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Engaging Humor

Engaging Humor

Copyright Date: 2003
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    Engaging Humor
    Book Description:

    In Engaging Humor, Elliott Oring asks essential questions concerning humorous expression in contemporary society, examining how humor works, why it is employed, and what its messages might be. This provocative book is filled with examples of jokes and riddles that reveal humor to be a meaningful--even significant--form of expression._x000B_ _x000B_Oring scrutinizes classic Jewish jokes, frontier humor, racist cartoons, blonde jokes, and Internet humor. He provides alternate ways of thinking about humorous expressions by examining their contexts--not just their contents. He also shows how the incongruity and absurdity essential to the production of laughter can serve serious communicative ends._x000B_ _x000B_Engaging Humor examines the thoughts that underlie jokes, the question of racist motivation in ethnic humor, and the use of humor as a commentary on social interaction. The book also explores the relationship between humor and sentimentality and the role of humor in forging national identity. Engaging Humor demonstrates that when analyzed contextually and comparatively, humorous expressions emerge as communications that are startling, intriguing, and profound.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09205-3
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. 1. Appropriate Incongruity Redux
    (pp. 1-12)

    Humor, I have argued, depends upon the perception of anappropriate incongruity; that is, the perception of an appropriate relationship between categories that would ordinarily be regarded as incongruous.¹ A brief example should suffice to illustrate the notion: “A man goes to see a psychiatrist. The doctor asks him, ‘What seems to be the problem?’ The patient says, ‘Doc, no one believes anything I say.’ The doctor replies, ‘You’re kidding!’” To understand this joke, one must apprehend both the appropriateness and the incongruity of the doctor’s response. The phrase “you’re kidding” is an expression of surprise and appropriately registers the...

  5. 2. The Senses of Absurd Humor
    (pp. 13-26)

    There is a portion of humorous expression that has been termed by various commentators “nonsensical” or “absurd.”³ But what defines this subset of humor and how does it relate to some “standard” humor that lacks nonsensical or absurd characteristics?⁴ Does it employ different mechanisms or depend on different principles than other forms of humor?

    Mary K. Rothbart and Diana Pien, adhering to the notion that humor depends upon incongruity resolution, hold that jokes are nonsensical when they fail to completely resolve incongruities.⁵ To illustrate the notion of complete incongruity resolution, they cite the following riddle: “How far can a dog...

  6. 3. Joke Thoughts
    (pp. 27-40)

    No figure looms larger in the modern history of symbolism than Sigmund Freud. It was Freud who made symbolism a primary concern of the human sciences in the twentieth century and utterly transformed the conceptualization of human behaviors. After Freud, dreams, nervous diseases, slips of the tongue, rituals, superstitions, myths, folktales, and customs were not the same phenomena they had been before. Even those who have attempted to revise or have opposed Freud’s symbolic approach are to a great extent defined by his project.¹

    It should be, therefore, of some interest to note that Freud’s most sustained analysis of a...

  7. 4. The Humor of Hate
    (pp. 41-57)

    At the close of the mystery novelA Fine Red Rain, the prostitute Mathilde accuses Emil Karpo, a detective in the Office of the Procurator General in Moscow, of being a romantic. Karpo utterly denies the charge, asserting there is nothing he has ever done or said to substantiate such a claim. When Mathilde says that she was being sarcastic, Karpo replies, “As you well know, I have no sense of humor.... I have no repressions and, therefore, no need for humor.”¹

    Karpo’s comment mirrors a popular view of the motivations and functions of humor. Humor is born of inhibition;...

  8. 5. Blond Ambitions and Other Signs of the Times
    (pp. 58-70)

    In the last few decades a new attitude has emerged in the United States toward humor. Once thought a crucial aspect of the well-rounded personality, humor has increasingly become problematic as jokes and other forms of humorous expression have been tied to the meanest of motives and implicated in the creation of all sorts of baleful effects. This shift in attitude has had very concrete consequences. In rules and regulations governing conduct in the workplace, jokes have been identified as forms of intimidation—as expressions that often demand a spirited response, whether informal and personal or formal and judicial. Jokes...

  9. 6. Humor and the Suppression of Sentiment
    (pp. 71-84)

    “Under the mask of humor, our society allows infinite aggressions, by everyone against everyone.” “At the root of a great many jokes . . . lies a deep-seated hostility and a desire to degrade.” “American humor is violent—and often sexist, racist, brutal and disgusting as well.”¹ These contemporary characterizations of humor as aggression are, of course, typical, and the catalog could be easily extended. The perspective they embody derives directly from Sigmund Freud’s observation on the tendentious joke inJokes and Their Relation to the Unconsciousthat “there are only two purposes that it may serve. . . ....

  10. 7. The Joke as Gloss
    (pp. 85-96)

    The scholarly approach to humor has tended to focus upon the analysis of repertoires of traditional or “canned” texts on the one hand, and spontaneous witticisms embedded in conversational exchange on the other.¹ Although some attention has been given to telling canned jokes in social interaction, the emphasis has been upon the characteristics of performance itself, the movement in and out of performance, and the response to and evaluation of the joke by members of the audience.² Little concern has been directed at the relation between the contents of jokes and the interactions in which they are embedded; that is,...

  11. 8. Colonizing Humor
    (pp. 97-115)

    Despite the recognition that jokes and anecdotes migrate, the content and style of a people’s humor is usually assumed to be peculiar to the people to whom it belongs. This sense of peculiarity extends beyond the recognition that the humor of a nation will be expressed in its own particular language, will employ wordplay meaningful only in that language, and depend upon the idiosyncrasies of the nation’s history, belief, and custom. For it is further believed that humor is an index of a people’s opinions and character.¹ It is held to express its temper and embody its spirit. Consequently, the...

  12. 9. Sigmund Freud’s Jewish Joke Book
    (pp. 116-128)

    Almost a century ago, Sigmund Freud published a book that continues to shape the understanding of humor by scholars and the general public alike. InJokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious, Freud attempted to corral humor, and aesthetic expression more generally, into the domain of the unconscious and the purview of psychoanalytic insight. While Freud presents important hypotheses and stimulating observations on jokes, he also perpetuates classificatory muddles, displays some remarkable blindness, and rides roughshod over data in his effort to wed jokes, the comic, and humor to his metapsychology. So whileJokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious...

  13. 10. The Context of Internet Humor
    (pp. 129-140)

    If 1998 and 1999 were not favorable years for the person of William Jefferson Clinton,¹ they were exceedingly favorable for humor about him. By the end of January 1999, late-night television talk-show hosts had told some 1,712 jokes about President Clinton and 749 jokes about others associated with the scandal.² A search for “Bill Clinton jokes” on the World Wide Web identified thousands of sites that contained or referred to such humor.³ These sites might contain the posting of a single joke; or an archive of jokes, joke lists, and parodies; or graphic illustrations, cartoons, and photos; or original attempts...

  14. Afterword
    (pp. 141-146)

    The chapters in this book have focused upon three major issues: thestructureof humor, themotivesof humor, and themeaningsof humor. Humor depends upon the apprehension of a particular structure of ideas that I call “appropriate incongruity.” This sense of what is humorous has been recognized by a number of scholars for several centuries, but unfortunately it has come in recent times to be conceptualized as “incongruity resolution.” This term is unfortunate, because incongruities are never truly resolved. At best, certain kinds of connections between the incongruous domains are detected. Also, as a conceptualization of humor, “incongruity...

  15. Appendix
    (pp. 147-162)
  16. Notes
    (pp. 163-202)
  17. Index
    (pp. 203-208)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 209-210)