Table of Contents
Benign Violation Theory
The Village Idiot
“Artists use lies to tell the truth. Yes, I created a lie. But because you believed it, you found something true about yourself.”
― Alan Moore, V for Vendetta (Goodreads)
“There is nothing funny about that”. We often hear people say this when the topic touches on a sensitive issue. Jokes concerning those disabled, sex, race, homosexuality, cultural differences, power, authority, privilege, wealth etc. place many in an uncomfortable position. This is because many of these conversations are only had with people in our own social group. For example, a group of men discussing feminism and why women should or should not have equal pay. However, comedy places us in a unique position. Humour ravels truth in a veil of silliness and delivers it a diverse audience. Thus, humour also gives us an opportunity to mediate and eventually heal deep seated issues in society. I argue that it is possible to use humour to initiate transformative mediation. I use the benign violation theory to argue that the violation present in humour, is a chance to begin having the conversation, “Why is this topic sensitive and how do we heal wounds as a community?” Lastly, I dissect the Monty Python skit, “The Village Idiot”, to tweeze out the implicit message of social labeling, status, marginalization and the educational system.
What is transformative mediation? The transformative approach concentrates on “empowering parties to define issues and define settlement terms for themselves and on helping parties to better understand one another’s perspectives. The effect of this approach is to avoid the directiveness associated with problem-solving mediation. Equally important, transformative mediation helps parties recognize and exploit the opportunities for moral growth inherently presented by conflict. It aims at changing the parties themselves for the better, as human beings” (Bush and Folger, 1994, p. 12).
Transformative mediation constructs an environment where a conflict is resolved mainly by the parties involved. As in any mediation, the role of the mediator is very limited. Very often, parties only require a safe place to speak. In The No – Nonsense Guide to Conflict and Peace, Helen Ware states, “the mediator may do nothing more than provide the space for negotiations between the parties to continue” (2006, p. 27). She later adds that the Secretary-General of the UN would often provide his “good offices” to the parties in disagreement (2006, p.27). A mediator is not needed in transformative mediation as long as the two central themes of empowerment and recognition remain the focus. In transformative mediation, the goal is not to reach a settlement. Sometimes, reaching a settlement, which is the focus of problem solving mediation, causes one party to leave the table feeling as though they received the short end of the stick. Transformative mediation avoids this by not only allowing the parties to control the direction of the conversation, but also draw up the options (settlement terms), and agree on which would work best for both parties.
How does this relate to comedy? Humor is a subtle approach in communication. It is very similar to transformative mediation in that it also “avoids directiveness”. In the article “The Other Laughs Back: Humour and Resistance in Anti-Racist Comedy”, Simon Weaver states, “Jokes require ambiguity or incongruity as content, and, as a rhetorical device that is similar to metaphor, have the inbuilt ability to have an impact on truth perceptions (and the perception of ambivalence) all paradoxically in a non-serious discursive realm” (2010, p.35). Therefore, within the blurred image that the comedian paints is a truth that questions our reality. Note, there is only the “perception of ambivalence”. The “discursive form” is meant to make the joke funny and easily digestible to the audience. For example, a black comedian can stand on stage and challenge white privilege and systematic racism in an audience filled with both black and white people. Since the message is packaged in the form of comedy, it is somewhat baffling to those who cannot relate to the experiences of racial oppression the comedian speaks of (mainly the white audience), nonetheless the goofy body language and/or nonchalant tone captures the attention of the entire audience and allows him to deliver his message against racism. This message would not be well received by the white audience members if this same comedian was saying the same words into a megaphone during a demonstration. This is also an example of the refuge that comedy provides. This is discussed further in the “Benign Violation Theory” section.
Just as in transformative mediation, the opportunity to empower and recognize is also in comedy. Humour provides the opportunity to present the cold, hard truth subtly to an audience that may not be ready to hear it in another form or setting. John Struthers states, “humour poses such a threat to established discourse due to its ability to seek the truth through satire” (1999, p.1199). Humour gives us the opportunity to transform the way we see the world, because it makes us question whether or not we are living in a just world. Even the jokes that one may view as insensitive, ultimately forces the individual to ask, “Why does this joke impact me so much?” Humour can initiate transformative mediation because it serves the similar purpose of having both parties recognize the issue, become empowered through self-awareness after dissecting the truth within the joke, and humour supports participants as they understand one another better and reconstruct the society they live in.
Benign Violation Theory
In “The Humor Code”, Peter McGraw and Joel Warner state that the benign violation theory explains why things are funny. They state, “humor only occurs when something seems wrong, unsettling or threatening (i.e., a violation), but simultaneously seems okay, acceptable, or safe (i.e., benign) ... When a violation turns out to be benign, such as someone falling down the stairs and ending up unhurt, people often do an about-face and react in at least one of three ways: they feel amused, they laugh, or they make a judgement – “That was funny” (2014, p.10). The benign violation theory is compatible with the transformative mediation approach. The benign violation theory gives us an opportunity to understand the conflict. A violation usually leads to a conflict, therefore, if we can pinpoint where an individual/group takes offense, we have a better chance of understanding the conflict at the depth necessary to resolve it and bring the parties to better terms.
Moreover, the violation allows us to question a social norm. Why is this not funny to me? Is it because the joke is made by / is about an individual from a marginalized group? Is it guilt that keeps me from finding humour in this punchline. The violation that occurs in a joke has us understand conflict at all four stages. Helen Ware classifies the four types of conflicts as personal conflict, disagreement between individuals, discord between distinct groups, and international conflict that occurs between states/coalition of nations (2006, p.10). Within each of these sections are a set of norms that can be violated. A common violation in comedy is the cunning rebellion of those marginalized in society against those who are privileged. Ware states that conflict can, “promote internal group cohesion” (2006, p.11). This is necessary in order to empower the marginalized group, however, the ultimate goal of conflict resolution is to “enable social structures to readjust by eliminating sources of dissatisfaction and removing the causes for opting out, so creating a new balance in a society” (2006, p.11). This mission statement goes hand in hand with the idea of transformative mediation; molding more compassionate, empathetic, and aware people on both ends. However, in order for this vision to be achieve, joke-telling must first be used to empower the marginalized group. The privileged have the support of the social structure so they are not in need of empowerment.
The security of humour is one of the few refuges where a marginalized group can criticize the establishment without facing violent consequences. In reference to the carnival culture of the Middle Ages, Simon Weaver states, “at the heart of carnival was the idea of overturning reality, the tradition of turning the established social and religious order upside down” (2010, p.34). Czech nationals under Nazi occupation represent another example of a marginalized group using humour to empower themselves. According to Weaver, under Nazi occupation, jokes telling “was a harmless vent that allowed Czechs to continue working in factories while maintaining a vague sense of patriotism and integrity’… jokes were also a way of coping, staving off despair and attempting to come to terms with a world that lacked order and clarity” (2010, p.34). As mentioned before, in order for transformative mediation to function successfully, both groups must be empowered, and both parties have to recognize the issue at hand. Humour helps to empower disadvantaged groups, however, because jokes are raveled within the artistry of wit, sarcasm, or exaggerated tales, sometimes the core message becomes lost in the performance. Thus, our task is to look deeply into the statements of the comic, and tweeze out the truth tangled within the tale.
- Quote paper
- Kibbs Fortilus (Author), 2016, Even Funnier When Someone Gets Hurt. Comedy and Transformative Mediation, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/342353