Although it was been discussed at length in class that humor at another’s expense is not the “nicest” form of laughter, we all must concur at having laughed at another’s circumstances once or twice. Throughout these readings I couldn’t get this idea out of my head: humor as a defense mechanism. Perhaps this is due to my ungodly obsession with the TV show Friends, and the most hilarious character, Chandler Bing. Chandler Bing has successfully made poking fun at ones self and others an art form. He rarely answers a question without a sarcastic rebuff and he is always targeted as the victim of others jokes. Friends encompasses all forms of laughter as discussed by Plato, Kant, Kierkegaard, and Hobbes.
Kant emphasizes that the absurdity of ones expectations turning into nothing is the root of all that is humorous. He writes, “Laughter is an affection arising from the sudden transformation of a strained expectation into nothing.” Kant also introduces laughter as an aesthetic, literally illustrating the convulsions of the body that take place when we laugh. I find his argument that laughter is nothing more than a bodily expression of good health to be strikingly accurate, proving laughter is in fact “the best medicine.”
Kierkergaard’s theory of laughter is drastically different than that of Kant’s. He claims that life is wracked with contradiction, and wherever there is contradiction therein lies the comical. Although not all forms of contradiction can be considered humorous, he makes it a point to say that only painless contradiction should be considered comical. This theory is flawed when he gives the example of the unfortunate man with the distorted face. The audience finds this situation humorous, but the man with the distorted face will never be able to find his circumstance humorous because his face causes him pain. Kierkeraard goes on to say that errors can cause laughter. For example, a certain Friends episode Rachel types out her resume and commits a major typo. Under skills she writes that she has excellent “compuper skills.” This exemplifies how hilarious not only a mistake can be but how our expectations become nothing, Rachel claims to be excellent on the computer but cannot even spell the word.
It is Plato that assumes that humans amuse in malice. He believes that laughter is a mixture of pleasure and pain. I trouble with this theory, for I believe that someone is either laughing at someone or being laughed at. The person laughing is clearly in pleasure while the person being laughed at is in pain. Hobbes’ theory of laughter is based on the convention that people are constantly in competition with one another and emphasizes the superiority model of laughter. He believes that we are constantly watching for signs that we are better off than others; “laughter is the sudden glory that comes with realizing you are better than someone else.” It is clear that humor is most often used as a defense mechanism, if you can’t be better at someone at a specific something then make fun of them for something else. All thinkers would agree, that when it comes to humor, if you can’t beat ‘em, laugh at ‘em.