Identifying with a Sarcastic Martian Apr04

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Identifying with a Sarcastic Martian

"The Martian" | Art by kairuiz. Used with permission.
Sarcasm is my love language.

If anyone can understand what I mean by this, it’s Mark Watney, the protagonist of The Martian novel by Andy Weir.

Watney, a brilliant botanist and astronaut, finds himself stranded on Mars after his crew abandons him for dead. Completely isolated, he has to survive in a hostile environment that is basically out to kill him every second of every day.

New problems stack up during his indefinite stay on the planet while he waits for a rescue that may never come—how to get enough oxygen? What to eat? Where to get water? How to pass the time when you don’t have Netflix? You know, the important stuff.

But perhaps the biggest problem he faces is psychological. How to stay sane? (Remember, there’s no Netflix on Mars.) Watney answers this question with one coping mechanism.

Watney is stranded for several months before being able to communicate with Earth. His ten days of isolation training at NASA is a joke. Even the most introverted of people (and I would know) need a certain amount of social interaction to stay mentally sound.

How does he deal with his isolation? The only way he can: with humour.

“I started the day with some nothin’ tea. Nothin’ tea is easy to make. First, get some hot water, then add nothin’.” (The Martian)

Many studies have shown that humour and laughter are therapeutic for relieving tension and anxiety. There is even evidence to support that a good sense of humour can contribute to muscle relaxation, control of pain, positive moods, and overall psychological health.

NASA psychologist Al Holland also says it’s actually healthy for a completely isolated person to start interacting with inanimate objects (think of the volleyball named Wilson from Cast Away). Watney has a similar relationship with his camera and logbook, using them to talk out what he is going through. This is also a way for him to express his delightful sarcasm.

“Problem is (follow me closely here, the science is pretty complicated) if I cut a hole in the Hab, the air won’t stay inside any more.” (The Martian)

Humour, for me, has always been a way of coping with less than optimal experiences and, most importantly, it helps me battle loneliness (that, and Netflix). My close friends know to crack a joke when I am sad, because it will relieve my tension. I know that if I make a joke about my own negative feelings, it will shed some light in my darkness.

Growing up in an evangelical Christian environment, I often felt like humour was frowned upon when talking about God or my beliefs (not by my parents, bless my dad’s sarcastic heart, but by “the church” in general). God was serious business; you didn’t joke about him and certainly not with him. (See “A Laughing Matter” for more on humour and the Christian Church.)

I only thought to question this later in life.

If I’m operating under this presumption that I am created in God’s “own image,” is it so far-fetched to extrapolate that God may have a sense of humour of his own?

I mean, talking donkeys, kings literally caught with their pants down, stomachs so big they swallow up the sword they’re stabbed with and it’s not discovered until the autopsy—some of these biblical tales are rather amusing. There’s definitely irony there.

Is it so unbelievable that Jesus could have cracked a joke? Wouldn’t his listeners have laughed when he talked about rulers calling themselves “benefactors,” when the working folk knew very well those in authority were just the opposite? That’s actually bordering on sarcasm. Jesus, sarcastic? No, that can’t be right.

Could it be that Jesus knew about this trick that Mark Watney employed, that psychologists have confirmed? That humour is the answer to life, the universe, and everything?

Okay, fine, perhaps not the answer to everything, but it sure makes my life easier. Like Mark Watney, I feel less alone when I can find a situation even a little bit funny.

“They say once you grow crops somewhere, you have officially ‘colonised’ it. So technically, I colonised Mars. In your face, Neil Armstrong!” (The Martian)

Sometimes when I’m feeling particularly sad or alone, I will text a certain friend of mine who has a very dry sense of humour, and ask him to tell me a story. He always responds, no questions asked, with a drawn out tale about some fluffy bunny, or slimy frog, or overweight grasshopper, and their journey to find friendship, or treasure, or the meaning of life. Sometimes, the story just ends in everyone’s death. But always, it ends with a wry twist that leaves me laughing heartily.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: sarcasm is my love language.

Though Watney was able to manage on his own, I’m not sure if I’m funny enough to amuse myself for that long. At best, I would become crazy enough to find everything funny; the kind of crazy that gets me locked up after my crew rescues me. Hence why I’ve surrounded myself by hilarious people who keep me sane. (They also make me the brunt of many jokes, which I’ve just learned to live with as an unfortunate side effect to this solution.)

And thankfully, I don’t have to wait eons to communicate, like Watney has to when he finally makes contact with NASA. Due to a lag of 20 minutes each way, that means a single exchange takes 40 minutes. Hello, insanity.

“How come Aquaman can control whales? They’re mammals! Makes no sense.” (The Martian)

Being able to lighten one’s dark circumstances is important. Humour is important. I know it. God knows it. Mark Watney knows it. Yes, sarcasm can be mean, but it is just a vehicle. When done in the right context, among those who truly care, it can make me crack a smile during those tricky parts of life.

If that means I’ll end up marrying a sarcastic martian, so be it. As long as he also loves Netflix.

Allison Barron

Allison Barron

Commander at Geekdom House
Allison is like Galadriel, offering wisdom where needed but turning treacherous as the sea when competitive games are involved. She is the executive editor of Area of Effect magazine, co-host of the Infinity +1 podcast, and staff writer for Christ and Pop Culture. When she’s not writing, designing, or editing, she is often preoccupied in Hyrule, Middle-earth, or a galaxy far, far away.
Allison Barron

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