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.

Laughter and Unlaughter

Laughter and unlaughter

A critical approach to humour needs to recover some of the elements that have been omitted in previous theories, especially the so-called negatives that tend to get lost in the loose assumptions of ideological positivism. This will mean paying particular attention to the nature of ridicule. The historical discussion has shown that ridicule was not always treated as the enemy in the way that it is by today's ideological positivists. For Plato, ridicule was, under certain circumstances, one of the few permitted forms of humour. According to the Earl of Shaftesbury in the eighteenth century, gentlemanly ridicule was vital for the maintenance of reasonable discourse. And, of course, ridicule lies at the centre of Bergson's analysis of humour. As Bergson ...

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