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Introduction
Dark humor is a genre of comic irreverence that flippantly
attacks society’s most sacredly serious subjects—especially
de...
Absurdity and incongruous juxtaposition; thrives in disorder
Merging the sacred and the profane
Making the familiar unc...
Brings uncomfortable material into social discourse
through a distancing mechanism.
 Laugh with rather than at
 Uncomfo...
History
One of the main founders
of Surrealist artistic
movement in Europe
Break with the past
(especially in deviating
from tra...
Marcel Duchamp, L.H.O.O.Q.,1919Marcel Duchamp, Fountain, 1917
Term first coined by Surrealist André Breton in 1916 .
Breton compiled Anthology of Dark Humor in 1936;
published it in ...
Marquis de Sade, 1740-1814
Arthur Rimbaud, 1854-1891
Friedrich Nietzsche, 1844-1900
Salvador Dalí, 1904-1989
André Breton:
“ A sense of the theatrical and (joyless) pointlessness of
everything.”
Lightning Rod: “We are touching u...
World War I—Authors and artists find it difficult to
give expression to such a cataclysmic conflict.
First conflict in w...
World War II—Incomparable atrocities on a mass
scale and crimes committed that were beyond
human imagination.
Hitler and ...
Protest, cohesive function, medicine to prevent
madness
Dark humor utilized in the camps to combat Nazi
oppression, much...
Post World War II
Existentialism
Primacy of the absurd for the
foundation and operation of the
world (Camus and Sartre)
...
Resurgence in the 1960s
Conrad Knickerboxer writes foundational text of the
genre, “Humor with a Mortal Sting.”
Looming...
Open-mindedness, acceptance of diversity,
critical thinking (combats “Groupthink”)
Liberates us from the narrow perspect...
CASE STUDY: Jon Stewart, “Even Better Than the
Real Thing,” The Daily Show, January 5th
, 2010
Defining the “good old da...
Discussion
Current practitioners of
dark humor?
What purpose(s) does it
serve today?
Introduction to Rhetoric:
Ethos, Pathos, Logos
Making the Familiar Uncanny
Breton—archenemy of
sentimentality
Freud—the uncanny (unheimlich)
Bataille—taboos and
transgression
Bakhtin—the grotes...
What is the relationship between the familiar and the
uncanny? How does it change from one to the other?
How are sentime...
“The difference between the bizarre and
grotesque is merely one of degree. The
grotesque is more radical and more aggressi...
Listening for Dark Humor
Tendentious Jokes
Beyond Boundaries: Shit and Bodily
Secretions
At once part of us and not part of us
St. Augustine: “Inter faeces et urinam nascimur.” (We
are born between feces and u...
Open body, body that leaks, orifices
Lack of boundaries between inside and outside
Shit
Mucus
Blood
Menstrual blood
...
Promiscuity—transformation of human into plant form
Corpse is a mirror image of the I, which is not
identical to the self but yet familiar.
Cleanliness (hygiene of the fune...
Definition: “The abject is not an ob-ject facing me, which
I name or imagine. Nor is it an ob-jest, an otherness
ceaseles...
“It lies outside, beyond the set, and does
not seem to agree to the latter’s rules of the
game. And yet, from its place o...
“A massive and sudden emergence of
uncanniness, which familiar as it might
have been in an opaque and forgotten life,
now...
Long-forgotten past—maternal body/infant (no
separation). Psychoanalytic explanation.
Causes fear but also inaugurates f...
The zombie:
Death, old age,
difference, sloppiness,
lack of boundaries
Blurs distinctions
between:
Living/dead
Human/a...
“The one by whom the abject exists is thus a deject
who places (himself), separates (himself), situates
(himself), and th...
Seeing abjection as a site of oppression but also a
potential site of resistance (Kristeva, cultural studies)
Lepers
The...
Alter ego—access to the Real
Accepts its fate
The abject is always part of the subject
Brings this side into the light...
“Yet life is none the less a negation of death. It
condemns it and shuts it out. This reaction is
strongest in man, and h...
Orifices are the sewers of the body
Disgust with excrement and other fluids similar to
disgust at aspects of sensuality
...
Why are we so obsessed with shit?
We produce it—it is our own creation,
contribution to the world
Loss of something—Def...
Privileging of the visual over other senses (Freud—man
loses his connection to Nature when he stands upright)
“Musk is t...
Andres Serrano, Self-
portrait, 2008
Do shit/bodily fluid jokes try to rehabilitate our
connection to the bodily/the earth?
OR
Are they part of the taboo tha...
Death, Aging and Illness
Loss of bodily control/Body as stranger or intruder
Loss of human agency (what makes us human/part of
society?)
Degrada...
Life in the margins:
Human/inhuman
Culture/Nature
Subject/object
Sacred/profane
No clear indication of where/when on...
“The entire strategy of the contemporary system tends
to ward off the idea of death in a sort of interdiction, it
cannot ...
“Death thus dissolves meaning because it is itself
beyond language, beyond signification, and beyond
the symbolic order. ...
Pushed out from the circle of the living
Death at home changes to death in hospitals and IC
units
Within closed doors
...
Andres Serrano, Pneumonia,
“Morgue” Series
CASE STUDY: Michael Lehmann’s Heathers, 1988.
Principal actors: Winona Ryder (Veronica), Christian
Slater (J.D.).
Sentim...
Social practices to deal with death
Social practices to disavow death
Sublimation into passage to a “better world”
Ide...
Figurations of Death in the
Collective Imaginary
Caravaggio, St. Jerome, 1605-1606
Playful
Compare and contrast current images with images of
the past
How do we configure death today?
What symbolizes the fear o...
Stereotypes
Joseph Boskin,
“The Complicity of the Life
and Death of Sambo.”
“…a stereotype is tenacious in its hold over rational
thinking. It gains its power by repetitive play,
presented in diffe...
Conveys cultural inferiority not only to the racist group
but also to the group being oppressed (“humor
illusion”)
Socia...
Counters the argument that humor can be utilized
subversively against the oppressor (Holocaust, racial
jokes)
Premises:
...
“Although the victim’s laughter may be unrestricted
and defiant, it is mostly hidden and defensive in
nature. While cruci...
Sebastian, The Little
Mermaid
Indians, Peter Pan
Larry the Cable Guy
Gender
Frederic Lord Leighton,
Flaming June, 1895
Idealization of relations between people, especially sexual
relations
Romanticism—appeal to the natural and to emotions ...
Monty Python’s Life of Brian
Religious satire and as a result drew accusations of
blasphemy from some religious groups
Followed a case where a succes...
Mary Whitehouse and the religious group Festival of
Light launched smear campaign against the film
Many of the authoriti...
Individual belief in God vs. God interpreted through
organized religion
Excessive religious belief and mob mentality
Sc...
Adolescent humor, reliance on slapstick
Serious material framed in a humorous context
Misrepresentation of Church princ...
Theories of Humor
Superiority Theory—Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Hobbes
Incongruity Theory—Kant, Schopenhauer, Hazlitt
Relief Theory—Santay...
Premises:
 Comedy—Soul experiences a mixture of pain and pleasure
 Malicious intent— “…the malicious man is somehow ple...
Premises:
Key term: Sudden glory—passion at hedonistic acts or at
seeing those who are worse off or remembering an absur...
Premises:
Man is “struck with the difference between what things are
and what they ought to be” (65).
Experience of the...
Premises:
Nervous excitement
Engagement of the senses/opening of the imagination
Easing of painful suggestions
Good g...
Freud and Bergson
Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious, 1905
Jokes similar to dreams because they partake of the
unconscious
Conne...
“Aversion to the thing itself had here been transferred
to the discussion of it” (97). Mental masturbation
Purpose:
Bri...
“Since our individual childhood, and, similarly, since
the childhood of human civilization, hostile impulses
against our ...
Disguised representation of the truth delivered
openly
Exposes our dual character (moral/immoral, high/low
pleasures)
“...
Examines the relationship between the joke and the
teller and the joke and the listener (brings a yield of
pleasure to bo...
“Humor is not resigned; it is rebellious. It signifies not
only the triumph of the ego but also of the pleasure
principle...
Freud’s Triumph of Humor: “Like wit and comic,
humor has in it a liberating element. But it has
also something fine and e...
Humor against oneself to ward off possible suffering
Think of Jewish humor during the Holocaust
Super-ego (parental age...
Comic spirit only exists within the human and has a
logic of its own
Features:
Absence of feeling (“…the comic demands ...
Involuntary movement; “physical obstinacy, as a
result, in fact, of rigidity or of momentum” (I, II)—
Causes people to la...
“Society will therefore be suspicious of all inelasticity of
character, of mind and even of body, because it is the
possi...
Turns human into object/thing—automaton
“We laugh every time a person gives us the impression of
being a thing” (I, V)—D...
How does Chaplin criticize the regimentation and
increasing mechanization of society?
What are the dangers of mechanizat...
American Psycho
American Psycho (2000)—directed by Mary Harron
and starring Christian Bale as Patrick Bateman.
Based on Bret Easton’s no...
Foils expectations of traditional American audiences
Inconclusive ending, ambiguity as to whether plot is
real or imagin...
“American Psycho is one of those films that makes
you laugh uncomfortably throughout and you just
walk away feeling disgu...
Human/animal, Super-ego/Id—Aggression and Evolution:
Freud’s cynic as social prototype/Relation of fantasy to reality
Re...
How does the film employ dark humor to promote
criticism?
How is sharp contrast/juxtaposition utilized?
What types of b...
Violence, Trauma and Social Disorder
Suicide, 1926
Pimps of Death, 1919
Seven Cardinal Sins, 1933
War Sketches--Skull
Is Dark Humor Ethical?
Humor and Ethics
Part I
Three main objections:
Laughter is involuntary—frees the subject of
responsibility
Triviality—makes the subject matter ...
Margaret Trudeau goes to visit the hockey team.
When she emerges she complains that she has been
gang-raped. Wishful thin...
Exclusion—community identification based on detriment
of others (butt of the joke), which is a distortion of reality
Emo...
de Sousa takes jokes as assertions rather than
statements that are not meant to be taken completely
serious
Category of ...
Humor and Ethics
Part II
1. Humor is insincere
2. Humor is idle
3. Humor is irresponsible
4. Humor is hedonistic
5. Humor diminishes self-control
6...
Performative aspect of humor
Relationship between speaker and audience
Stand-up comedy
COUNTERARGUMENT: Not all humor ...
Protestant Ethic
Every action must have a quantifiable purpose and
product
CASE STUDY: Churchill’s announcement that
Mu...
Disengagement in humor
Play—suspension of moral concern
CASE STUDIES:
Humor as psychologically healthy way to respond ...
Soul/body split
Denunciation of earthly pleasures in different societies
and religions
Fostering of sexual licentiousne...
Loss of muscle tone and coordination
Kant—involuntary reaction in the bowels
Mind/body split
COUNTERARGUMENT:
Promote...
Negative view of laughter as inferior mental activity
COUNTERARGUMENT:
Humor as a social lubricant
Ice-breakers
Jokin...
Association of laughter with vice
Comedians mocking political and religious leaders
and institutions
COUNTERARGUMENT:
...
Association of folly with laughter and wisdom with
sadness
Ecclesiastis 7:3-4: “Sorrow is better than laughter, for by
s...
Irresponsibility:
Practical disengagement--laugh something off instead of
taking action
Total cynic
Blocking Compassio...
Can humor increase our engagement in an issue that
would otherwise fall through the cracks? Examples?
Can purposed insen...
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Intro to dark humor

  1. 1. Introduction
  2. 2. Dark humor is a genre of comic irreverence that flippantly attacks society’s most sacredly serious subjects—especially death (Gehring 1). A genre that respects nothing, including the values of its audience (49). A particular attitude towards the world grounded on disorder and absurdity—presents this as the real state of the things. Opposite of joviality, wit or sarcasm. Rather macabre and ironic, an absurd turn of spirit that constitutes “the mortal enemy of sentimentality,” and beyond that a “superior revolt of the mind” (Polizzotti vi)
  3. 3. Absurdity and incongruous juxtaposition; thrives in disorder Merging the sacred and the profane Making the familiar uncanny (decontextualization) Anti-heroic protagonists Macabre fascination with death and the human body in general (body fluids, guts) Presentation of man as animal Insensitivity to categories of identity (class, race, ethnic background, age) Shock value Offensive or at least callous; as Breton puts it “the mortal enemy of sentimentality” Provides no reconciliation, harmony or closure
  4. 4. Brings uncomfortable material into social discourse through a distancing mechanism.  Laugh with rather than at  Uncomfortable laughter—makes the familiar uncanny and allows us to re-examine what we take for granted  Self-identity through self-deprecation Breaks censorship on tabooed subject matter (Bush administration and torture) Used to show the constructedness of institutions which seem natural (the family, the State). Makes us aware of our own place in the world  Elicits specific reaction as opposed to apathy  Community aspect of humor; how we relate to others  Humor as a defense against the irrationality of the world
  5. 5. History
  6. 6. One of the main founders of Surrealist artistic movement in Europe Break with the past (especially in deviating from traditional art forms —low culture/high culture) Surrealism as a political movement—anti- establishment, anti- bourgeouis
  7. 7. Marcel Duchamp, L.H.O.O.Q.,1919Marcel Duchamp, Fountain, 1917
  8. 8. Term first coined by Surrealist André Breton in 1916 . Breton compiled Anthology of Dark Humor in 1936; published it in 1940. Undoubtedly not a new phenomenon. Breton’s anthology includes figures such as Jonathan Swift, the Marquis de Sade, Edgar Allen Poe, Charles Baudelaire, Arthur Rimbaud, Friedrich Nietzsche, Pablo Picasso, Franz Kafka, Salvador Dalí and Marcel Duchamp.
  9. 9. Marquis de Sade, 1740-1814
  10. 10. Arthur Rimbaud, 1854-1891
  11. 11. Friedrich Nietzsche, 1844-1900
  12. 12. Salvador Dalí, 1904-1989
  13. 13. André Breton: “ A sense of the theatrical and (joyless) pointlessness of everything.” Lightning Rod: “We are touching upon a burning subject; we are headed straight into a land of fire: the gale winds of passion are alternately with us and against us from the moment we consider lifting the veil from this type of humor, whose manifest products we have nonetheless managed to isolate, with a unique satisfaction, in literature, art, and life” (Breton xiv). Humor as a type of art
  14. 14. World War I—Authors and artists find it difficult to give expression to such a cataclysmic conflict. First conflict in which 20th century technology came in conflict with 19th century tactics (technology of atrocity: poison gas, airplane/areal bombing, efficient machine guns). European intellectuals of the time saw world war as progressive and necessary to get rid of “the lower class rabble.” Omnipresence of brutal death and desensitization to it.
  15. 15. World War II—Incomparable atrocities on a mass scale and crimes committed that were beyond human imagination. Hitler and the Nazi Party (Chaplin’s 1940 film The Great Dictator) Destruction of entire cities Efficient mass killing (technology, concentration camps) Killing as an administrative function (Eichmann)
  16. 16. Protest, cohesive function, medicine to prevent madness Dark humor utilized in the camps to combat Nazi oppression, much like an automatic reflex Viktor E. Frankl describes the mood present when prisoners were led into a shower room which might be a gas chamber: “Most of us were overcome by a grim sense of humor. We know that we had nothing left to lose except our so ridiculously naked lives…we all tried very hard to make fun.” Dark humor referred to as “Jewish Novocain.”
  17. 17. Post World War II Existentialism Primacy of the absurd for the foundation and operation of the world (Camus and Sartre) Man is alone in a godless irrational world. Negative situation as the universal stage of life. Plot of Camus’ The Stranger
  18. 18. Resurgence in the 1960s Conrad Knickerboxer writes foundational text of the genre, “Humor with a Mortal Sting.” Looming threat of atomic bomb; fear of impending annihilation (atomic bomb drills at schools, Cuban Missile Crisis) Disenchantment with utopic philosophy (failure of Communism in practice) Vietnam War—American media in particular starts broadcasting “body counts” and breaks with previous censorship on images of dead American soldiers.
  19. 19. Open-mindedness, acceptance of diversity, critical thinking (combats “Groupthink”) Liberates us from the narrow perspective of fight- or-flight emotions (mitigates negative emotions like fear or anger) Acceptance of each other’s shortcomings because they are reflective of one’s own behavior (defuses conflict) Allows you to examine yourself more objectively
  20. 20. CASE STUDY: Jon Stewart, “Even Better Than the Real Thing,” The Daily Show, January 5th , 2010 Defining the “good old days” Nostalgia working toward abstraction, falsification and blockage of actual historical memory “Armchair nostalgia” and its appeal Displacing/ignoring the present Recourse to Edenic time and place that never disappoints you because you can never attain it
  21. 21. Discussion Current practitioners of dark humor? What purpose(s) does it serve today?
  22. 22. Introduction to Rhetoric: Ethos, Pathos, Logos
  23. 23. Making the Familiar Uncanny
  24. 24. Breton—archenemy of sentimentality Freud—the uncanny (unheimlich) Bataille—taboos and transgression Bakhtin—the grotesque
  25. 25. What is the relationship between the familiar and the uncanny? How does it change from one to the other? How are sentimentalized groups or cultural icons undermined? What is the taboo? How does the material transgress the taboo? When does it become grotesque?
  26. 26. “The difference between the bizarre and grotesque is merely one of degree. The grotesque is more radical and more aggressive… something which is very strange, and perhaps ludicrous as well, is made so exceedingly abnormal that our laughter at the ludicrous and eccentric is intruded on by feelings of horror or disgust; or, a scene or character which is laughably eccentric suddenly becomes problematic, and our reaction to it mixed, through the appearance of something quite at odds with the comic” (Thompson 13).
  27. 27. Listening for Dark Humor
  28. 28. Tendentious Jokes
  29. 29. Beyond Boundaries: Shit and Bodily Secretions
  30. 30. At once part of us and not part of us St. Augustine: “Inter faeces et urinam nascimur.” (We are born between feces and urine.) Mind/soul separated from body (soul is infinite and will be resurrected, body will remain behind) Division between higher and lower functions of the human body Head, eyes, ears, heart: thinking, perception, purity. Bowels and sexual organs: unclean, humiliating, to be hidden, impure.
  31. 31. Open body, body that leaks, orifices Lack of boundaries between inside and outside Shit Mucus Blood Menstrual blood Urine Pus Vomit Semen and vaginal secretions
  32. 32. Promiscuity—transformation of human into plant form
  33. 33. Corpse is a mirror image of the I, which is not identical to the self but yet familiar. Cleanliness (hygiene of the funeral industry) Burial rituals to dispose of the unclean corpse Corpse not resurrected, although bodily semblance is
  34. 34. Definition: “The abject is not an ob-ject facing me, which I name or imagine. Nor is it an ob-jest, an otherness ceaselessly fleeing in a systematic quest of desire. What is abject is not my correlative, which providing me with someone or something else as support, would allow me to be more or less detached and autonomous. The abject has only one quality of the object—that of being opposed to I. If the object, however, through its opposition, settles me within the fragile texture of a desire for meaning, which as a matter of fact, makes me homologous to it, what is abject, on the contrary, the jettisoned object, is radically excluded and draws me toward the place where meaning collapses” (1-2).
  35. 35. “It lies outside, beyond the set, and does not seem to agree to the latter’s rules of the game. And yet, from its place of banishment, the abject does not cease challenging its master. Without a sign (from him), it beseeches a discharge, a convulsion, a crying out” (2). Return of the repressed
  36. 36. “A massive and sudden emergence of uncanniness, which familiar as it might have been in an opaque and forgotten life, now harries me as radically separate, loathsome. Not me. Not that. But not nothing either. A ‘something’ that I do not recognize as a thing. A weight of meaniglessness about which there is nothing insignificant, and which crushes me. On the edge of non-existence and hallucination, of a reality that, if I acknowledge it, annihilates me” (2).
  37. 37. Long-forgotten past—maternal body/infant (no separation). Psychoanalytic explanation. Causes fear but also inaugurates first feelings of loss and want. Absence and nostalgia, incompleteness. Marginality and opposition to hierarchies of organization. Above all, ambivalent and non-stationary. Constant change—grotta. Opposed to the clean and proper body—filth, the profane. CLASS DISCUSSION: Images of beauty and hygiene. What does our society consider filth/unwanted?
  38. 38. The zombie: Death, old age, difference, sloppiness, lack of boundaries Blurs distinctions between: Living/dead Human/animal Human/inhuman Inside/outside Object of filth that must be eliminated
  39. 39. “The one by whom the abject exists is thus a deject who places (himself), separates (himself), situates (himself), and therefore strays instead of getting his bearings, desiring, belonging or refusing. Situationist in a sense, and not without laughter—since laughter is a way of placing or displacing abjection. Necessarily dichotomous, somewhat Manichean, he divides, excludes, and without, properly speaking, wishing to know his abjections, is not at all unaware of them, thus casting within himself the scalpel that carries out his separation” (8).
  40. 40. Seeing abjection as a site of oppression but also a potential site of resistance (Kristeva, cultural studies) Lepers The sick (mental and physical) Prostitutes Minorities Individuals with mixed racial/ethnic backgrounds The homosexual/bisexual/transgender The criminal The vagabond The comedian/fool—think of the identity of stand-up comedians in the US
  41. 41. Alter ego—access to the Real Accepts its fate The abject is always part of the subject Brings this side into the light Operates within “a topology” of catastrophe, constantly re-invents himself, embraces discord and the violation of bodily and social boundaries (taboos) “The abject is perverse because it neither gives up nor assumes a prohibition, a rule, or a law; but turns them aside, misleads, corrupts; uses them, takes advantage of them, the better to deny them” (15) CASE STUDY: George Carlin—profanity
  42. 42. “Yet life is none the less a negation of death. It condemns it and shuts it out. This reaction is strongest in man, and horror at death is linked not only with the annihilation of the individual but also with the decay that sends the dead flesh back into the general ferment of life” (55-56). “…decomposition, the source of an abundant surge of life, and death” (56). “The horror we feel at the thought of a corpse is akin to the feeling we have at human excreta” (57).
  43. 43. Orifices are the sewers of the body Disgust with excrement and other fluids similar to disgust at aspects of sensuality Creation of the category of the obscene/offensive We have to earn our status as human beings through repression of primal impulses/primal matter Babies and little kids are obsessed with their excrement and sometimes even eat it Parents quickly intervene to teach the child this type of behavior is unacceptable Denial of body is at the same time a denial of our own corporal frailty and mortality
  44. 44. Why are we so obsessed with shit? We produce it—it is our own creation, contribution to the world Loss of something—Defecation as divine creation (Leroux “and I fashioned earth” passage, 132) But, we have to transform it into something useful (separating humans from the animal world towards divine purity); deodorization (non olet) Healthy shit is odorless Separation of bodies from their odor/odorless=beautiful
  45. 45. Privileging of the visual over other senses (Freud—man loses his connection to Nature when he stands upright) “Musk is the site of condensation that most clearly reveals that all smell is tendentially the smell of shit” (104). Fear of contagion (sexual—AIDS) Role of hygiene Promoted through: Medical/social prescriptions of hygiene Canons of beauty (eliminate smell/filth)
  46. 46. Andres Serrano, Self- portrait, 2008
  47. 47. Do shit/bodily fluid jokes try to rehabilitate our connection to the bodily/the earth? OR Are they part of the taboo that encircles these substances with feeling of disgust? Do they reinforce these feelings in the viewer/listener?
  48. 48. Death, Aging and Illness
  49. 49. Loss of bodily control/Body as stranger or intruder Loss of human agency (what makes us human/part of society?) Degradation of the body into an object Uncleanliness/Filth Traditional: scabs, lesions, putrefaction New: wrinkles, fat, flab Transformation into something distasteful, abject and alien to oneself Cronenberg’s 1986 film The Fly interpreted by some as: Metaphor for aging Metaphor for body/self being ravished by AIDS
  50. 50. Life in the margins: Human/inhuman Culture/Nature Subject/object Sacred/profane No clear indication of where/when one starts and the other ends DISCUSSION: Hand-out on location of corpse
  51. 51. “The entire strategy of the contemporary system tends to ward off the idea of death in a sort of interdiction, it cannot be named, death belongs now to the idea of disappearance, absence, distance” (65). “The civilization of the image will not tolerate blood, disease, old age, and just as it conceals the sick and the old, in the same way it undertakes a systematic disappearance of death, which is named and viewed only in images linked to homicide, or in general the catastrophe from which it results. The only acceptable death is ‘accidental’ death. Natural death no longer exists” (65).
  52. 52. “Death thus dissolves meaning because it is itself beyond language, beyond signification, and beyond the symbolic order. As such it always escapes knowledge and remains for us as the ‘uncanny,’ the thing ‘beyond our ken’: in Certeau’s words, ‘a wound on reason’” (207). Cycle of life does not end at the moment of social death, but the body continues to have a life and drive of its own. Dead coming back to life (legal matters, war atrocities) Decomposition (chemical process that is not at rest)
  53. 53. Pushed out from the circle of the living Death at home changes to death in hospitals and IC units Within closed doors Corridors for those waiting for death Handing over the traditional duties of the family toward the dead to the funeral industry Aesthetization of death In art—Pre-Raphaelites Staging a spectacle focused on the living and hiding the dead body (embalming, tearing the memory of the deceased from the actual corpse).
  54. 54. Andres Serrano, Pneumonia, “Morgue” Series
  55. 55. CASE STUDY: Michael Lehmann’s Heathers, 1988. Principal actors: Winona Ryder (Veronica), Christian Slater (J.D.). Sentimentalization of death Purification of the corpse Preservation of a “dignified” image Socialized mourning The funeral industry and spectacles for the living
  56. 56. Social practices to deal with death Social practices to disavow death Sublimation into passage to a “better world” Idealization of the deceased Separation of social image from the actual corpse Role of religion in the way Western society approaches death Dignification (after the fact) Hypocrisy Polite conversation CLASS DISCUSSION: What methods does he employ to discuss the subject of death? How does it compare to the norm?
  57. 57. Figurations of Death in the Collective Imaginary
  58. 58. Caravaggio, St. Jerome, 1605-1606
  59. 59. Playful
  60. 60. Compare and contrast current images with images of the past How do we configure death today? What symbolizes the fear of death? Has death been completely socialized? Has its figuration transformed? How? Why do we attempt to socialize death? What does it say about Western culture in general?
  61. 61. Stereotypes
  62. 62. Joseph Boskin, “The Complicity of the Life and Death of Sambo.”
  63. 63. “…a stereotype is tenacious in its hold over rational thinking. It gains its power by repetitive play, presented in different guises, so that the image it projects becomes firmly imbedded in reactive levels of thought and action” (250). Misinformation to those not familiar with the cultural prejudice (passing a stereotype from one generation to another) Simplifies the process of perceiving other people— allows us to take the easy route in dealing with difference
  64. 64. Conveys cultural inferiority not only to the racist group but also to the group being oppressed (“humor illusion”) Social control of the majority Cites Freud Humor as joint aggressiveness toward outsiders Socially-endorsed form of hostility and violence Uses David Singer to back up his argument Quote: “The mask of humor’s subtlety and its seemingly innocuous character are used by the humorist to conceal his destructive motives and thus to bypass inhibitions in his audience and himself” (256).
  65. 65. Counters the argument that humor can be utilized subversively against the oppressor (Holocaust, racial jokes) Premises: Maintains victim/oppressor relationship Victim complicit in his/her own humiliation and oppression Makes the situation acceptable to the rest of society CURRENT-DAY EXAMPLES?
  66. 66. “Although the victim’s laughter may be unrestricted and defiant, it is mostly hidden and defensive in nature. While crucial as a means of survival and the maintenance of dignity, defensive humor does not alter the structure of the image itself. Rather, it ameliorates the tension between the interacting parties, thus making the stereotype acceptable to both and presentable to the larger society. The illusion continues until one of the two groups either refuses to perpetuate the process, or changes its own role so drastically that the relation is terminated” (261). CLASS DISCUSSION: Support of argument or counter-argument with examples.
  67. 67. Sebastian, The Little Mermaid
  68. 68. Indians, Peter Pan
  69. 69. Larry the Cable Guy
  70. 70. Gender
  71. 71. Frederic Lord Leighton, Flaming June, 1895
  72. 72. Idealization of relations between people, especially sexual relations Romanticism—appeal to the natural and to emotions rather than empirical evidence (pre-Raphaelites) Gothic Romanticism—connection between love and death, obsession with dead maidens (Edgar Allen Poe’s “Annabel Lee”) Constructed gender roles and behavior (active/passive dichotomy) Aesthetization of violence/upholding status-quo Female—Innocent maiden, disempowered, cannot obtain an answer to her question, does not know her own story Male—Self-assured, moves the plot along, dominates/determines narrative legitimizes violence against women, “I knew she was the one,” “all beauty must die”
  73. 73. Monty Python’s Life of Brian
  74. 74. Religious satire and as a result drew accusations of blasphemy from some religious groups Followed a case where a successful blasphemy charge had been brought against another religious parody Definition of blasphemy:  1 a : the act of insulting or showing contempt or lack of reverence for God b : the act of claiming the attributes of deity 2 : irreverence toward something considered sacred or inviolable Thirty-nine local authorities in the United Kingdom either completely banned the film or imposed an X (US NC-17) certificate Some countries, such as Norway, banned its showing
  75. 75. Mary Whitehouse and the religious group Festival of Light launched smear campaign against the film Many of the authorities banning the film later admitted they had never actually viewed it Appearance by John Cleese and Michael Palin on BBC2 discussion program Friday Night, Saturday Morning to defend the film against accusations by Malcolm Muggeridge and Mervyn Stockwood, the Bishop of Southward Muggerdige and the Bishop had arrived at the screening 15 minutes late, missing the part of the film that establishes Brian as a separate figure from Christ Their argument was based on the assumption that Brian and Jesus were the same person/character
  76. 76. Individual belief in God vs. God interpreted through organized religion Excessive religious belief and mob mentality Scene where Brian addressed the crowd: “You don’t need to follow me, you don’t need to follow anybody! You’ve got to think for yourselves! You’re all individuals.” Interpretation of causal incidents as signs from God Brian’s sandal as containing divine message “Cast off the shoe!” Misinterpretation by historical participants that are carried on for generations “Blessed are the cheese-makers,” “Blessed are the Greeks.”
  77. 77. Adolescent humor, reliance on slapstick Serious material framed in a humorous context Misrepresentation of Church principles which are beneficial /Encourage people, especially the young, not to take religion seriously Heresy: 1 a : adherence to a religious opinion contrary to church dogma b : denial of a revealed truth by a baptized member of the Roman Catholic Church c : an opinion or doctrine contrary to church dogma 2 a : dissent or deviation from a dominant theory, opinion, or practice b : an opinion, doctrine, or practice contrary to the truth or to generally accepted beliefs or standards
  78. 78. Theories of Humor
  79. 79. Superiority Theory—Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Hobbes Incongruity Theory—Kant, Schopenhauer, Hazlitt Relief Theory—Santayana, Spencer, Freud (to a certain extent)
  80. 80. Premises:  Comedy—Soul experiences a mixture of pain and pleasure  Malicious intent— “…the malicious man is somehow pleased at his neighbor’s misfortunes” (11)  Ridiculous as a form of evil Argument: The our argument shows that when we laugh at what is ridiculous in our friends, our pleasure, in mixing with malice, mixes with pain, for we have agreed that malice is a pain of the soul, and that laughter is pleasant, and on these occasions we both feel malice and laugh” (13). CLASS DISCUSSION: Support of argument or counter- argument with examples.
  81. 81. Premises: Key term: Sudden glory—passion at hedonistic acts or at seeing those who are worse off or remembering an absurd act we committed in the past. Comparison in which we recommend ourselves “to our own good opinion, by comparison to another man’s infirmity or absurdity” (20). Laughter—distortion of the countenance, grimace. Argument: “…the passion of laughter is nothing else but sudden glory arising from some sudden conception of some eminency in ourselves, by comparison with the infirmity of others, or with our own formerly” (20).  CLASS DISCUSSION: Support of argument or counter-argument with examples.
  82. 82. Premises: Man is “struck with the difference between what things are and what they ought to be” (65). Experience of the discontinuous (key term)— “produces a… jar and discord in the frame” (67). Connection between the sublime and ridiculous (79) Argument: “To be struck with incongruity in whatever comes before us, does not argue great comprehension of perception, but rather a looseness and flippancy of mind and temper, which prevents the individual from connecting any two ideas steadily or consistently together” (81). CLASS DISCUSSION: Support of argument or counter- argument with examples.
  83. 83. Premises: Nervous excitement Engagement of the senses/opening of the imagination Easing of painful suggestions Good grotesque as novel beauty Argument: “So also in humor, the painful suggestions are felt as such, and need to be overbalanced by agreeable elements…On the one hand there is the sensuous and merely perceptive stimulation, the novelty, the movement, the vivacity of the spectacle. On the other hand, there is the luxury of imaginative sympathy, the mental assimilation of another congenial experience, the expansion into another life. The juxtaposition of these two pleasures produces just that tension and complication in which the humorous consists” (96-97).  CLASS DISCUSSION: Support of argument or counter-argument with examples.
  84. 84. Freud and Bergson
  85. 85. Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious, 1905 Jokes similar to dreams because they partake of the unconscious Connection of dissimilar concepts/play of the imagination/play with language Condensation, displacement and indirect representation Aims: Deriving pleasure Hostile joke (serving the purpose of aggressiveness) Obscene joke (serving the purpose of exposure— “smut”), 97
  86. 86. “Aversion to the thing itself had here been transferred to the discussion of it” (97). Mental masturbation Purpose: Bring into prominence sexual facts often repressed by social etiquette Satisfy libidinal desire to view sexual organs (a form of seduction in some ways and also sexual relief) Structure: Works with allusions and euphemisms rather than expressing the straightforward obscenity
  87. 87. “Since our individual childhood, and, similarly, since the childhood of human civilization, hostile impulses against our fellow men have been subject to the same restrictions, the same progressive repression, as our sexual urges” (102). Brutal hostility replaced by verbal invective Purpose: Exploit something ridiculous in the enemy by evading social restrictions and open sources of pleasure that have become inaccessible (rebellion against authority, liberation)
  88. 88. Disguised representation of the truth delivered openly Exposes our dual character (moral/immoral, high/low pleasures) “What these jokes whisper may be said aloud: that the wishes and desires of men have a right to make themselves acceptable alongside of exacting and ruthless morality” (110). Not always directed at a single person, but at a collective person (i.e. subject’s own nation and even self criticism) Attacking the certainty of our knowledge itself
  89. 89. Examines the relationship between the joke and the teller and the joke and the listener (brings a yield of pleasure to both the active and the passive participants) Humorist (where the process takes place)/listener (echo) Why be humorous? Liberating Grandeur and elevation Refusal to be engulfed and made helpless by emotions or situations
  90. 90. “Humor is not resigned; it is rebellious. It signifies not only the triumph of the ego but also of the pleasure principle, which is able here to assert itself against the unkindness of the real circumstances” (163) When victims transform their suffering into the humorous Humorist identifies with all-powerful father figure Acquires his superiority be reducing other people, especially the listeners, to children He/she alone can cope with the situation and exhibit this higher, dignified attitude
  91. 91. Freud’s Triumph of Humor: “Like wit and comic, humor has in it a liberating element. But it has also something fine and elevating, which is lacking in the other two ways of deriving pleasure from intellectual activity. Obviously, what is fine about it is the triumph of narcissism, the ego’s victorious assertion of its own invulnerability. It refuses to be hurt by the arrows of reality or to be compelled to suffer. It insists that it is impervious to wounds dealt by the outside world, in fact, that these are merely occasions for affording it pleasure.”
  92. 92. Humor against oneself to ward off possible suffering Think of Jewish humor during the Holocaust Super-ego (parental agency) intervening on the behalf of the ego Double function of super-ego (repressive but also prevents damage from external forces) Key term: hypercathexis “A joke is thus the contribution made to the comic by the unconscious. In just the same way, humor would be the contribution made to the comic through the agency of the super-ego” (165). DISCUSSION: What is the difference between a joke and humor?
  93. 93. Comic spirit only exists within the human and has a logic of its own Features: Absence of feeling (“…the comic demands something like a momentary anesthesia of the heart. Its appeal is to intelligence, pure and simple” (I, Chapter I). Must have social signification (“How often has it been said that the fuller the theater, the more uncontrolled the laughter of the audience! On the other hand, how often has the remark been made that many comic effects are incapable of translation from one language to another, because they refer to the customs and ideas of a particular social group!” (I, Chapter I).
  94. 94. Involuntary movement; “physical obstinacy, as a result, in fact, of rigidity or of momentum” (I, II)— Causes people to laugh at a man’s fall Body as beautiful and supple vs. mechanical inelasticity (absent-minded individual, lack of balance) Big deduction: Laughter is a social gesture made to correct an individual’s behavior through humiliation
  95. 95. “Society will therefore be suspicious of all inelasticity of character, of mind and even of body, because it is the possible sign of a slumbering activity as well as of an activity with separatist tendencies, that inclines to swerve from the common centre round which society gravitates: in short, because it is the sign of an eccentricity…It is confronted with something that makes it uneasy, but only as a symptom—scarcely a threat, at the very most a gesture. A gesture, therefore, will be its reply” (I, II). Inspires fear, restrains, intimidates and thus, maintains the social contact and the status quo
  96. 96. Turns human into object/thing—automaton “We laugh every time a person gives us the impression of being a thing” (I, V)—Dehumanization of person; mechanization of human body Promotes rigid control of one’s body/represses a person’s natural drives “Laughter is, above all, a corrective. Being intended to humiliate, it must make a painful impression on the person against whom it is directed. By laughter, society avenges itself for the liberties taken with it. It would fail in its object if it bore the stamp or sympathy or kindness” (II, V).
  97. 97. How does Chaplin criticize the regimentation and increasing mechanization of society? What are the dangers of mechanization? How are these portrayed in the factory scene? How does Modern Times challenge Bergson’s theory of the comic?
  98. 98. American Psycho
  99. 99. American Psycho (2000)—directed by Mary Harron and starring Christian Bale as Patrick Bateman. Based on Bret Easton’s novel of the same title. Easton was one of the screenwriters for the film. Controversy with MPAA who wanted to give it an NC- 17 rating. Film had to be re-cut to attain an R rating. Criticism of the greedy, hedonistic consumer culture of corporate America in the 1980s. Incorporates elements of horror film to engage its audience. Opposition of cleanliness/beauty/health and dirt/pollution/bodily fluids.
  100. 100. Foils expectations of traditional American audiences Inconclusive ending, ambiguity as to whether plot is real or imagined, no redemption of main character. “The movie takes the back way out and leaves us unsatisfied. I won't say exactly what happens, but Bateman's reality perception is left in question, and there's no redemption or conclusion of any kind. I like ambiguous and challenging endings, but a movie of this kind needs to leave us with something. Otherwise there's no point in making the thing at all.”—Jeffrey Anderson, CombustibleCelluloid.com
  101. 101. “American Psycho is one of those films that makes you laugh uncomfortably throughout and you just walk away feeling disgusted. The flick is definitely an underrated masterpiece.”—Kevin McCarthy, BDK Reviews “At once a sharp satire and an earnest study in the deadly consequences of moral vacancy.” –Ella Taylor, L.A. Weekly “It’s smart, frightening and funny.” –Chris Gore, Film Threat
  102. 102. Human/animal, Super-ego/Id—Aggression and Evolution: Freud’s cynic as social prototype/Relation of fantasy to reality Responsibility/accountability (individual, collective, corporate, social/government) Social criticism—society of the image, consumer culture, greed, lifestyle, corporate America Dehumanization, desensitization to violence (self- reflection as violent film) Problematic masculinity: Regime of beauty—violence to self, out of touch with self even though ultra-invested in self (time applying beauty products, exercising) Usually associated with the feminine  Body as a stranger, but differently than in The Fly or The Metamorphosis  Connection between obsessive care of the self and violence
  103. 103. How does the film employ dark humor to promote criticism? How is sharp contrast/juxtaposition utilized? What types of bodies does it present? How do sexuality and desire shape the film as a product, including its marketing campaign? Aesthetization of violence? Portrayal of serial killer? Bale’s good looks? Empathy with Bateman as opposed to victims? How does it play with viewer’s expectations? Is it as subversive as it seems or is this only an effect at a surface level?
  104. 104. Violence, Trauma and Social Disorder
  105. 105. Suicide, 1926
  106. 106. Pimps of Death, 1919
  107. 107. Seven Cardinal Sins, 1933
  108. 108. War Sketches--Skull
  109. 109. Is Dark Humor Ethical? Humor and Ethics Part I
  110. 110. Three main objections: Laughter is involuntary—frees the subject of responsibility Triviality—makes the subject matter appear frivolous The funny is merely aesthetic—does not have moral weight or an agenda Goes back to Plato—evil element in laughter Phthonic laughter (key term)—comes from Greek word Phthonos, which means “malicious envy” and connotes both the involvement of something evil, and the ambiguity between identification and alienating that characterizes jealousy
  111. 111. Margaret Trudeau goes to visit the hockey team. When she emerges she complains that she has been gang-raped. Wishful thinking. If you laugh, you are accepting the stereotype or the assumptions of the joke “To laugh at the joke marks you as a sexist” (239). By listening, you are endorsing and promoting the proliferation of a particular negative attitude Phthonic joke requires a victim “Phthonic jokes are a species of jokes that rest not merely on beliefs, actual or hypothetical, but on attitudes…Attitudes are beliefs that one cannot hypothetically adopt” (241)
  112. 112. Exclusion—community identification based on detriment of others (butt of the joke), which is a distortion of reality Emotional self-deception—denial or wrong assessment of reality (laughing at yourself) What makes it unethical? “The ‘unethical’ in both cases involves a wrong assessment of reality” (244). Reference to Bergson—laughter is incompatible with emotion. There is a sort of cruelty in laughter that stems from its ability to create a position in which the subject disengages with reality
  113. 113. de Sousa takes jokes as assertions rather than statements that are not meant to be taken completely serious Category of “the joke” and effect on listener Specific role of the comedian/fool in society Allowed to transgress within context of the comic Engenders different audience expectations than someone in another profession Social function of stereotypes Transposition from one group to other (Polish joke becomes blonde joke) Projection Inspires a need in listener to examine the speaker’s position The joke tells you more about the speaker and his/her shortcomings, fears, prejudices than about what he/she is laughing at
  114. 114. Humor and Ethics Part II
  115. 115. 1. Humor is insincere 2. Humor is idle 3. Humor is irresponsible 4. Humor is hedonistic 5. Humor diminishes self-control 6. Humor is hostile 7. Humor fosters anarchy 8. Humor is foolish
  116. 116. Performative aspect of humor Relationship between speaker and audience Stand-up comedy COUNTERARGUMENT: Not all humor involves pretending and insincerity Old friends laughing about a past event Pretending is part of our society and not necessarily objectionable Role of actors
  117. 117. Protestant Ethic Every action must have a quantifiable purpose and product CASE STUDY: Churchill’s announcement that Mussolini had declared war on Great Britain “Today, the Italians have announced that they are joining the war on the side of the Germans. I think that’s only fair— we had to take them last time.” Helped relieve British public’s anxieties about the war
  118. 118. Disengagement in humor Play—suspension of moral concern CASE STUDIES: Humor as psychologically healthy way to respond to setbacks Holocaust Humor as a way to publicly point out that a situation must be corrected Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert’s criticism of the government
  119. 119. Soul/body split Denunciation of earthly pleasures in different societies and religions Fostering of sexual licentiousness COUNTERARGUMENT: Amusement and laughter tend to diminish sexual passion (purely physical response) Most humor is unrelated to sex and even if it is about sex, it does not promote a relation of indifference toward sexual licentiousness Morality tales: Jokes about cheating spouses
  120. 120. Loss of muscle tone and coordination Kant—involuntary reaction in the bowels Mind/body split COUNTERARGUMENT: Promotes rational thinking by reducing negative emotions like fear or anger Medical humor to reduce the stress of the patient
  121. 121. Negative view of laughter as inferior mental activity COUNTERARGUMENT: Humor as a social lubricant Ice-breakers Joking as a way to deal with situations that produce anxiety and discomfort
  122. 122. Association of laughter with vice Comedians mocking political and religious leaders and institutions COUNTERARGUMENT: Lack of humor in moments of social revolt French Revolution American Civil Rights Movement Need to occasionally challenge the status quo Cabaret performers during the Third Reich Comedians during the Bush administration, especially concerning issues of torture
  123. 123. Association of folly with laughter and wisdom with sadness Ecclesiastis 7:3-4: “Sorrow is better than laughter, for by sadness of countenance the heart is made glad. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.” COUNTERARGUMENT: Meditative nature of works of comedy Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator and Modern Times
  124. 124. Irresponsibility: Practical disengagement--laugh something off instead of taking action Total cynic Blocking Compassion: Displacing action and insulting those who are suffering, thus increasing their suffering (cruel humor) Promoting Prejudice: Cognitive disengagement—play frame that removes statement or image from moral scrutiny Converting the objectionable into the aesthetic
  125. 125. Can humor increase our engagement in an issue that would otherwise fall through the cracks? Examples? Can purposed insensitivity or callousness call attention to something that needs to be corrected or a general attitude that is morally suspect? Examples? Can jokes based on stereotypes promote identification and community building? Does a joke based on a stereotype lead to the mistreatment of the group targeted? Examples?

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