Comedy and the Culture Wars

Sunday, July 3, 2022
First Aired: 
Sunday, January 12, 2020

What Is It

Comedy can often give offense, especially when it concerns such sensitive topics as race, gender, and sexuality. Should comedy like that be shunned, boycotted, even banned? Can it be enjoyed without danger? Or could it even, at its best, be the road to a better society? Could it somehow help us all to live together, and to come to terms with intractable social issues we’ll never fully put behind us? The Philosophers have a laugh with Jeff Israel from Williams College, author of Living with Hate in American Politics and Religion: How Popular Culture Can Defuse Intractable Differences.

Transcript

Comments (12)


Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Monday, November 18, 2019 -- 11:51 AM

As we are all well aware,

As we are all well aware, there are many kinds of comedy, some of which push the proverbial envelope beyond all reasonable limit. Those who indulge in the art of comedy generally choose a sub genre which meets a particular need or appeals to a particular audience. Those who practice comedy for profit know their audience pretty well, and if they choose controversial topics, they also know they are taking some risks, all of which descends from our national treasure, freedom of speech. The guy with the red face does not appear amused, and might be the one who pulls out the semi-automatic pistol. Still, there are times when comedy can defuse a bad situation---it is not always easy to determine the outcome of such circumstances , and, an element of risk is usually present. We risk a lot when we engage in speech acts (see: John R. Searle)---there are innumerable risks taken everyday. Comedians like Lenny Bruce and George Carlin sometimes seemed reckless beyond belief, foolhardy to the point of a death wish. But in their madness was method. They wanted to make us think about more than the superficiality of the outrageous.

A new face in the crowd of Democratic party offerings has crafted his own take on the MAGA phenomenon. He calls it MATH---Make America Think Harder. Novel idea, that. Don't know how far he might get towards furthering his notions about this, but it is refreshing amid the din. It seems clear to this neophyte that better thinking is in order: that is why we are having culture wars in the first place...

There will always be comedy. And there will always be comedy that offends someone...even when the offense taken is mere whitewash for the self-indulgence of righteous indignation.

Tim Smith's picture

Tim Smith

Friday, December 13, 2019 -- 11:43 PM

Searle is a sandwich of the

Searle is a sandwich of the most putrid meat. You're risking much spending time reading him.

Reading is different than speech how? Let me count the ways.

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Friday, November 22, 2019 -- 8:06 AM

A Thought for the Day:

A Thought for the Day:
It is rare to find mindfulness in those who suffer from a lack of mind fullness.

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Sunday, November 24, 2019 -- 10:50 AM

Another observation:

Another observation:
We ARE what we are taught. We KNOW what we have LEARNED. Some of us, sadly, cannot tell the difference.

Tim Smith's picture

Tim Smith

Friday, December 13, 2019 -- 11:43 PM

This is most certainly wrong.

This is most certainly wrong. If we are to ever come to terms let's start by allowing me to rephrase what you are saying.

Human Being == Tabula Rasa.

Answer yes or no and we can start from that.

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Monday, January 20, 2020 -- 11:42 AM

I got to thinking about what

I got to thinking about what I said on November 18, 2019, in particular about the MATH movement. Something came to mind which I have worked into the piece on cognitive bias I have been editing for about two weeks.. The notion of thinking harder seems to me to miss the mark. I don't know why it never occurred to me before. Anyway, the text I'm referring to reads as follows: I have found it useful to think better rather than harder. Clarity over-trumps intensity (when cool assessments are required)... So, how does one think better? I cannot teach anyone how to do that. The language tries to be self-explanatory. It is not Zen, or any such manipulation, but it does take some practice. Recently, I offered some advice to my son-in-law, struggling with his own daemons. I told him that providence smiles on determination and purpose. I hope that helps him think better...

Daniel's picture

Daniel

Saturday, June 18, 2022 -- 2:46 PM

Laughter can be produced in

Laughter can be produced in many ways. By physical stimulation in some in the area of the lower ribs, in others by a nervous reaction to social awkwardness, but in most as a response to a funniness-stimulus. This stimulus is a kind of perception which requires an object of what the perception is of. The proof of this is that laughter of this kind can not be produced without the stimulus. As is the case in the emotion of love, funniness-perception cannot be commanded. This fact radically separates the stimulus from the independent will of the perceiver, and therefore demonstrates that it belongs to the human species as a generic predicate.

The second fact to be observed is that laughter-response to funniness-perception generates a specific variety of pleasure in the individual in whom it occurs. To these two characteristics, generic involuntary responsiveness and individual hedonic predisposition, a third can be added which constitutes a relation between them: a common sense of what others would perceive as funny also, --a funniness-universal, if you will. Important here though is there's no requirement for such a universal to actually exist, only that it be assumed by the laugher as an essential component of the response. The production of laughter by funniness therefore has at least four parts: funniness-perception (A), application of assumed universality to what's perceived (B), the physiological response of laughter (C), and the pleasure which arises from the association of the response to the perception by means of the universal (D).

A question arises regarding the chronology of the series, and whether there can be more than one. I would like to argue here that there are at least two chronologies, and that the difference between them informs the distinction between offensive and non-offensive comedy. Consider the following:
1) Non-offensive
a) If (B) then (A), so (C) and (D).
2) Offensive
a) If (A) then (D), so (B) and (C).

--In offensive comedy, judgement of the universal follows the pleasure, which is why many will attempt to suppress the laughter-response for fear of being seen finding it funny, whereas in non-offensive comedy the opposite is the case, where the universal judgement precedes the pleasure, and one wants to be seen as representing the universal in the response.

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johnqeniac's picture

johnqeniac

Sunday, July 3, 2022 -- 12:21 PM

Hello Daniel,

Hello Daniel,
I like the first order predicate calculus approach to analysis of 'Is that funny'. Since I didn't listen to the entire (rebroadcast) episode, I dunno if they discussed this approach. I like that you bring in that genuine laughter is a kind of 'orgasmic' response - whether driven by the limbic system or the cortex or whatever. But one can to some extent stifle that orgasm by etiquette rules (or whatever one calls them). But there can be fundamental differences between the questions 'what makes us laugh?' and 'what is funny?' (depending on the definition of 'funny'). Despite the no doubt excellent work of the guest here, I don't think there's a well-developed 'General Theory of Humor' because it really must await a 'General Theory of Consciousness', which we totally don't have....hmmm.... I haven't been very clear here, but guess I better get to my day's work. Wish I could spend more time expressing my ideas. But did find your comment stimulating to my own thoughts.
Thanks,
Greg Slater

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Daniel's picture

Daniel

Wednesday, July 6, 2022 -- 9:28 AM

You've made two points here,

You've made two points here, by my reading. One is that the categorical association between laughter in humans and climactic response in genitally based sexual stimulation is coterminous with extension over the entire range of laughter production, and includes but is not limited to its sources in funniness-perception. This I very much agree with, and is consistent with the observation of the non-optional character of all laughter production, (speaking of the moment of contact with the stimulus, not with possible optional conditions for its occurrence-probability).

Your second point however I find a bit more controversial. Where the object being examined is the special variety of laughter which is produced by funniness-perception (or, if you like, the appearance of a funny object, which you refer to by the Hippocratic term "humor"), the claim is made that there can be no general theory of it until a general theory of consciousness is adequately obtained. And the reasoning for this seems to be that knowledge of the whole has to precede that of its parts, so that humor as a part of consciousness can't be understood until consciousness is understood. It seems to me though that there is a reciprocal path to a general theory, which is in fact what I've attempted above, where funniness as a part of consciousness helps to explain the whole, while the whole as subsequently better explained helps to further elucidate the part. As such, a general theory can not require the propaedeutic of a shared model of consciousness, since this theory must itself contribute to the creation of such a model. Without having to outline a theory of consciousness, then, one can nevertheless give an account of a general theory of funniness-stimulus of laughter-response by specifying the relationship between its cause, stated as a presupposed universality of content, and its effect, the pleasure which occurs together with the motor response in diaphragmatic convulsion. The evidence of this model's comprehensiveness, i.e. that it's a general theory, is that it accounts for both offensive and non-offensive varieties, where in the former the pleasure precedes the judgement of its universality, (the universal coming in only to add to the pleasure without constituting its initial stimulus), and in the latter the universal precedes the pleasure, constituting its genuine source. Does this seem plausible?

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johnqeniac's picture

johnqeniac

Sunday, July 3, 2022 -- 12:29 PM

Dear PhilTalk,

Dear PhilTalk,
Despite that I hardly ever post any more, and that i am not sure anybody ever reads the comments except for those few who posted and are checking to see if anyone responded, I very much appreciate that you (unlike everyone else, including NPR, RadioLab, This Am Life, etc) still have a 'local' comment section and have not entirely outsourced your comment section to evil social media sites (FB, Twit, etc etc etc...)....Local is better for a lotta stuff... though presumably more labor intensive...
Thanks,
Greg Slater - listener, and sometimes financial supporter, of PT for the last ~hundred years or whatever...

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Tim Smith's picture

Tim Smith

Sunday, July 3, 2022 -- 10:19 PM

^^^This. I have long since

^^^This. Local is better.

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