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.

Freud and the Hidden Secrets of Jokes

Freud and the hidden secrets of jokes

The second great twentieth-century book of humour-theory was Freud's Jokes and their Relation to the Unconscious ([1905b] 1991). As theoretically daring as Bergson's Laughter, Freud's book was part of his project to transform our understanding of human nature. Freud was suggesting that the human condition is marked by self-deception. We wish to conceal from ourselves knowledge about the dangerous psychological forces that guide our daily conduct. Even the innocent gaiety of mirth was compromised. The joke is seldom ‘just’ a joke, but it hides secrets even more discreditable than Hobbes ever imagined.

The Freudian perspective would seem to be ideal for providing the missing ingredient in Bergson's analysis. When analyzing laughter, Bergson had ...

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