I stare at the silver lined walls of the driving school I have been attending for the past few weeks. The teacher firmly believes in teaching safe driving by scaring students with brutal videos of people dying in all sorts of car crashes. Today’s lesson involves the dangers of changing tires. The first video was a woman who fell off a bridge changing a tire, while the second was of a man who got hit by a truck while changing his tire. As if those were not enough to frighten us, the third video was of a man whose car fell on top of him while changing his tire.
The videos finally end and I look at my friend and immediately, we both burst out in laughter. I realize that there is nothing remotely funny about these videos.I have been hysterically laughing at people dying and I have absolutely no idea why. In Western culture we take laughter for granted so much that we ignore its origins, what it actually is, and its purpose in our lives. Laughter is defined as “an expression or appearance of merriment and amusement” (Dictionary).
Humans have a penchant for laughter as a reflex, rather than a conscious action. Laughter may be distinguished from humor, which is “a comic, absurd, or incongruous quality causing amusement” (Dictionary). It is important to differentiate between these terms because while similar, laughter “is the physiological response to humor.” (Brain) Laughter affects many aspects of daily life, human behavior, and is a major component of the entertainment industry. Laughter is an effective tool that is used throughout daily life at many places such as work and school.
Studies have proven that laughter is “a way of exercising power” in a group setting (Brain). In this situation, the boss, patriarch of a family, corporate director, or teacher utilizes humor as a tool to control their inferiors. In most hierarchical situations, subordinates will laugh at a joke that is told by the “leader” or “head” of a group. Laughter can engage students and keep them focused on otherwise uninteresting subjects. Although quite pleasurable, laughter can also be used as an instrument of domination.Laughter is a source of exercise that does not require machines or a gym.
Five minutes of consistent, knee-slapping, die hard laughter can burn around “40 calories” (Brink). If one were to have one hundred laughs, it would consume the same number of calories as 15 minutes on an exercise bike or ten minutes on a rowing machine. Cardiologist Michael Miller recommends laughing at least fifteen minutes per day, along with exercising for thirty minutes three times per week (Brink). Thus, laughter not only provides pleasure but can also help maintain a healthy and energized lifestyle.Why humans laugh proves a most intriguing question.
There are three main theories explaining laughter, and they are known incongruity, superiority and relief.The incongruity theory occurs when “logic and familiarity are replaced by things that don’t normally go together” (Brain). Professor Thomas Veatch explains that jokes are considered funny when the ending is completely unexpected. (Brain) The human mind is trained to expect what is routine, so when a joke ends surprisingly, laughter results.The second theory regarding human laughter is the superiority theory.
This type of laughter is the result of another person’s failure, problems, or foolishness. After witnessing a person’s mistakes or stupidity, one feels “superior” which allows separation and de-identification from this person’s troubles. (Brain)Relief theory is the third explanation for laughter.This type of laughter is used to relieve tension or stress. Relief laughter is extremely common in suspense or intense drama during which a brief moment of comedy provides relief.
When humans witness something scary or hard to cope with, tension develops that can be relieved with laughter. This form of laughter can also occur during a moment of embarrassment or when one is threatened. During these occurrences, “laughter may serve as a conciliatory gesture or as a way to deflect anger” (Brain). For this reason many people use laughter to cope with error or embarrassment.Although these three theories explain why we laugh, they do not explain why the same jokes do not stimulate laughter in everyone. One reason is a difference in age.
Infants and toddlers find “toilet humor” funny, along with anything that is unexpected or appears silly to them (Brain). However, teenagers will laugh at almost any subject that adults consider inappropriate because it is their way of asserting independence. Teens also use humor to hide their insecurities and make themselves feel superior over their peers. Furthermore, jokes humorous to teens and jokes humorous to toddlers will not be humorous to adults. Selectivity of humor may also evolve from social and political milieu.
Someone in the United States may find a political joke hilarious that would hardly be so in a totalitarian state. Similarly a racist joke presently found humorous in the Northern United States, could prove offensive in the South, and in fact, vice versa in the time of slavery.Laughter also affects many aspects of human behavior. Humans need laughter to sustain themselves. National Geographic has covered a laughing class in New York City, where men and women gather at Central Park to laugh.
Those who attend this class absolutely adore it because it “helps ease pain, ease depression, and get into their inner child” (Brink). Class Director, Dr. Alex Eingorn, explains that laughter “makes people feel good”, and it also improves their health.Many adults do not experience humor during their daily jobs, and this laughing class is a way for them to enjoy life, experience laughter, and meet new people.Unlike the basic bodily functions of crying, drinking, and eating, laughing is a human behavior that is not present at birth.
Babies do not laugh until they are 3-4 months old (Brink). At this age, laughter (along with crying, kicking, and screaming) is the means for communication with their parents. Laughter is a vital part of early life because it is an “instinctive language” that is helpful before babies learn to speak. (Brink)Gelotology is the scientific field dedicated to the “physiological study of laughter” (Brain). Gelotology separates laughter into two distinct parts, the bodily sound and a set of movements that go along with this sound. During laughter, “the brain directs us to conduct both those activities simultaneously.
” (Brain). The muscular activity of laughter stimulates the release of endorphins in the brain. Endorphins are chemicals that produce a sense of good feeling, which is the biologic reason why laughter makes one feel good.Gelotologic studies have addressed a variety of topics such as how laughter affects pain tolerance. Psychologist Robin Dunbar and colleagues investigated how spells of laughter affect pain tolerance.
Volunteers were exposed to pain generated by”a freezing wine sleeve slipped over a forearm, [or] an ever tightening blood pressure cuff…” (Gorman).Next, the subjects viewed either a series of documentary videos, or a series of comedy videos, after which they were again exposed to pain.Those who watched the comedies had higher pain tolerance than those who watched documentaries, suggesting that laugher increases pain tolerance (Dunbar and others). Psychologists Jo-Anne Bachorowski, Michael J. Owren and graduate student Moria Smoski examined how gender affects laughter.
They showed that men who spent time with a close friend of either gender, laughed more than when they were alone or with people unknown to them.Men’s laughter was connected to “the history of their relationship with their social partner” (Harris).In contrast, women’s laughter depended on the gender of their companion.Bachorowski, Smoski, and Owren demonstrated that “females paired with a male friend” laughed more than females paired with a female friend. (Harris).Along with the differences between male and female laughter, Bachorowski, Smoski, and Owren also studied the different sounds of laughter.
They observed that “people produce a wide variety of laugh sounds with a remarkable range of vocal pitch” including”bird chirps, pig snorts, frog croaks and chimpanzee pants” (Harris). These researchers then separated laughter into three general groups. The first is very high-pitched laughter, which is a stereotypical laugh sounding like a melody. Other times, laughter can sounds like a snort, which occurs when humans laugh through their nose. A third laugh sounds like a grunt.
These authors also discovered that the sound and range of female laughter differs in the presence of a male. It tends to be smaller in range and of higher pitch.(Harris)Laughter can improve one’s health in several ways.It relieves stress and makes people feel more relaxed. Loud, strong laughs can elevate the heart rate and blood pressure.
Laughter can “stimulate circulation and aid muscle relaxation” (Mayo Clinic Staff). Furthermore, hiccupping and coughing can result from prolonged laughter, yet these actions help clear the respiratory tract.Laughter also augments the amount of salivary immunoglobulin A in the body, which”defends against infectious organisms entering through the respiratory tract” (Brain). Additionally, laughter allows for more “oxygen-rich air” to enter the body (Mayo Clinic Staff).Laughter increases muscle, heart and lung activity and enhances the immune system.
Regardless of age, gender, society, or class, the thirst for comedy reflects the pervasive need of human beings to laugh. The importance and need for laughter fuels the entertainment industry. The entertainment industry is the “fifth largest sector based on employment” and it follows services, business administration services, hospitality and real estate (Verrier).In Los Angeles alone, the entertainment industry includes 162,000 jobs, and 85,000 jobs for suppliers and servicers (Verrier).In total, the entertainment industry provided “586,000 jobs and had an annual output of $47 billion in 2011” (Verrier). This corresponds to 8.
4% of the Los Angeles area’s “annual economic output”. Within the entertainment industry, movies are “the largest category” (Verrier). Television shows, live entertainment, managers, radio, theater, comedians, and advertisements all exist as well in this industry because of the basic human need to laugh. Comedies represent the most popular genre of movie in North America (statista). Between 1995 and 2013, comedies produced “$54.
88 billion in box office revenue” significantly more than adventure movies, which earned “$42.33 billion” and drama movies, which earned “$38.94 billion” (statista). Comedy movies emerged when the public showed interest in films around the early 1900’s. The first movie that was copyrighted in the United States, Fred Ott’s Sneeze, is only five seconds long however, it is “often described as comedy” (Bardinelli). The first films were silent and emphasized “visual” humor because of inadequate technology (Bardinelli).
Once sound was inserted into films, comedy soared because writers could create intricate situations with more obvious humor. The Marx brothers are some of the first to bring comedy into the new world of technology, and their “brand of fast-talking humor” is still popular today (Bardinelli). Once the comedy television industry appeared in the 1950’s, it had a strong influence on movies. Many people began to stay at home watching television, and there was a “sharp decline in attendance” in the movie industry. In response, films began to migrate towards television and were transformed into “episodic shows”. Consequently, the situation comedy, also known as the sitcom was created (Bardinelli).
Some of the earliest sitcoms on television were I Love Lucy and The Abbott and Costello Show, which remain popular today.There are multiple subtypes that exist within the genre of comedy. Comedy of Manner mocks a specific “social class” (Bardinelli). Dark Comedy makes fun of distasteful topics like war and murder. The most common subtype, Parody, mocks a preexisting story.Romantic comedies surround relationships and thus remain popular among teenagers.
A “Fish out of water” comedy involves the main character finding himself in a strange environment such as gender-swapping or afarm boy living in the city (Bardinelli). Screwball comedy was very prevalent during the beginning of filmmaking, and involves “wacky, almost unbelievable situations and includes lots of physical humor”. A prime example of screwball comedy was The Three Stooges. These various types of comedy exist due to the diversity of American society. A unique form of comedy is satire. Satire is defined as “the use of irony, sarcasm, ridicule, or the like, in exposing, denouncing, or deriding vice, folly” (Dictionary).
Especially in the US, satire pokes fun at the more serious part of life such politics, social and economic issues. As a result, satire involves both the entertainment and news. The use of satire for social and political commentary has existed for centuries. Voltaire wrote the famous book Candide, where he mocked religion and government. He published it anonymously because he feared the serious repercussions if his identity was revealed.
In the United States, satire is encouraged and protected by the constitution. Several US comedians are famous for their satire because it a very popular form of entertainment (Dictionary). However, in countries with unstable or corrupt governments, journalists and comedians can be punished, jailed, or executed if they go too far.For example, bloggers in Egypt and Saudi Arabia have been jailed for expressing their opinions. Even in stable countries such as France, satire can evoke lethal responses.The “satirical” newspaper, Charlie Hebdo “lampooned Islam” which provoked a terrorist attack that killed twelve people including”the top editor, prominent cartoonists, and police officers” (Bilefsky and Baume).
This terrorist attack was considered one of the most violent attacks in all of “postwar” France (Bilefsky and Baume). These deadly responses show how governments and certain ethnic groups are often incapable of peacefully managing the mockery expressed in satire. While ostensibly simple, laughter is an incredibly complex and pervasive component of human existence.Laughter is much more than a bodily movement or gesture. It is a form of communication and a biologic response that maintains and promotes health. Laughter is present in our daily lives more than we can imagine, it has a significant impact on human behavior, and without it the massive entertainment industry could not exist.
Furthermore, laughter provides insight into our needs, and allows us to better comprehend human nature.So what exactly happened to cause me to laugh at the profoundly disturbing videos in my driving class? It could have been the superiority theory, where I was able to de-identify with the mistakes of those in the video. Or, it could have been the relief theory, where I used laughter to cope with the fear that the accidents in the videos could actually happen to me.My laughter in response to the driving school’s videos was certainly insensitive and perhaps cruel.Nonetheless, it served a multitude of critical needs, both conscious and subconscious, both positive and negative, just as laughter does for all of humanity.