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Book Reviews83 PAUL E. McGHEE and JEFFREY H. GOLDSTEIN, eds. Handbook ofHumor Research: Volume 1, Basic Issues. New York: SpringerVerlag , 1983. 251 p. One of the most exciting features of this book is its cross-disciplinary nature, since humor as a subject is cross-disciplinary in scope. Aesthetics, anthropology , humor acquisition, linguistics, physiology, psychology, and sociology are all professionally treated. I would like to see the subject of literature added to the list, but this is a minor point. I have some quarrel with the title, Handbook ofHumor Research. This would seem to indicate that the book deals with humor, but in general it does not. Rather it deals with humor appreciation, humor production, and humor motivations, but not humor itself. I would also prefer to have seen the word empirical somewhere in the title, since the book deals almost exclusively with empirical research, and most of the treatment is of quantitative as opposed to qualitative research. What holds the book together is a strong sense of humor epistemology. All of the authors are consistent in carefully citing prior research; in fact, the documentation is so thorough that it sometimes gets in the way of the presentation. In general, however, the presentation is excellent. Provocative issues are raised and these issues are competently dealt with. Howard R. Pollio says that the reason so many comedians come from minority groups is that humor is a defense mechanism used to compensate for not being rewarded by more traditional means in society. "Members of minority groups have been less subject to, and less rewarded by constraints brought to bear on members of the majority groups. Comedians have less at stake in breaking social constraints that inhibit other members oftheir society who have learned more conventional perceptions and more conventional behaviors" (216). As to why sex and aggression are major themes for humor, Gary Alan Fine mentions the "superiority" or "sudden glory" theory of humor first proposed by Thomas Hobbes. The idea is that the infirmities of others constitute the principal source of laughter and mirth. Hobbes felt that laughter is caused either by having the speaker suddenly realize some way in which he is superior, or some way in which someone else is inferior (224). DoIf Zillman's article on "Disparagement Humor" discusses the work of Sigmund Freud who made a distinction between "tendentious humor" (mainly hostile and obscene humor) and "nontendentious humor" (amusement and gaiety). Tendentious humor fulfills basic needs, and nontendentious humor is possible only after such basic needs are fulfilled (98). One of the views that has recently been suggested in place of the Hobbes and Freud views of humor is that the principal reason for humor is "relief." Harvey Mindess talks of laughter as a force of freedom and liberation. For Mindess, people are "beset by a number of personal and social constraints —conformity, inferiority, normality, rationality, naivete, egotism, and so forth — that serve to limit their freedom. These constraints are adhered to largely because people have little choice in the matter if they are to remain members of society. Humor then serves to liberate people from such constraints by rendering them meaningless or absurd" (215-16). This theory, then, would account for the close relationship between the profane clown and the sacred priest, since they would both be forces to liberate a person from normal real-world constraints, such as responsibility in the first case, or death in the second. 84Rocky Mountain Review Although laughter and smiling are both associated with humor, it appears only to be laughter that is normally used as a "relief" mechanism. Pollio says "the laughing person experiences momentary freedom from his/her embodied situation, while the smiling person experiences a feeling of buoyance (or lightness) that orients him/her toward other people .... If laughter is preeminently a bodily gesture of freedom, then smiling is preeminently a gesture of interpersonal invitation and/or bonding." They therefore seem to have opposite effects. Laughter frees, while smiling bonds. This observation is supported by Antony Chapman's research. He found that children who did not know they were being observed laughed four times as much as others, but smiled only half as much (142). Laughter can differ...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-2833
Print ISSN
1948-2825
Pages
pp. 83-84
Launched on MUSE
2016-01-06
Open Access
No
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