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Ross Kennedy @KamSage
, 20 tweets, 4 min read Read on Twitter
As I have a minor academic expertise in comedy (laugh it up), thought it’d be good to theorise why offense is more common today than it used to be. Thread ahead, academic comedy fans. (will focus on UK comedy as that’s more my area but can be applied widely).
There are 3 main theories on why we laugh. The theories of comedy relevant to this are Superiority & Relief theory. Bigoted comedy, like this racist ‘joke’ above, use to get laughs because of the superiority theory, but over time has shifted to Relief.
First, defining theories.
Superiority theory is as it sounds. People find it funny to laugh at those they see as lesser to themselves, based on whatever is ‘other’ from them, like other classes, races, countries, genders, sexualities, etc. The definition of “punching down” comedy, at the expense of others
Often used by bullies to feel better than their victim. As the mainstream has been straight, white, cis men for centuries, you can guess who they hated
*whisper* everyone else. Cartoon caricatures are some of the most obvious examples of superiority laughter.
Popular in Victorian era magazines, like Punch! producing images that villainise & dehumanise other people, especially ones making social changes or who UK was at war with. E.g. India’s independence & Women Lib both took a lot of bigoted interpretations by people against them.
Bigoted opinions have been gradually removed from acceptable parts of society (but is making a rise again, thanks fascists), as the mainstream doesn't find it funny to laugh at others seen as lesser.
Indeed, the opposite effect usually occurs, where we’re outraged & angered at these hateful remarks are used as ‘jokes’. They’re still believed but not expressed in public. They became subjects for fringe comedians (e.g.Chubby Brown) & but the reason for laughing shifted.
Here comes Relief theory, which explains comedy as a way to put us in a state of ‘stableness’, or it gives us a feeling of normality, after a build up of pressure from something. In context, the suppressed bigoted opinions build up as society looks down upon expressing them.
Relief laughter indulges in hidden desires & that is what bigoted jokes became. Laughter at these jokes as a way to express agreement with thinking it’s fine for white people to say the n-word, cos they want to say it, but won’t, so the racist comedian expresses it for them.
Relief comedy can exist in mainstream comedy (Peter Kay’s “Garlic Bread” bit being one I can remember) but bigoted opinions are still not welcome in the mainstream, joke or not. Just because you say “It’s just a joke” doesn’t make it a joke, it must be examined on WHY it is.
The conclusion for analysing bigoted jokes is often laughing at the expense of someone else, which society does not like. Ergo, it is not a joke & why many people don’t laugh at them anymore. Those who do are a niche audience now, & not the mainstream.
The conclusion is that society & culture changed what is acceptable comedy. And if we were to place this in a wider view, where children are detained & killed over their race, or left to drown escaping the bombs we approved, making fun of these these groups just isn't acceptable.
Comedy often reflects the ideas of its audience back at them.
There’s a reason there aren’t many successful right-wing comedians. Their views aren’t the majority opinion of society. More importantly, their offence genre is infinitely limited & as society becomes more sophisticated & educated, it demands more from comedy today.
Not to say that the audience & comedian inherently have the same viewpoints, even on comedy. I don’t think Charlie Chaplin doing slapstick means he or his audience enjoy people falling over (bad example probably, eh).
But in the context of our culture, comedians bringing up political or social topics for comedy, you’d better believe your opinions are reflected in the jokes you make & the audience you build. The two aren't completely separate, like the artist from their art.
You see the audience response to a person's work often indicates the views that are being put out there. Pewdiepie getting support from Nazi websites for his ‘joke’ of getting people to hold a ‘Death to Jews’ sign implies his content steers that way.
Al Murray is smart in that he uses his Pub Landlord act to both be a satire of the people like that, but also appealing to those who think he’s being real. Different parts of his audience are laughing for different reason, like Superiority or Relief.
So, to conclude, when you get dicks like the OP vid showed, worried about not being able to offend, the fact is all they really appeal to is a bunch of people wanting to use slurs but don’t want society to stigmatise them. And that’s a good thing.
Tl; dr Comedy has changed you grumpy, racist fuckers, get over it & start putting some effort into good comedy, otherwise we’ll call you out on your bigoted shit. Get use to being uncomfortable if you want to continue using slurs.
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