This is a jar full of major characters
Actually it is a jar full of chocolate covered raisins on top of a dirty TV tray. But pretend...
I’m sitting on my bed for the third day in a row.
I’m waiting for 5PM to hit so that...
(12/17/13 edit: This is the first of three essays on Bioshock Infinite. Links to subsequent parts are found...
Dear nonny who asked me about whether I’d write up something on BioShock: Infinite —
I don’t want to...
Recently I read Stephen Totilo’s piece on God of War: Ascension on Kotaku and how his initial response to a particular scene caused him to exclaim, “That’s too much.” David Hewlitt, the game’s design director, gives an explanation of why God of War is a perfect example of how violence is appropriately done.
In trying to please the former group, you’ll inevitably also please the latter.
This isn’t necessarily true, but sitcoms are a special case compared to typical stand-up because of its use of characters to tell a narrative.
Humor and irony. Of what for and how are these things we speak of?
Before I start, there are a few details to get into about humor and irony.
First, Helga Kotthoff of the Frieburg University of Education did a study showing that humor is an act of aggression meant to communicate dominance and/or defiance. Another scientist had a very amusing version of this experiment (worth reading) with an incredibly biotruthy conclusion that quite clearly disregards the effect of society on gender and female displays of aggression in order to rely on Freud and Roman priapic mythology.
Second, when we talk about irony, there are actually two types that are important with regard to humor. The first isdramatic irony, in which the audience holds a superior position of knowledge to the subject or characters. The second is the looser verbal irony, in which the subject expresses meaning contrary to the literal meaning of the words used to convey it. In the latter case, I can say, “I hate gay people,” and chances are I’m being ironic. However, the audience can only be sure that I’m being ironic by my tone and somatic expressions (such as body language) and the context of the statement. The most important thing to note from a discursive standpoint is thatverbal irony is not the same as lying. Verbal irony tries to convey contrary meaning through the non-literal use of words while lying tries to convey contrary facts.
In Alanis Morisette’s “Ironic,” a death row pardon 2 minutes too late is dramatic irony while a plane crashing down as a passenger thinks, “Well, isn’t this nice” is verbal irony. The first is dramatic irony because there is a tension between the audience’s elevated awareness of the condition of the convicted and that of the pardoner, while the second is verbal irony because we doubt the passenger actually wanted to die when they got on the plane.
On sitcoms, characters, and dramatic irony.
Now, back to sitcoms. The primary form of ironic humor present in sitcoms is that derived from the audience’s superior position over the characters and the tension between these two points of knowledge. All in the Family had a laugh track. But just because you hear laughter at Archie Bunker’s comments doesn’t mean he was telling jokes. As a character, Archie Bunker wasn’t a humorist but a plain-speaking, ignorant, working-class, depression-era white guy. What was funny to progressives is that he didn’t realize how ridiculously ignorant his honest, straight-forward statements were — dramatic ironic humor. What was funny to bigots is that they often found themselves saying or wanting to say the same things in those situations. That’s not dramatic nor ironic, it’s just funny.
So clearly audience reaction is not an accurate way of gauging the level of racism in a joke, nor is it even a measure of whether the thing laughed at was actually a joke. Things can be funny without them intentionally being so. This is the “subjective” nature of humor that Reddit relies on as both gospel and sanctuary. This doesn’t mean that the reason you laughed is always a justifiable one, it just means that the reason you laughed is because of yourpersonal beliefs. Morality is commonly held to be subjective, but that doesn’t mean everything you do is justifiable.
Reddit, and why it probably doesn’t know what irony means.
Where Reddit is quagmired is verbal irony, or the expression of a statement different than its literal intention, particularly when it comes to bigotry. For instance, “I hate gay people” as a statement is not ironic by default. But if I were in person saying it, there are many contexts in which a contrary meaning would be obvious, and there are many verbal and non-verbal cues I could use to translate the true meaning behind the words. Of course, as the speaker, I’m the one responsible for conveying meaning, not the audience.
And that’s where Reddit fails in its attempts at convincing people that its racism is ironic. You’re an anonymous voice on the internet devoid of context, tone, and nonverbal cues. Everything you say on the internet is literal *unless you say that it isn’t.* And while many Redditors attempt to abuse the concept of ambiguity in order to convince people that they can never assume someone is racist, that’s like asking people to believe that a gun pointed at them isn’t loaded just because they weren’t shot in the last five minutes.
Default communication is an unironic conveyance of information — the burden of proving a speaker means something other than what they said is never on the audience. The burden of proving that the words coming out of their mouths are being used in ways for which they were not actually designed is always on the speaker. If you don’tcommunicate an alternate meaning then you’re just saying what you mean. Even if it’s not what you believe. Saying what you mean but not what you believe is lying, not verbal irony.
Hint, if you’re trolling for dollars, you’re not ironic, you’re lying.
Now, I’m not saying that putting /s after every racist comment meant to be an expression of verbal irony is effective, but at least it’s actual irony. Adding 2+2 isn’t calculus, but at least it’s math.
Dramatic irony, straw men, and the aggression of humor.
As cited before, humor is aggressive. A communicative jousting for dominance. This is why SRS circlejerks so hard at Reddit’s expense and why Reddit hates SRS so much in response.
Sitcoms use dramatic irony to create characters upon which the audience targets their dominance and vents their aggression while these characters are unaware of how supposedly “worthy” of derision they are. Carroll O’Connor, who played Archie Bunker, grew up in a liberal household and half of the producing team, Norman Lear, was a civil rights activist who founded “People for the American Way.” However, the collusion between audience and artist provides a lot of leeway within a dramatic narrative giving cover for personal views. For stand-up comedians and humorists, there is less access to the catharsis of burning straw men and more focus on the artist themself.
There is, however, a way around it. When humorists adopt characters for their performances, they can create living narratives that serve the same function. By feigning ignorance and obvious fault, they can direct the aggression of the audience on themselves while caricaturing the people they want the audience to focus their aggression on.
But the most successful example (in terms of personality cults) is progressive Stephen Colbert (the T is hard) who despite growing up in the household of a wiely-connected civil rights activist portrays Stephen Colbert (the T is soft) with fiery, wide-eyed, finger-waving gusto as a ludicrously uninformed conservative commentator with such targeted fidelity that a plurality of his audience doesn’t realize that he’s pretending. The character itself is derived from The Daily Show, a fake news show reporting on actual news where the only humorist who actually plays himself is the host Jon Stewart.
In this regard, the most technically capable Redditors when it comes to the use of irony, in fact dramatic irony, are those on novelty accounts whose sole purpose is to portray characters who say and do horrible things. But these novelty accounts are actually few and far between. And even more telling is the proportion of these characters who portray minorities as offensive racial stereotypes.
tl;dr Humor is a form of aggression the purpose of which to establish dominance or subvert it through transgression. Ironic humor mocks a person or character lacking the audience’s knowledge or creates humor out of the juxtaposition of words to create contrary meaning through established tone and context. When light is made of bigotry, one needs to either 1) target a specific bigot for the audience to mock, 2) establish a bigoted caricature for the audience to mock, or at the bare minimum 3) establish clearly that one does not mean what one is saying or else one is just being a bigot.
This past week, many Demon’s Souls fans were irate when they heard a candid interview with Sony’s product development head Shuhei Yoshida in which his initial impression of the game was, “This is crap.”
Now, while that statement was really about the difference between Japan’s parallel areas of product development and the United States’ linear product development cycles, as well as the differing expectations about demos and development progress, many fans of the Atlus-published game mocked the developer for what he took away from his 2-hour experience. The largest of these complaints was that he was somehow not “hardcore” enough and that his lack of talent was the reason he disliked the game.
I own a copy of Demon’s Souls. I actually enjoyed my time with the game. But, admittedly, I have played only a few hours of it during the entire time that I have owned it. While I would never say that the game is “crap” (and I doubt I have even heard someone say anything of the sort), I can see why many people, often apologetically, have never gotten far into it. (Hint: it has nothing to do with being hardcore or not.)