraypainted on particle board refuse, and even better, way in the background, you see the direction to “Deliverance” is opposite of state highway maintenance.


  2. Davis says:

    I’ve found that it makes both a great offensive AND defensive weapon

  3. Yes, excellent point Davis. Another part of the BS beauty is its near universal applicability. And inarguable to boot.

  4. irvineredd says:

    This link has nothing at all to do with this post. It’s a company set up by Chip Cole, the son of Pascagoula’s former mayor. It’s set up to promote conservation on the barrier islands and general knowledge of our little havens. Since most folks on here are from the Coast, I thought it would be of interest.

    As a retailer, I give the blank stare constantly! It’s the best weapon in the arsenal. The person receiving it rarely notices and are usually too stupid to get it anyway, hence why they get the BS.

  5. Samsmama says:

    I’m laughing entirely too hard at what the Asian diners chose to feast on. As a rule, I don’t like Chinese restaurants that offer up “my” kind of food. If I see onion rings I’m out of there.

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