Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Taking Case: A sign of aggression?

Thanks to Mr. Gurudutt Mundkur, I read this interesting piece on sense of humour, published in the Journal of Pragmatics.

Helga Kotthoff, of the Frieburg University of Education, claims that dominant people exploit the ability to make others laugh as a degree of control to show that they are in charge.

When I look back, I wonder if that was what case-taking was all about. To me, it was what people with sense of humour had indulged in. And it was exclusively mutual (as opposed to mutually exclusive? Well. Sheepish smile.) If anything, it was a defense mechanism. It was to conceal the demons in your life. Your sense of humour is like those hummer wheels, which could help you overcome the obstacle-laden path that is life. As a popular humourist once said, it is with humour that you can soften some of the worst blows that life delivers. And once you find laughter, no matter how painful your situation might be, you can survive it.

"Those 'on top' are more free to make others laugh. They are also at more liberty to be more aggressive. A lot of what is funny is making jokes at someone else's expense," the Telegraph quoted her as saying.

"Displaying humour means taking control of the situation from those higher up the hierarchy and this is risky for people of lower status, which before the 1960s meant women rarely made other people laugh -- they couldn't afford to."

Interesting thoughts, I must admit. Have you ever experienced a situation when you were forced to laugh at a superior’s joke? Even when you thought it wasn’t remotely funny. Or choose to laugh only because you mean no offence.

According to Kotthoff, the differences between men's and women's ability to become comedians starts very young. She supports this by pointing out that boys as young as four can be seen telling more jokes, frolicking, and clowning about, whereas the girls tend to be the ones doing the laughing.

However, she adds, women tend to become funnier at a later age because they feel freer to not be seen as ladylike. Kotthoff thinks that humour, including teasing, is a mix of "bonding and biting", which is often used by women to form social bonds with their friends.

Men, on the other hand, often use humour to vent frustration, she says. However, Kotthoff says, both sexes use comedy as a means of controlling others.
But Helga’s last claim really blew my head off. "A study in the late 1980s showed that men use sexual jokes as a way of verbally undressing a woman who rebuts his advances; his humour was aggressive in essence," she said. I’m sure that’s not true, if the audience is well acquainted with the, for the lack of a better word, speaker or performer. For instance, I’d really like to know if this is how it is interpreted between friends.

To my relief, nothing was mentioned about punsters, or those who indulge in harmless wordplay. But then, there is definitely a case of one-upmanship, or if I’m allowed to say so, pun-upmanship. It’s certainly an ego-boost, much like deciphering a cryptic clue in The Hindu crossword, or working out a quiz question. And then, there’s a tacit understanding among punsters. To always acknowledge another’s attempt at word play. Since we all know those who do not enjoy a pun are those who believe, "Even I could’ve thought of that one!"

So, what do think? Humour me. Please!


The Man who sold the world. said...

Ah too much delving into the nature of humor probably is not a good idea. I for one think humor, as you stated is a way to cushion life's blows. As for the sex question, let me put my neck out and say this, at the risk of sounding incredibly sexist, women in general lack the skills to make a joke, an observation, a wordplay or an anecdote. How many women stand-up comedians do you see? Women on the other hand come with this biting sarcasm they often use in place of humor. Of course they, as a species are impossible to understand, and will remain so to all of us beard-growing homo sapiens( not excluding my Electronic devices teacher, who despite belonging to the opposite sex does posses a lush, flowing beard).
I frankly could never imagine a female jerry Seinfeld or george carlin, the day you see one, tell me :)

Sudhir Pai said...

My god, Varun!

You do sound outrageously sexist! :D

Donno if i could make any sweeping claims like you do, (you do sound like someone of authority on the subject), but i will make an observation. If female stand-ups don't sound too funny, it's because men never really understand them (I'm sure the feminists will agree too).

Speaking of which, there is one female stand up i know of. At least in spirit. Know of Eddie Izzard.

piggieontherailway said...

I know two men in my life who are extremely witty....i don't know a single woman who is..! hmmmmmmmmmmmmmm...this never occurred to me before. But i do think that sarcasm comes very easily to women, as opposed to humor. Plain observation, no judgments...!

The Man who sold the world. said...

@Sudhir- Guess I am not the only one lol As for Eddie Izzard, dressing up as a woman does not make you one :P