From Thomas Hobbes' fear of the power of laughter to the compulsory, packaged "fun" of the contemporary mass media, Billig takes the reader on a stimulating tour of the strange world of humour. Both a significant work of scholarship and a novel contribution to the understanding of the humourous, this is a seriously engaging book' - David Inglis, University of Aberdeen This delightful book tackles the prevailing assumption that laughter and humour are inherently good. In developing a critique of humour the author proposes a social theory that places humour - in the form of ridicule - as central to social life. Billig argues that all cultures use ridicule as a disciplinary means to uphold norms of conduct and conventions of meaning. Historically, theories of humour reflect wider visions of politics, morality and aesthetics. For example, Bergson argued that humour contains an element of cruelty while Freud suggested that we deceive ourselves about the true nature of our laughter. Billig discusses these and other theories, while using the topic of humour to throw light on the perennial social problems of regulation, control and emancipation.

Superiority Theories: Hobbes and other Misogelasts

Superiority theories: Hobbes and other misogelasts

If a critical view of humour is to question positive assumptions, then it cannot merely smirk at laughter's supposed enemies. The critic needs to take seriously the views of those whom George Meredith dismissed as the ‘misogelasts’ or the so-called haters of laughter. Merely to mock the misogelasts would be tantamount to accepting uncritically the assumption that laughter is self-evidently desirable. Therefore this chapter discusses out-of-fashion misogelastic theories. The term ‘misogelast’ is a handy concept, but, as will be seen, it is a simplification. In the main, the so-called misogelasts did not formulate a complete hatred of laughter, rather, they expressed a wish to reduce the amount of frivolity in the cause of a ...

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