DURHAM NC--In a scene straight out of the movie, "Patch Adams," or a chapter in Norman Cousin's 1979 seminal classic, Anatomy of An Illness, doctors at Duke and UNC Hospitals have begun prescribing satire to patients with terminal illness.
"We're finding that laugher can really help these patients recover," said doctor Mani Moya.
Studies have proven that white blood cells, the human body's infection fighters, are actually increased with laughter. And those that are already there get stronger.
"It's sort of like taking your white blood cells to the gym," said Moya. "The better the satire is, the better the workout."
But this information is nothing new. People, throughout the centuries, have known about the medicinal effects of satire. From the early Roman writers, Horace and Juvenile, to the 18th century Earl of Rochester, John Wilmot, to missionary doctor, Albert Schweitzer, satire has been prescribed for everything from severe egotism to gonorrhoea and death.
"It is up there with death and taxes in it's inevitability," says sociologist professor, John White.
"Wherever you have people," he says, "you're going to have someone unhappy and trying to find a way to get even. That's just how people are. The worm is in everything."
Prescriptions to satire may be filled at many places, but some of the best sources are the online news source, "The Spoof," Robin Williams and Monty Python, Gaines Steer's The Pronoia Times and the new movie, "Borat."
However, be warned that because of it's highly addictive quality, satire must be taken in small doses. It's like morphine!
Researchers continue to explore the question--Why satire? Why not other forms of humor?
"We think it's because satire carries the biggest punch," says researcher Dane Mitchell. "Some crazy headline gets your attention. And you follow it. The satire writer leads you along a diabolical path that is both truthful and imaginary and then drops you with a punch."
The feeling is a bit like water skiing. The satirist being the driver of the boat who pulls you up out of the water with a funny headline, and you glide along the surface until he stops dead in the water. And you sink.
There is also this sense that justice, if not in small amounts, has been served.
Side effects to satire may include: euphoria, severe distortion in the literal mind, a better sense of the truth in the playful mind, loss of, or improved spousal relationship and better connection with adolescents.
Researchers say that they are trying to figure out a way to bottle satire, so that literal-minded patients who are resistant to the form can at least take a pill and derive medical benefits from it.
Research is ongoing.