Political Humor and Its Reverberations

People are divided on whether political humor benefits the public, noting either that comedy helps us to see the truth, or that it makes us cynical. Culture specialist Iain Ellis observes that while politicians fabricate positive self-images, comedy unveils politicians’ flaws, thus encouraging the public to engage in political issues. But Ph.D. student Ramon Lopez points out that political satire, such as Jon Stewart’s the Daily Show, uses the straw man method to simplify politicians’ views. Columnist Stephen Marche furthers that, besides using the straw man approach, satire “delights in tearing down institutions” (Marche 165). Through highlighting politicians’ bad qualities, comedy escalates people’s distrust toward the government. However, while most satire manifests this adverse effect by attacking politicians, some political comedy creatively makes fun of people’s hilarious reaction to politicians’ flaws. This type of humor, identified by philosopher Simon Critchley, “liberates the will and the desire” (Cricthley 126) of audiences, showing them their own mistakes. Through challenging audiences’ perceptions about political satire, such humor, despite calling attention to politicians’ flaws, also encourages the public to reflect on their own behaviors. For instance, Aziz Ansari’s SNL routine counters discrimination by joking about people who are too excited about Trump’s racism, and Samantha Bee’s Full-Frontal ridicules women who march only because they like the knitted hats, inspiring women to reflect on their marching. Even if these routines use straw men to make their points, true political humor not only unmasks politicians’ flaws, but also unveils the public’s flaws, thereby fortifying the public to pursue political change.

Political humor, as its name suggests, delves into civic affairs. It seeks to investigate and reveal the concealed truth of politicians through joking about them. While the realm of politics always entails complicated relationships, American culture specialist Iain Ellis discerns a network among politicians, media, and the public. He recognizes that politicians connive with mainstream media to make themselves appear likeable (Ellis 154). By showcasing their appealing qualities, politicians achieve a comical profile that the public can endorse. On the other hand, Ellis claims that political comedy seeks to discover the hidden flaws behind politicians’ endeavors to craft perfect self-images. As comedy “unmasks, parades, and ridicules those efforts,” (Ellis 154) a different, and often ugly face of politicians is revealed. Through this revelation, political comedy offers the public information that politicians and mainstream media sometimes overlook. “In representing the interests of the common man, in speaking truth to power, these comic vigilantes provide us with an important – and otherwise absent and/or neglected – political service” (Ellis 155). Political humor, targeting politicians, bravely discloses their flaws. By serving audiences with a mix of laughter and truth, political comedy attracts the public, arming them with information to powerfully respond to politicians’ flaws.

However, despite its role in empowering the public with respect to politicians, political satire often uses the straw man method, which weakens and attacks opponents’ points to shape its arguments. Indeed, political humor gives the public fascinating jokes to illustrate politicians’ stupidity, and the straw man method is an inevitable part of its joking. But Ph.D. student of political theory Ramon Lopez notes that “Comedic straw men … degrade the opposition not only by twisting and misrepresenting their arguments, but also by ridiculing them” (Lopez 159). By using the straw man, political humor can oversimplify politicians’ refined ideas. Even one of America’s most popular comedians Jon Stewart possesses this problem. In his Daily Show “Chaos in Bulls**t Mountain,” Stewart argues that Mitt Romney, a 2012 presidential candidate, does not care for the economic realities of poor people. In a segment of his show, Stewart ridicules a tape in which Romney complains the poor’s distrust toward his policies (Stewart 03:17-03:44). However, Stewart only plays a tiny slice of the tape (Stewart 03:45-03:48) showing nothing of Romney’s complete thoughts but his complaint. While Romney’s rant is questionable, he should have reasoning for his complaint, and that arbitrary cut of the tape blocks the audiences’ access to that reasoning. As a result, comedy such as the Daily Show fails to give the public the comprehensive thought system behind politicians’ flaws.

Furthermore, most political satire like Jon Stewart’s leads the public to distrust government by simply denying politicians. Columnist Stephen Marche claims that “Satire was a mirror in which viewers discovered everybody’s face but their own; its pleasure is the pleasure of othering” (Marche 165). Such satire creates narcissism among audiences, and those listeners, while delighted to see the awful sides of others, cannot reflect on themselves. Accompanied with the straw man method, political satire will pose dramatic damage to the public. “Chaos in Bulls**t Mountain” proves this idea further. Besides his unethical representation of Romney’s flaws, Jon Stewart also criticizes entitlement policy for being ineffective. However, this criticism does not encourage the public to contemplate how that policy can be improved. While in Crossfire interview, Stewart claims that he “holds [his idea] to be much more important … as a citizen” (Crossfire 06:56-07:00), he deeply affects the public by the disparaging words he imposes on political acts. Through claiming its absurdity, Stewart drains people’s belief toward government.

While most satire, such as the Daily Show, damages politics by simply deriding politicians, some political comedy benefits the public by also pointing out the public’s mistakes. This comedy, or true comedy, does more than just revealing politicians’ flaws. As philosopher Simon Critchley notes, “a true joke … has to do more than release tension … it has to change the situation” (Critchley 125), true political comedy changes the situation by broadcasting the public’s irrational reactions toward politicians’ flaws. This humor lets the public reexamine themselves, correcting their mistaken behaviors through its pungent comic bits. Aziz Ansari’s SNL stand-up is a prime example of true humor. In this show, Ansari speaks against president Trump’s racism, but he specifically pokes fun at people who only voted for Trump to enable their racism. His contemptuous parody of racists – who seem to feel that “we don’t have to pretend like we’re not racist anymore!” (Ansari 02:40-02:50) – subverts racists’ privilege. Accounted for by Critchley’s incongruity theory, humor, by surprising audiences, can not only change their thoughts, but also their actions. While audiences expect Ansari to explicitly mock Trump, Ansari’s sudden assault on public expectation provokes profound introspection. “The incongruities of humor both speak out of a massive congruence between joke structure and social structure, and speak against those structures by showing that they have no necessity” (Critchley 126). By mocking racists’ flaws, Ansari effectively attacks discrimination, motivating the public to contemplate their reactions to Trump’s presidency. Thus, in eviscerating the public’s inappropriate responses to politicians’ problems, true comedy can hold a mirror up to the public, thereby engaging them to adjust their behaviors.

Taking everything into consideration, true political humor’s ability to change how the public understands themselves circumvents the straw man fallacy. Indeed, Ansari’s SNL show portrays racists as brainless people, ridiculing them without looking for why they developed such racism. But since Ansari encourages the public to reflect on themselves by challenging their views about racism, the straw man here is quite benign. Samantha Bee, in her show Full-Frontal, has a worse straw man problem than Ansari, as she shows multiple shortened clips to support her arguments. Bee points out that Trump is frustrated by the women’s march after his inauguration. Then, as she plays cut version of Kellyanne Conway’s comment on the march, Bee oversimplifies Conway’s discourse. By ridiculing her remark that Trump is “uplifting and unifying” (Bee 02:03-02:09), Bee depicts Trump as “uplifting” a woman’s skirt. While this joke has obvious straw man fallacy, she also deals with white women’s flaws during the march, joking that, “All you have to do to get white women to show up to a protest is to give them a craft” (Bee 01:35-01:40). By poking fun at these women, Bee engages the public in legitimately fighting for their rights rather than treating the march as a trendy event. As a result, though the straw man poses a pitfall for true political comedy such as Full Frontal, it can be neutralized by the humor’s power to inspire public reflection.

The above arguments about political humor apply to American culture, but we may consider whether they can also be addressed throughout the world. Serbia’s “laughtivism” (McGraw & Warner 148) seems to disagree with the point that exclusively deriding politicians harms the public. This movement thoroughly aimed at the long-disliked president, terminating Serbia’s autocracy followed by his resignation. On the other hand, during the Egyptian uprising, Bassem Youssef’s show proves that mocking politicians can be effective in the short term. But he did not promote the public to reflect on themselves, only inciting their distrust toward the president. As people were satisfied with their new leader, the show was shut down. What if Youssef sparked public introspection? This is the question worth thinking about when we try to answer if political comedy benefits the public from other parts of the world by mirroring their behaviors.

Works Cited

“Aziz Ansari Stand-Up Monologue – SNL.” YouTube, uploaded by Saturday Night Live, 22 Jan. 2017, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Whde50AacZs.
“Chaos on Bulls**t Mountain – The Entitlement Society.” Comedy Central, uploaded by The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, 19 Sept. 2012, http://www.cc.com/video-playlists/vwstqp/the-daily-show-with-jon-stewart-bullshit-mountain/ymemxt.
Critchley, Simon. “Did You Hear the One About the Philosopher Writing a Book on Humour?” Think, vol. 1, no. 2, Autumn 2002, pp. 103-112, doi.org/10.1017/S147717560000035X. Rpt. in The Essential Guide to Analytical Writing with Humor Readings. UC San Diego Bookstore, 2017, pp. 122-131.
Ellis, Iain. “Political Humor and Its Diss Contents.” Pop Matters, 14 Oct. 2012, www. popmatters.com/column/163983-political-humor-and-its-diss-contents/P1/. Rpt. in The Essential Guide to Analytical Writing with Humor Readings. UC San Diego Bookstore, 2017, pp. 150-155.
Lopez, Ramon. “Why Jon Stewart is Bad for America.” The Federalist, 5 Dec. 2014, www. thefederalist.com/2014/12/05/why-jon-stewart-is-bad-for-america/. Rpt. in The Essential Guide to Analytical Writing with Humor Readings. UC San Diego Bookstore, 2017, pp. 156-162.
Marche, Stephen. “The Left Has a Post-Truth Problem, Too. It’s Called Comedy.” LA Times, 6 Jan. 2017, http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-marche-left-fake-news-problem-comedy-20170106-story.html. Rpt. in The Essential Guide to Analytical Writing with Humor Readings. UC San Diego Bookstore, 2017, pp. 164-165.
McGraw, Peter and Joel Warner. “Humor Code Entry 6: Can Comedy Bring About Real Political Change?” Slate, 30 Mar. 2014, http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/culturebox/features/2014/the_humor_code/daily_show_colbert_report_can_political_comedy_affect_real_political_change.html. Rpt. in The Essential Guide to Analytical Writing with Humor Readings. UC San Diego Bookstore, 2017, pp. 146-148.
“Who March the World? Girls.” YouTube, uploaded by Full Frontal With Samantha Bee, 25 Jan. 2017, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8pEcvteQo9g.

 

Acknowledgement

Most courtesy of AWP program director and my instructor Dr. Karen Gocsik, who gave me wholesome feedback to guide me through revising the drafts, preventing me from pitfalls of making arguments. I appreciate curriculum coordinator Sarah Baker for correcting minor citation errors and affirming the final draft during community office hour. I am grateful for my mentor Sarah Ardell for checking the weakest paragraph in meeting sessions. I also thank my groupmates Oscar and Shuli for enriching me through common reader response and group conference. These peers facilitate me a lot in organizing the argument points.
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Analysis of the conversation in McGraw’s and Ellis’s articles

McGraw Graphic OrganizerEllis Graphic OrganizerPeter McGraw and Joel Warner, in the article The Humor Code, Entry 6: Can Comedy Bring About Real Political Change?, assert that humor, when used strategically, can greatly improve the society by engaging the public to politics. Iain Ellis, on the other hand, claims that political humor is basically an interplay among politicians, media, and the public. The public have gained great power in shaping the politics, and politicians need to play with humor to promote their positive self-images in different media.

I am interested McGraw’s point that humor can effect real political change. I agree with McGraw because he address some key premises for humor to change the society. He uses Popovic, an example which shows political humor works under optimal condition. Popovic’s jokes fit well with McGraw’s benign violation theory, which states that laughter arises when a joke makes something threatening appears funny, thus alleviating the fear of the audience. “People were afraid, and humor was useful in breaking that fear” (McGraw 148). By joking, Popovic embarrasses the president, and weakens his political power. Still, I wonder if satire that occurs in small country turns out to be more effective because it can spread out quickly over the nation. In this case, the counterargument somewhat makes sense in it addresses that joking in USSR is not effective enough to make big political change.

Works Cited

Ellis, Iain. “Political Humor and Its Diss Contents.” Pop Matters, 14 Oct. 2012, http://www.popmatters.com/column/163983-political-humor-and-its-diss-contents/P1/. Rpt. in The Essential Guide to Analytical Writing with Humor Readings. UC San Diego Bookstore, 2017, pp. 150-155.

McGraw, Peter and Joel Warner.Entry 6: Can Comedy Bring About Real Political Change?” Slate, 30 Mar. 2014, http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/culturebox/features/2014/the_humor_code/daily_show_colbert_report_can_political_comedy_affect_real_political_change.html. Rpt. in The Essential Guide to Analytical Writing with Humor Readings. UC San Diego Bookstore, 2017, pp. 146-148.

Response to Critchley’s and McGraw’s articles

In the essay Did You Hear the One about the Philosopher Writing a Book on Humor?, Simon Critchley draws evidence from experts in humor to claim that laughter arises when joke tellers surprise the audiences by giving a twist to the jokes. But besides the laughter, the jokes can change the way people think through a different viewpoint about the things inside a joke. This leads to incongruity theory, which states humor can shift people’s perception from unexpected incidences. In the first time I read this essay, I mixed relief theory with incongruity theory because they both determine that humor can make people laugh by popping tensions. Now I know that incongruity theory addresses that humor is not merely about relieving tension; it can suddenly change the way people think through this surprise. Also, I come to understand for incongruity to function effectively, a common background is required, though common background theory mainly stresses that the extent to which people have shared identities with the joke tellers can affect people’s reactions to the jokes. I reannotated this sentence, “The incongruities of humor both speak out of a massive congruence between joke structure and social structure, and speak against those structures by showing that they have no necessity” (Critchley126). Before the annotation, I think this is the gist for incongruity theory, but it actually shows a specific ideal situation in which incongruity theory well explains humor’s function in changing the society. Peter McGraw also contributes his answer to this issue, but in a different perspective.

Peter McGraw, on his article The Humor Code, Entry 1: What Exactly Makes Something Funny?, asserts that things are funny when joke tellers bring up something that’s threatening at a first glance, and then get the audiences laugh by making it appear safe. This assertion furnishes benign violation theory. McGraw draws from various experimental data to support benign violation theory, and he also uses counterargument to show why other theories fail to generalize humor’s ability to make people laugh. In the reannotated sentence, “Why do we laugh and derive amusement from so many different things, from puns to pratfalls? Why are some things funny to some people and not to others? How is that while a successful joke can cause pleasure, a gag gone awry can cause serious harm?” (McGraw132), I realized that these motivating questions, in addition to leading to benign violation theory, are really worth thinking about throughout the AWP class.

From the questions above, I see that the major debate between Critchley and McGraw is about which theory better explains what makes things funny. In short words, Critchley thinks that humor makes the silly serious, while McGraw views the opposite way. But going deeper into the simple sentence, I should be careful about the way jokes are told. A joke may address something that seems fixed and unnecessary to talk about, but when it makes the audience rethink about the ostensibly “silly” issue, incongruity theory comes into play. On the other hand, a joke may mention something that is seriously malicious, but as it flips the dark side, making this thing acceptable, benign violation theory seems perfect for explaining this joke. Nevertheless, both Critchley and McGraw agree that people with different backgrounds will react differently to certain jokes. This agreement makes me contemplate the role common ground theory plays in humor.

 

Works Cited

Critchley, Simon. “Did You Hear the One About the Philosopher Writing a Book on Humour?”Think, vol. 1, no. 2, Autumn 2002, pp. 103-112, doi.org/10.1017/S147717560000035X.Rpt. in The Essential Guide to Analytical Writing with Humor Readings. UC San Diego Bookstore, 2017, pp. 122-131.

McGraw, Peter and Joel Warner. “Entry 1: What, Exactly, Makes Something Funny?” Slate, 23Mar. 2014, http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/culturebox/features/2014/the_humor_code/what_makes_something_funny_a_bold_new_attempt_at_a_unified_theory_of_comedy.html. Rpt. in The Essential Guide to Analytical Writing with Humor Readings. UC San Diego Bookstore, 2017, pp. 132-135.

Aside

Reflection of Summary and Synthesis Essay

The present society has many stereotypes that bother people a lot. These stereotypes impose negative attributes to certain individuals when, in fact, not all of them possess the negative attributes. Among the course readings, several authors address the widespread social issue and discuss about humor upending these stereotypes. Having been critical of the social ailments, I am interested in writing how humor fight against stereotypes. This question is debatable, and I want to synthesize it into a hodgepodge of ideas that speak to each other.

I visualize the Summary and Synthesis paper as a dinner party conversation. In this conversation, the invited guests will answer my motivating question. O’Hara, an observant writer in humor’s social functions, has met a lot of stakeholders. She has a standing to discuss about the way humor effect stereotypes in a social perspective. Critchley brings an insightful idea in how humor execute its function. He raises incongruity theory to address how humor make people laugh. And beyond the laughter, he also posits that humor can change the situation, including stereotypes. St. George sees the topic in a different facet, proposing a potential limitation for humor to function effectively. However, Peters and Farsad, two real-life examples about using humor to fight stereotypes, refute the limitation broached by St. George. These five guests comprise an intriguing conversation. But when put the conversation into words, I should know what each guest is talking about in his or her own article.

Indeed, writing the summary and synthesis essay requires comprehensive understanding of the course readings (Gocsik 50). They are the sources of the conversation and occupy most of the paper. Besides, the essay should connect those materials in a sensible way. By connecting the sources together, the readers can see how the conversation is going. Grammar and style also play indispensable roles in structuring the essay. Following certain stylistic rules can make me better demonstrate my understanding of the articles, and make the essay more readable.

Because I illustrate the conversation aptly and correct mistakes during the revision, the essay turns out to be successful. The first draft makes a good start. By inviting five guests with different arguments, I host a sounding conversation about the captivating question: How does humor fight against stereotypes. I organize the course materials sensibly so that each paragraph has its own main idea with connection to other guests’ sayings. The sentences are mostly cohesive through old-to-new principle, ensuring the readers can keep track of the progress. The paragraphs are also coherent by transitions; the readers can clearly see the connections among guests.

However, my introduction does not provide an accurate roadmap to my readers. I learn that I should work on introduction harder, because it guides me to write, too. O’Hara has several thoughtful stakeholders, and their quotes should be further unpacked to let the readers process their ideas effectively. A lot of unnecessary words and nominalizations are present. These words hinder me to demonstrate the conversation efficiently. I should, therefore, follow the actor/action and concision principles to correct the mistakes.

During revision of the first draft, I work hard in my weaknesses. At the same time, as I reread O’Hara’s article, I deepen my understanding to this material and change her role in the conversation: Instead of simply claiming humor can fight stereotypes, O’Hara provides an answer to my controlling question. And her argument is more persuasive when her stakeholders’ perspectives are analyzed.

So, from this revision, I also learn that I should come back to course readings to see if I get higher level of thinking about these passages. This is a part of the course objective “develop critical reading strategies for analyzing and responding to academic texts” (Gocsik 101). Another objective I should consider working on is “find and use evidence from multiple sources” (101). Though I can bring up a clear claim and answer a level-three question, as shown by the summary and synthesis paper, I ought to unpack how the claim is made effectively.

To meet these objectives, I plan to engage in discussion of my paper with my instructor and peers. They can give me advice to refine the essay and prompt me to internalize those suggestions. I also want to improve my writing through regular exercises. By practicing writing, I can explore my weaknesses that I should care, and the strengths I should keep. In addition to working on assignments, I will keep updating my weblog, where I can apply the principles I learned in class to write in broader context.

 

Work Cited

Gocsik, Karen Marie. “Chapter Nine: Writing the Summary & Synthesis Essay.” The Essential Guide to Analytical Writing, UC San Diego Bookstore, 2017, p. 26.

 

Acknowledgement

I am grateful for my instructor Dr. Gocsik for facilitating me to write reflection effectively. The reflection helps me a lot in keeping track of what I learned in AWP class.

Guest List for my Summary & Synthesis Essay

To speak soundly in the conversation about humor, I should firstly collect enough information from other people so that I can know what the conversation is about. Then, noticing an inspiring topic, I will rearrange the claims from these people and come up with my own idea. From the course conversation so far, I discovered an interesting question: How does humor fight against stereotypes? To formulate my answer to this question, here I invited several guests who have spoken out some arguments.

The first guest that should start is Mary O’Hara. She discusses about humor’s functions presents a lot of comics who believe comedy has social significance, for example, “It’s vital to understand the job comedy can do in actively providing a counterbalance to bigotry and prejudice” (O’Hara 105). Such this sentence sets up the basis for further discussion about humor fighting stereotypes.

The second guest included is Simon Critchley. He addresses humor’s social function in a more theoretical level. He uses the concept “incongruity” to describe comedy as funny because it diverges the story from the audience’s expectation, especially in joking about the powerful groups. He points out “By laughing at power, we expose its contingency, we realize that what appeared to be fixed and oppressive … should be mocked and ridiculed” (Critchley 126). This idea is insightful for comedians to refute stereotypes by implementing humor.

Then comes Zach St. George. He addresses the issue about dominant groups’ stereotypes toward others. He uses women as example to demonstrate why they are considered less funny and how women tell gender jokes by using “charged humor”. “This humor carries a message, meant to change perceptions by knowingly pushing the boundaries of one or more dominant groups” (St. George 139). Though groups such as women have to task risks with humor when they try to lessen stereotypes, the humor itself is still effective to change the situation.

Russell Peters has something to say with small stereotypes: accents. The discrimination in accents is evident in Canadians toward Indians, who speak very “funny”. He disputes this stereotype by simply speaking in an Canadian accent about silly matters. And as the audience break into laughter, he succeeds in eliminating the stereotypical views against Indian accents.

Finally, I want to invite Negin Farsad for she is a comedian experienced about fighting common stereotypes of Muslims. She insists comedy is useful because it sets up recognition between the audience and herself. By breaking the boundaries through laughter, the audience are compelled to listen to her ideas. “Comedy opens people up, and what makes comedy so effective is that if you’re making them laugh along the way, they’re going to listen to the deeper cut stuff” (Farsad 13). She uses humor to empathize with people and convey her friendly messages to them. As a result, the stereotype about Muslims is gone.

 

Works Cited

“‘Accents.’” YouTube, uploaded by Russell Peters, 1 Nov. 2016,www.youtube.com/watch?v=z4KhEj0ai5E.

Critchley, Simon. “Did You Hear the One About the Philosopher Writing a Book on Humour?”Think, vol. 1, no. 2, Autumn 2002, pp. 103-112, doi.org/10.1017/S147717560000035X.Rpt. in The Essential Guide to Analytical Writing with Humor Readings. UC San Diego Bookstore, 2017, pp. 122-131.

Farsad, Negin. “Can Humor Fight Prejudice?” TED Radio Hour from NPR, 24 Mar. 2017,www.npr.org/2017/03/24/520942852/negin-farsad-can-humor-fight-prejudice.

O’Hara, Mary. “A Serious Business: What Can Comedy Do?” Mosaic, 23 Aug. 2016,www.mosaicscience.com/story/comedy-humour-jokes-political-satire-taboo. Rpt. in TheEssential Guide to Analytical Writing with Humor Readings. UC San Diego Bookstore,2017, pp. 104-111.St. George, Zach. “Identity is an Inside Joke.” Nautilus, 26 Nov. 2015,www.nautil.us/issue/30/identity/identity-is-an-inside-joke. Rpt. in The Essential Guide toAnalytical Writing with Humor Readings. UC San Diego Bookstore, 2017, pp. 136-141.


Acknowledgement

I am grateful for my instructor Dr. Gocsik for facilitating me to understand reading materials and come up with better ideas with guest lists. I appreciate my mentor Sarah for giving suggestions for grammar and style. I also thank my groupmates Flory and Shuli for discussing ideas during presentation.

Summaries in Conversation Between Critchley and McGraw & Warner

Simon Critchley illustrates in his article Did You Hear the One About the Philosopher Writing a Book on Humor? that humor can influence people under the “congruence between joke structure and social structure” (Critchley 123). The congruence is necessary for the joke to be funny in the first place. When creating laughter, humor generates an incongruity in the audience’s expectation and reality of an event. This perceptual shift relieves people’s tension. Besides reducing stress, true humor can change the way we think. Like Eddie Waters points out, “It has to liberate the will and the desire and change the situation” (126), Critchley claims from true jokes we can know something socially fixed is absurd and then challenge the status quo. Other jokes, however, merely demand reactions from the viewers and reinforce the consensus. Critchley comments that “such humor does not seek to change the situation, but simply toys with existing social hierarchies in a charming but quite benign fashion” (Critchley 127).

In the passage The Humor Code, Entry 1: What Exactly Makes Something Funny?, Peter McGraw and Joel Warner argue that benign violation theory, which states “humor arises when something seems wrong or threatening, but is simultaneously OK or safe” (McGraw 133), explains the reasons jokes are laughable better than other theories. To prove this claim, McGraw and Warner harness an experiment done by University of Tennessee professors; the result of the experiment presents positive correlation between a joke’s predictability and funniness, contrasting the most popular incongruity theory, which claims negative correlation (133). Also, benign violation theory addresses dirty jokes, tickling, and why some things are not funny. These aspects all matter to the society, but other theories fail to take these humors into account (134). As a result, benign violation theory is more universally applicable.

Although Critchley and McGraw agree humor can change how we think (Critchley 126 & McGraw 133), they distinguish in ways humor makes us laugh. McGraw thinks the “benign violation” makes humor, neither too threatening nor too pointless, worth laughing. On the other hand, Critchley argues it is the “incongruity” between the expectation and the reality that creates tension that is released by laughter. The major difference between these two arguments is due to the authors’ sources of evidence. While Critchley uses social investigation to construct his idea, McGraw employs scientific experiments to manifest his theory, which is more credible in terms of objectivity. Moreover, the evidence McGraw harnesses reputes the incongruity theory supported by Critchley, but Critchley does not well address potential challenge from other humor theorists, so McGraw’s claim appears more valid than Critchley’s.

 

Work Cited

Critchley, Simon. “Did You Hear the One About the Philosopher Writing a Book on Humour?”Think, vol. 1, no. 2, Autumn 2002, pp. 103-112, doi.org/10.1017/S147717560000035X.Rpt. in The Essential Guide to Analytical Writing with Humor Readings. UC San Diego Bookstore, 2017, pp. 122-131.

McGraw, Peter and Joel Warner. “Entry 1: What, Exactly, Makes Something Funny?” Slate,23Mar.2014,www.slate.com/articles/arts/culturebox/features/2014/the_humor_code/what_makes_something_funny_a_bold_new_attempt_at_a_unified_theory_of_comedy.html. Rpt. in The Essential Guide to Analytical Writing with Humor Readings. UC San Diego Bookstore, 2017, pp. 132-135.

 

Acknowledgement

I am grateful for my instructor Dr. Gocsik for facilitating me to understand reading materials and come up with better ideas with writing. I appreciate my mentor Sarah for correcting structural mistakes and give suggestions for refining summary. I also thank my groupmates Flory and Shuli for pointing out minuscule stylistic and grammatical mistakes during group discussion.

Analysis of the sources employed by O’Hara and Khazan in their writings

To persuade others of certain arguments throughout an article, credible evidence is required to support them. Evidence may not come from the writer itself, but is given by the stakeholders who have something agrees with the writer. Both O’Hara and Khazan used this technique to make their claims sound.

In Mary O’Hara’s A Serious Business: What Can Comedy Do?, there were a lot of guests with different occupations that are interested in the issue of humor’s effects on people. Maeve Higgins, a comedian, was the first guest to speak in the conversation. She said, “Laughter is a lubricant and is expected, and it’s really hard not to do it.” This sentence tells the audience to think of humor positively. Then, Jon Ronson, a colleague of Higgins, asserted comedy makes people connected, better their feelings. Peter McGraw & Joel Warmer, in their work The Humor Code: A global search for what makes things funny, explained that ancient Greek scholars contemplated about comedy and set the basis for Western philosophy at the same time. The writer also invited some historical figures to represent humor. “Charles Darwin looked for the seeds of laughter in the joyful cries of tickled chimpanzees. Sigmund Freud sought the underlying motivations behind jokes in the nooks and crannies of our unconscious.” Of course, John Hobbes, a philosopher, was the guest the writer wanted to challenge because he claimed “humor is ostensibly about mocking the weak and exerting superiority,” opposing the writer’s argument, and also the cognitive neuroscientist Scott Weems’, which thought humor is a great way for human evolution by letting them not use actual weapons to hit others.

Despite the comedy’s ability to deal with interpersonal relationships, there were certain invited guests who thought humor has social functions. Avner Ziv, a scholar, insisted comedy, along with satire, is potentially useful in reforming society. Negin Farsad furthered the idea by saying humor is a platform for advancing social justice. Josie Long had her own insights when performing her comedy since she believed that comedians have a role to play in articulating and challenging some of the most pressing issues of the day. “Satire is to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted.” This saying is meaningful that it addresses what we concern. Sophie Quirk, on the other hand, proved Long’s point by giving out the fact that comedians are always focusing on social issues and try to resolve them. For instance, John Fugelsang had political comedy be righteous in it delivers the truth to the audience. Stephen K. Amos, on the other hand, told us he does explicit work in affairs that matter to himself to fight against stereotypes. Alfie Moore, also thanked his comedy career in bringing his vocation – policing – to the eyes of the viewers. Liz Carr also entertained a lot of topics and ideas that are related to the disabled to break the barriers with the “normal” people. (In fact, she is also one of them.)

O’Hara invited a few more stakeholders to express their ideas in convincing the readers to take comedy seriously. Sharon Lockyer, a social scientist, examined disabled comedians and observed that comedy industry has made the disabled change from those being mocked to those mocking someone or something else. From the detail inside the field of comedy, there are, to a larger scale, lots of comics who are making a lot of money distribute comedy into diverse ways and forms. Sophie Quirk and Scott Weems made a reprise to this discussion. Quirk claimed that there is more value in humor even it is not linked to serious subject. And Weems, based on relative research studies, discovered that comedy has benefits to people’s health and well-being. Finally, Jamie Masada ended this conversation by saying that comedy can make people’s relationships better, and it has positive effect on resolving social issues, summarizing all the assertions made by various supporting stakeholders.

In Olga Khazan’s The Dark Psychology of Being a Good Comedian, a different argument is held, and there is one recurring guest, psychologist Peter McGraw, that accompanies the writer to come up with the conclusion about the comedians’ psychology. There are also other stakeholders that impacts the writer’s claim. Firstly, Lorne Michaels, a comedian, during the first show after 9/11, expresses his own distress of not wanting to perform in the context of the huge disaster. Gilbert Gottfried, on the other hand, is criticized because of his frivolous joke about the event. The Onion staffers feel hesitant about the risk of publishing humorous news, but after publishing the reports, they are found successful in reliving the terror of readers. This fact reflects McGraw’s theory that comedy is half-dark and half-light. Hobbes and Plato suggested that making fun helps people feel superior to others. People opposing this idea were Kant and later psychologists, who thought humor is a cognitive strategy in mocking others to make oneself feel better. Freud speculated that humor is a component of the id that outcompetes the protesting superego. Daniela S. Hugelshofer held the similar idea by saying humor acts as a buffer against bad emotions. Some other evolutionary psychologists posit that humor can endow males with better fitness in sexual selection. McGraw quoted what Mark Twain said, “The secret source of humor itself is not joy, but sorrow.” and furthered this sentence with evidence from the former part of the article. Warner, McGraw’s co-author, noticed that different geographies have different perspectives about humor; besides that, different times, and even different people have varied thoughts of jokes, thus marking comedians as careful in preparing for what they are going to say.

One of the specific sources that I want to articulate about is Josie Long, who intends to answer the question about whether comedy can change how we feel, what we think or even what we do. In attempting to refute potential misinterpretation of jokes, she said “It’s vital to understand the job comedy can do in actively providing a counterbalance to bigotry and prejudice.” Normally we think comedy can only make us laugh, but Josie Long, being experienced with the humor, has her own credible idea of comedy. The writer incorporates this source in order to proceed and exemplify the discussion of humor’s role in human society after Negin Farsad’s generalization that “comedy provides a platform for advancing social justice”.

 

Works Cited

O’Hara, Mary. “A serious business: what can comedy do?” Mosaic, 23 Aug. 2016, http://www.mosaicscience.com/story/comedy-humour-jokes-political-satire-taboo.

Khazan, Olga. “The Dark Psychology of Being a Good Comedian.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 27 Feb. 2014, http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/02/the-dark-psychology-of-being-a-good-comedian/284104/.

Aside

Launch a Project Experiment: Gibberellin and Brassinolide

AP Statistics Project Proposal

(It has to be an experiment, no observational study will be accepted)

Group members:

Name ID
Jiayi Liu 2014530054
Ziyi Wang 2014530070
Fan Xu 2014530268
Junhui He 2014530723
  1. Topic (What is the research question)

Comparison of the Effects of Gibberellin and Brassinolide on Soybean Seed Germination

  1. Sampling (Be specific about how subjects might be selected)

Randomly select 120 soybeans that are purchased from the same source.

  1. Variables:

Explanatory variables:

Type of plant hormone being used: categorical, no plant hormone (control), Gibberellin, Brassinolide, or both.

Response Variable: the height of seedlings after 2 days; the height of seedlings after 7 days.

  1. Treatment:

We have 4 kinds of treatments.

For the selected seeds, randomly assign them to different treatments, which is soaking the soybean seeds in specified solution for 12 hours. Each treatment has 30 seeds:

No plant hormone 10-6 mol/L Gibberellin
10-6 mol/L Brassinolide 5×10-7 mol/L Gibberellin + 5×10-7 mol/L Brassinolide

After soaking, transplant the seeds to soil. Water the seeds every 12 hours, take an account of the proportion of germinated seeds. Also measure the height of seedlings after 2 days and 7 days.

  1. What extraneous variables might influence the response?

Environmental factors, like temperature, light intensity, water, and even soil conditions all could have impact on seed germination.

  1. How does the design protect against its potential influence on the response through blocking, direct control, or randomization?

We would use preliminary experiment to ensure the optimal conditions for plant growth. Despite that, we would also apply:

Direct control: All the seeds are grown in the same room and are expose to the same environmental factors so that the extraneous factors’ effects are not confounded with those of the experimental variables.

Randomization: Randomly assign the seeds to different treatment groups to ensure that the experiment does not systematically favor one treatment over another.

Replication: There is considerable amount of individuals for each treatment to achieve an adequate number of observations for each experimental condition.

  1. Statistical method (e.g. we plan to use…method to explore … We hope to have a …result)

Normally, we would apply what we learned from descriptive statistics: Calculating important statistics, like the mean heights of seedlings, and representing them in the form of a bar chart for comparison.

For the part of inference, we plan to use two-sample t-test to explore whether there is a significant difference in the effects of different plant hormones in the heights of seedlings. We hope that there is significant difference so that we could have evidence to support that one plant hormone is greater in promoting germination than the other.

We also plan to use regression analysis to explore whether there is a linear relationship between the heights of seedlings after 2 days and those after 7 days for a specific treatment group, thus implicitly see if each hormone has prolonged effect.

The Reason, Process, and Meanings behind Gregor’s Transformation in the Metamorphosis

The Metamorphosis presents a story about a man’s alienation from his family: Gregor, working arduously for his family, suddenly turns into a bug, and progressively gets abandoned by his parents and sister. However, beyond this abrupt event, Gregor already is a social “vermin” – justified by his inability to execute individuality; his transformation is, in my opinion, also a gradual process that not only symbolizes the changes in his perspectives toward his surroundings, but also the alteration of his family’s thoughts about himself.

Gregor’s transformation illustrates his problems about general isolation from modern society that put expectations to his hard-working. Long before Gregor turns into a vermin, he has wished to get equally well-treated with his colleagues and family members but fails. As Gregor says, “That’s all I’d have to try with my boss; I’d be fired on the spot. Anyway, who knows if that wouldn’t be a very good thing for me. If I didn’t hold back for my parents’ sake, I would have quit long ago.” (1.5), he is constrained by the working conditions that force him to get up early while seeing other workers enjoying their breakfast. Turning into a giant bug seems a fulfillment of his will to get rid of this job. In addition, he is the only one who can support the family, but after this transformation deprives him of the ability to work, every member attempts to expel him without considering his contribution, further suggesting his verminous position before the metamorphosis really takes place.

The establishing process of transformation stems from Gregor’s tedious lifestyle. Working as a traveling salesman, he can presumably get to know a lot of things from outside world. Instead, he complains that there cannot be long-enduring relationships with other people around this business. Besides, he cannot have the time like his family members to get relaxation from reading newspapers, playing music instruments, etc. Such monotonous life mode makes him distasteful, as depicted after his waking up: “His room, a regular human room, only a little on the small side, lay quiet between the four familiar walls.” (1.2) Though Gregor is familiar with the room, he feels uncomfortable about it, as emphasized by the phrase “regular human room”.

Despite Gregor’s literal transformation, there are more, symbolically, transformations about his entire family. His father most directly shows the outrage toward Gregor, and as he returns to his job, wearing up the clothes, he regains the authority of supporting family and controlling Gregor’s will. His mother, being stunned by the moment as she sees the vermin, feels desperate about her son’s mishap but later turns in to suppress her anxiety. What’s more is about Greta’s transformation: “She had in fact noticed that Gregor needed plenty of room to crawl around in; and on the other hand, as best she could tell, he never used the furniture at all” (2.22). As Greta notices her brother’s needs, she comes to be more decisive in taking care of Gregor, accompanying the decrease of Gregor’s agency. This is even testified later when Gregor scares the boarders away, it is Greta who makes the ultimate decision to get rid of Gregor as the family is dealing with a kitchen bug.

Summing up all the points about the why, how, and what about his transformation, Gregor is unhappy about his situations, living with a verminous lifestyle. The transformation makes him lose respect and the ability to support family, but also changes the entire family’s roles, as exemplified by Greta’s increasing agency of making decisions.


Works Cited

“The Metamorphosis.” by Franz Kafka. Trans. David Wyllie. Sweden: Wisehouse Classics, 2015. Print.

Compare and Contrast the Force from A New Hope and the Way from Taoist ideals

The Force from A New Hope and the Way in Taoism present two great distinctive beliefs. The Force, an energy field created by all li

ving things that bestows individuals with idealistic courage, surrounds and penetrates them; the Way, on the other hand, is the mysterious, unnamable process through which everything in the universe happens, teaching people to be less attentive to the glory from material world.

The Force provides people with means of completing some challenging quests that could render great results, regardless of what they have. In A New Hope, it is a natural power contrary to a more technological power the Death Star uses. To show this, the Rebels and heroes are seen in more natural settings like deserts and forests while the Empire is seen in large technological settings. As the mentor Obi-wan Kenobi always says to Luke, “May the Force be with you.”, this sentence acts as a spiritual guide to Luke’s journey and gives him determination, which is a clear distinction with Darth Vader’s emphasis on brutal destruction. For instance, when he is going for a mission to destroy the Death Star, there are many missiles from his enemies that block his way. Commonly, he is not able to handle this situation by himself, but every moment the sentence flashes back to his mind, he can pay more attention toward the mission and be less stressed. In a way, the Force goes beyond the superiority of technology and makes something impossible come true.

By contrast, the Way emphasizes more about the balance between gain and loss throughout lifetime. If people is enlightened by it, they will be guided to understand the benefits and drawbacks of certain deeds. Also, the Way reduces the distinction between different things but rather integrate them into a whole. “Heaven and earth are ruthless, and treat the myriad creatures as straw dogs; the sage is ruthless, and treats the people as straw dogs.” (5.1-2) Under Taoist view, all the living things are under the same world, that they should be treated equally, since their existences have certain meanings that people should not depreciate. To reinforce the idea, Daodejing points out that the Way in which stricter and stricter laws create crime and stifle a country’s productivity. As people are members of the society, they need to obey the law of nature regardless of how powerful they are. In conclusion, it is feasible to say that the Way goes beyond the superiority of rules – the confinement – and makes something absurd explicable.

Though the Force and the Way differ in many perspectives, they share the ideal intellect of having people completing certain important goals. As Luke is able to defeat dreadful enemies and finally save princess Leia and her planet behind so many challenges through the encouragement of the Force, he has to think about the negative effects about his journey, like what the Way considers. Even though A New Hope does not have any mention about the Way, it actually exists throughout the storyline: As the Death Star’s evil plan irritates the Rebels, the Force comes into action to urge the heroes wiping out the vicious authority, giving Darth Vader a painful compensation.

In general, the Force and the Way both in a degree present people’s ideals about the right behaviors, but the Force can also be seen as a metaphysical power that prompts individuals to be dedicated to their actions, while the Way puts more emphasis on the two sides of a single event, benefiting, also punishing, the person who takes part in it.

 

Works Cited

“Star Wars: A New Hope” 20th Century Fox. Washington D.C.: L. George, 1977.

“Daodejing.” The Norton Anthology of World Literature. Trans. D.C. Lau. Third ed. Vol.A. New York and London: W. W. Norton, 2012, 1347-1354. Print.