Laughter and Ridicule
Towards a Social Critique of Humour
- Michael Billig - Loughborough University, UK
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 Ridicule' is definitely an interesting and important addition to humor research in that it provides grounds for a more critical approach to the subject.
However, you may claim that Billig gets rather one-sided in his approach to humor. You can, of course, counter that claim by arguing that it can’t be no different, regarding Billig’s purpose. Still, it affects the historical examination of humor (which is a large part of the book) and for that reason I will use different sources for this part of my course. When it comes to presenting the students to more critical views on humor, I will, on the other hand, most definitely introduce them to Billig's theories.
Although the book was well written, unfortunately I dont think its suitable for the class I am teaching.