I just explained where I think sadism comes from. What does all this have to do with humor? Well, I recently responded to a Vox Popoli comment like so:
>Joking about homosexual sex acts is such a light fun things to do, right?
Well, yes. But sir author is plainly not understanding the joke is, in normal use, playing on mutually understood boundaries of male behavior. The intent is to reinforce those boundaries, not to normalize transgressions or flaunt them…but that is just the SJW way. The normal, heterosexual reaction to being called a “fag” by one’s friends is not to “own” the label but to act less like a fag. Similarly, being called “dumb” by one’s friends tends to make a person want to act less dumb, not more.
Hence, these are the reactions to transgression-normalizing SJW jokes:
SJW: *Laughs in relief* (temporarily relieves the pain of ostracization)
Typical non-SJW: *Uncomfortable, silent tolerance of retardation*
Sadistic non-SJW: *Laughs at SJW retardation because it’s hilarious*
This got me to thinking. (Actually, the thought popped into my head like an equation and I didn’t really believe it at first, but after turning it over in my head for a couple days I’ve come to believe it’s strictly true.) I’m not the first person to suggest this sort of thing, but it seems like sadism ought to be a small corner of comedy as a whole.
I believe this intuitive belief is false, due to confounds which I shall hereafter disambiguate. Once we’ve controlled for confounds, I believe that the cause for humor shall reveal itself as being identical to other forms of sadism.
You can tell a lot about people based solely on what they laugh at.
As for Chappelle, he started out making fun of black people for black audiences because that’s what blacks find funny — blacks. Then he transferred his act to national audiences on TV, and a bunch of white facilitators assured him that white people were only laughing at his jokes about black people in a meta-fashion, they were laughing at white stereotypes about blacks, or something. So reassured, he went on making fun of black people until a blue collar white stagehand laughed in a really not-meta fashion at one of his jokes about black people, at which point he realized his white handlers had been lying to him, he had a mental breakdown, and walked out on his $25 million per year contract.
Like sadism, humor shows us what a person is like inside. Laughing at dark humor tells us a person is comfortable with the sensation of horror. Laughing at race-based humor tells us a person is comfortable thinking in terms of racial groups and differences.
I’ve identified three major confounds to this explanation: plausible deniability, abstract humor, and self-deprecating humor.
Confound #1: Plausible deniability
Previous thoughts. Sadism is mostly frowned upon in the lower classes. In the most totalitarian, regimented societies all humor is forbidden by unspoken edict. But in normal situations, even mean-spirited jokes must be hidden behind a slight veneer of respectable abstraction, and the assumption is that it must be clever and entertaining, at least.
Like a maniac shooting flaming arrows of death is one who deceives their neighbor and says, “I was only joking!”
This is not so true in the case of “punching down” as we’re apparently calling it now, the purpose of which is to harm another person specifically to remind them of their place in the hierarchy. Requiring a person to laugh at a joke made at their own expense is a ritual humiliation, eucivic in the correct dosage. Furthermore, as shown in the comment above a lower-class person is required to make jokes which affirm group norms and boundaries, rather than challenging or breaking them. Out-and-out sadism, with no real entertainment value, is reserved for the highest classes to reaffirm their invincibility:
A high class person might be clever and subtle because they enjoy it, but it is certainly not required of them. When the king tells a joke, the peasants laugh because they know what’s good for them.
(To a crowd in Newcastle) You may not recognize my accent. It is, in fact, educated. – Simon Evans
Aside: Simon Evans happens to be hilarious. Law school must have brought out his latent depressive side :-).
He can see it happening. He believes we’re on the verge of a revolution. Let me say this one thing clearly. If you take nothing else away from what I have to say this evening, remember this and understand it. There has never been a generation of people in any country in the world ever in the history of mankind less close to revolution than the British people are right now.
There has never been a more successful, comfortable, and comprehensive program of anesthetisation of an entire population. We have our smartphones, we have our 42″ inch plasma screens, we have Premiership, we have X Factor, we have Strictly. We have no interest whatsoever. We can’t even get off our arses to turn the TV over! Let alone overthrow the state! It’s ridiculous!
Revolutions don’t work without sacrifice or at least a little mild discomfort. We don’t have any stomach for it whatsoever. The people are comfortable, they’re reasonably well-off, and best of all (the work of absolute genius), THE POOR ARE FAT!
The poorer you are, the fatter you are! It’s an absolute stroke of genius, whoever came up with that. At least in the old days, the downtrodden, the miserable dregs of society who would be discarded by their leaders were hungry. They were lean, they felt a grumbling, gnawing sensation in their guts that eventually drove them to the barricades. That is not going to happen now.
Well, this is already running a bit long. On to Confound #2!
Confound #2: Abstract, absurdist humor
This is humor which is sadistic toward ideas, rather than people, which is awfully strange so don’t think too hard about it. The best examples are visual humor and musical comedy:
Tex reiterates this idea in a comment:
Somebody was writing me recently about how Lascaux paintings seem to exaggerate scales deliberately, not by accident. There is a tendency if you look closely at all Neanderthal work towards absurdity and that is one of the highest and most abstract forms of humor. Habve you ever wondered why nerds and people with severe Aspergers have such a good sense of the absurd? Maybe this was a basic part of Neanderthal makeup.
My working theory is that abstract humor is still playing with boundaries, but directed toward causing and releasing cognitive dissonance by pretending to misunderstand the rules. This tends to reaffirm the boundaries, rather than challenging them.
Musical comedy mostly a white people thing.
This style of humor involves a person or group singing a song but rather than singing about something serious, it has funny lyrics. It’s not any more complicated than that, but white people can’t get enough of it. Weird Al Yankovich, Tenacious D, Sarah Silverman (sometimes), Flight of the Conchords, Dennis Leary, and Adam Sandler are all excellent examples of the genre.
The most masterful expression of musical comedy is to make music that is funny without words or visuals, where just the music itself is funny, but this is rare and extremely difficult and only accessible to professional, ingenius composers:
Yes, audiences used to – and I stress used to – get dressed up, and a good deal of the music deals with powerful emotions and profound cultural ideas.
But then there’s Haydn making fart jokes.
This week, the Phoenix Symphony will be performing Joseph Haydn’s Symphony No. 60, “Il Distratto” or “The Absent-Minded One,” and it’s full of jokes from beginning to end. In the last movement, the orchestra stops in its tracks and the fiddles retune before diving into the conclusion.
It’s important to remember that composers from Bach to Shostakovich have found ways of inserting comedy into their music. Not all of it, but here and there, you find clever bits of wit and musical slapstick – like the flatulent bassoon in the slow movement of Haydn’s Symphony No. 93.
For the most part, we’re not talking Benny Hill here. Other than the P.D.Q. Bach parodies, the humor in music is not knee-slapping, but rather clever surprises that an attentive audience will smile at as they pass.
There’s a touch of humor in a lot of Tommy Emanuel’s virtuoso guitar playing, absent the theatrics:
Confound #3: Self-deprecating humor
Obviously, self-deprecation is to humor as masochism is to sadism. Aside from agree and amplify, which is a different game entirely, self deprecation is a way of testing, elucidating, and reinforcing the boundaries of one’s own self-conception. It’s also a great way of watching to see if one’s friends also laugh in response. A fat man jokes on horseback jokes that he pities the poor beast, and laughs because he’s comfortable being “the fat guy”. (If his friends usually laugh at these jokes but don’t laugh this time, he might consider whether they’re starting to fear for his health, or ashamed of him.)
It is also used as self-discipline. Socialites use humor to enforce group norms because they recognize the importance of group opinions: “nice shorts, I’m sure your boyfriend will love the view”. People who are comfortable with themselves use self-deprecating humor to enforce ego-based boundaries on their own behavior: “Maybe I’m actually just crazy, lol.” Part of the reason I constantly joke about being crazy is I’m testing the waters to make sure it’s still funny.
Chappelle’s experience was another good example of self-deprecating humor, directed toward his culture, with the impact that blacks saw the need to curb absurd excesses in the behavior.
Fucking hell that was long.