When we consider humor as it occurs every day, it can range from the slapstick to the witty or even a simple moment of saying something that doesn’t make any sense. I often laugh at myself as I am a perpetual klutz whether it’s tripping on my shoes as I try to maneuver my room, spilling ketchup on brand new shirt at a restaurant, or dropping my books on the floor; all of which occurred in the last week. Clearly all of these actions could be taken two ways. For some it could cause anger or frustration. For me, I decide to laugh. Is it the “nervous energy” that Spencer describes? Or am I “surprised by wonder” as Descartes describes? Perhaps my natural response is somewhere in between these two perspectives. Either way, humor is inescapable, even if we aren’t looking for it.
Descartes starts the reading with a very rigid and highly detailed portrait of the physical aspect of humor as it involves a highly intricate interplay of all of our organs before he transitions into a discussion of hatred’s role in laughter that mirrors our previous discussions of the superiority model. Though his ideas are interesting, they also seem to reduce laughter to a mere natural response and a negative one at that. I would say that laughter can be healing as evidenced by the laughter yoga therapy that is becoming popular in cancer wards across the nation. I feel as if he is missing the point in a variety of aspects.
Freud’s definition of humor takes many interesting inquiries, some that I agree with and others I find hard to believe. One scruple I hold is his working definition of humor as not based in reality as it is the triumph of the pleasure principle. I think that many forms of humor can make us acutely (and even painfully) aware of the absurd realities of life including the ineffectiveness of those in power (such as the political satire on Saturday Night Live or the government of Tiko in Tales of the Tikongs). Even the reality of the superficiality of the high school social network is often placed under a humorous microscope (as seen in John Hughes’ movies or one of my favorite TV shows of all time “Freaks and Geeks”).
Perhaps one of the most interesting arguments is Spencer’s Relief Theory that nervous energy builds up in both mind and body and is thus released through laughter. This is certainly one aspect that deserves to be explored in future literature as well as future observations of humor in the world. I certainly think that the klutzy behavior I am prone to exhibit certainly produces this sort of “nervous” laughter.