Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Relief Theory in 'I Like You'

When we were talking in class about what model of humor that we’ve spoken about in class is most utilized by Amy Sedaris, we didn’t come to a very conclusive answer. We talked a little about the superiority model and a little about the incongruity model without agreeing on one as the definitive model of humor here. I think that it is rare that you can find a piece of humor that extends past a one-line joke that enacts only one of these models, so it doesn’t surprise me that as we look at books upwards of 200 pages that we can’t land on one isolated model to define the type of humor we’re looking at. I wanted to talk in my blog for this week about one of the models I think is in some ways involved in I Like You that we didn’t talk about in class; the relief theory that we read about from Spencer and Freud. Sedaris starts her book by saying “For most people the word ‘party’ conjures up an image that is so intimidating, so overwhelming, so terrifying that they just want to skip the whole thing—it’s just too much pressure” (17). We were talking in class how in a lot of ways Sedaris’ book works to free people from the pressure they can feel from the ideas about entertaining represented by people like Martha Stewart; and so by mocking such expectation, people can laugh in the relief of the liberated feeling taking a break from thinking about how things “should” be.
Freud spoke about the relief theory in terms of a “saving of expenditure,” meaning we laugh when we have readied ourselves to feel a certain emotion, and then at a crucial turning point (most often a “punch-line” of sorts) we realize that we don’t need to feel that way at all, and release the summoned emotional energy through laughter. When taking this into account and looking at the effect A. Sedaris’ I Like You has on traditional idea’s about cooking, entertaining, and home-cooking, it seems like what Freud was talking about could be at work in this example. Picking up a “cook-book” and learning how we should be treating guests and what ways we should be preparing to welcome people into our homes can be for many people, as Amy points out, incredibly nervous. By broaching this subject the way Amy does, and then end up talking about getting vomit out of the carpet, feeding lumberjacks the appropriate meal, or teaching children to play “Jr. Vacuum Salesman” (repeatedly dumping things on the carpet and demonstrating vacuuming it up), Amy allows her readers to see that this nervous energy is really not needed or helpful in this scenario. I think Freud would say that we are laughing as a means to release this unnecessary/unwanted nervous energy.

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