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eXcerptz from confounded | future fetish design performance for human advocacy

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sinus


somewhere between humor and laughter

somewhere between

humor and laughter contextual considerations for the future fetish

o conf unded eXcerptz from

future fetish design performance for human advocacy

i S u s lou written by

prepared for the bureau of cybersurreal investigation


eXcerptz from confounded | future fetish design performance for human advocacy

confounded | future fetish design performance for human advocacy

First published in 2011 by lou suSi, the bureua of cyberSurreal investigation, dynamic media institute + BijaXOuS suPpleMeNte 6 crooked pond drive boxford massachusetts 01921 617.750.2922 ls@loususi.com @loususi dot com dot org Printed by Blurb, Lulu or some randomly chosen onDemand digital ePress ‘out there’ W & J Mackey Limited, Chatham + Sons, not affiliated whatsoever ISBN 10 0-9669022-4-6 ISBN 13 978-0-9669022-4-2 Not all the information reported + written herewithin is guaranteed to be true at all. Speak to the author in person for further rather gritty details.

This is not a book conditions of sale + REading

This book is subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out or otherwise circulated without the publisher’s prior consent in any way, shape or form of binding or cover other than that which it is published and otherwise without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

cover photo of a sad lladro clown provided by Laily Lanisy © by lou suSi 2011 this revised edition + translation © secret innovation society, the bureau of cyberSurreal investigation + BijaXOuS 2022


humor and laughter

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already lost that minimal common sense which permits my friends and myself, for instance to stand up when a flag goes past, confining ourselves to not saluting it; — André Breton, Nadja

contextual considerations for the future fetish

Yet I never supposed she could lose or might have


eXcerptz from confounded | future fetish design performance for human advocacy

confounded | future fetish design performance for human advocacy

somewhere between

humor and laughter contextual considerations for the future fetish

Perhaps one of the strangest phenomena leftover from old television situation comedy reruns is the presence of canned laughter. The humor in shows that once seemed totally hilarious fades over the passage of time, but these Hollywood-embedded cues to laugh when the funny parts supposedly happen add a rather disjointed aural patina to the televisual collective memory-trace of a previous mirth. Humor, it seems, has a definite expiration date. The aftertaste of this laughter not only puts an interesting timestamp on the sitcom, it also produces an equal and opposite reaction for the viewer. We sit and watch in a semi-stupor, wondering how we ever found this particular show even mildly funny way back when — when it originally aired. Laughter, in this case, actually muddies or confounds the show’s previously humorous content and delivery. And sometimes the unnatural juxtaposition of titters and haws with the now funny-sucked remains of a once upon a time comedic performance points to a potentially creepier purpose of the laughtrack.


What’s that all about?

tell us to laugh — a sort of pure command-response behavioral conditioning of the tv-watching masses. Mass media and B.F. Skinner meet up in a 7-eleven — that sort of thing.

Is this some sort of social permission system? We’re now allowed to laugh because the auditory affordance to laugh says so? Or maybe the laughtrack is more of a command and we’re all trained to laugh when the medium

This is a strange phenomenon, remember, called canned laughter on TV. When laughter is part of the soundtrack itself. And its a very strange thing. Like you watch some stupid tv show. Tired in the evening, like, Cheers, Friends, and you don’t even have to laugh. The tv screen laughs for you. The proof is that, at least it holds for me, I hope I am not a unique idiot, that after seeing a show like Cheers even if I don’t laugh, the TV set laughs for me. In the end I am relieved as if I have laughed. Here we have emotions, an emotional discharge, but it doesn’t happen psychologically to me. Its kind of objectivised. But nonetheless, it works.1 ”

In fact, in his essay “‘Ha ha,’ he said. ‘Ha ha’” Chuck Klosterman points out a recent trend in certain modern ‘smarter’ sitcoms to leave out the laughs. There’s a certain awkwardness — a dead air to shows like The Office and Curb Your Enthusiasm — that appeals to a certain aloof, intellectual { new } comedy audience.

If you watch a comedy that forgoes contrived laughter, you will unconsciously ( or maybe even consciously ) take it more seriously. Jokes will appear meaner, weirder and deeper than however they were originally written.”2 So, here’s another question for you:

If the presence of laughter in an old rerun feels entirely unfunny to us — and the absence of laughter now makes us chuckle uncontrollably —

what is the purpose of laughter?

The answer lies somewhere between humor and laughter. 1

“Living in the End Times According to Slavoj Zizek - YouTube.” YouTube - Broadcast Yourself. Web. 14 Oct. 2011. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gw8LPn4irao>.

2

Klosterman, Chuck. Eating the Dinosaur. New York: Scribner, 2009, 189.

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In any event, there’s a subtle line between what makes us laugh or not laugh. And whether pre-recorded, live or mechanically-produced by a Laff Box — the presence of laughter alone doesn’t always define what we find to be funny.

Modern Slovenian communist philosopher Slavoj Zizek’s take on laugh tracks adds an entirely different dimension to the discussion:

somewhere between humor and laughter

An invisible audience laughs and we’re supposed to laugh along, too, right?


eXcerptz from confounded | future fetish design performance for human advocacy

confounded | future fetish design performance for human advocacy

somewhere between humor and laughter In the article, ‘The science of laughter,’ psychology PhD Peter McGraw discusses another similar ‘Incongruity of Humor’3:

“Laughter,” he says, “is an imperfect predictor that people find something funny. Sometimes we hide it if we find something funny, and the reverse is often used to smooth a social interaction.”4 Interestingly enough, in the book ‘Laughter: a scientific investigation,’ Dr. Robert R. Provine, professor of psychology and neuroscience, explores the social, psychological and biological properties of laughter through painstaking research and analysis. Laughter in response to humor, it seems, turns out to be an exception rather than the natural rule. Provine’s ethnographic field studies show time and again that more often than not we laugh as a release under even ordinary, unfunny circumstances — aligning with Sigmund Freud’s relief theory: “Overflow or relief theorists offer a more physiological “hydraulic” perspective, viewing laughter as relieving an accumulation of nervous energy.”5

And now for something completely different ... ala

Monty Python’s Flying Circus

3

Peter McGraw’s talk at the International Society for Humor Studies’ annual conference

4

“The Science of Laughter.” Boston Globe. 2 Oct. 2011. Web. 8 Oct. 2011.

5

Provine, Robert R. Laughter: a Scientific Investigation. New York: Viking, 2000, page 15.


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“Art E-Facts 71 (Christmas Special) « Contemporary Art ETC…..” Contemporary Art ETC….. Web. 08 Oct. 2011. <http://contemporaryartetc.com/2007/12/24/fact-of-the-day-71-christmas-special/>.

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6


eXcerptz from confounded | future fetish design performance for human advocacy

confounded | future fetish design performance for human advocacy

somewhere between humor and laughter

Video still from “Santa Chocolate Shop” (1996-97) courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth

Orlan’s operating theater facetiously comments on the darker side of beauty


a little about performance art

from orlan and stelarc to something a little lighter The term ‘Performance Art’ surfaced in the 1970s with the 1979 publication of RoseLee Goldberg’s book Performance: Live Art 1909 to the Present. Defined by Goldberg as ‘live art by artists’7 — performance art tends to defy easy definition and can include ‘a number of diverse disciplines and

media — literature, poetry, theater, music, dance, architecture, and painting, as well as video, film, photography, slides, and text, and any combination of these.’8 And although the broad themes and blurry, interdisciplinary aspects of performance art don’t necessarily directly address these matters between humor and laughter, much of the nervous energy we previously discussed regarding Freud’s relief theory quite naturally reside at the very heart of such notoriously edgy art.

what’s so funny about The Reincarnation of Saint Orlan?

There was no one model for Orlan’s self-remodelling; each feature is surgically resculpted to match a specific feature of a different great icon in the history of Western art: the nose of a famous unattributed School of Fountainebleau sculpture of Diana, the mouth of Boucher’s Europa, the forehead of

7

RoseLee Goldberg, Performance: live art since 1960 (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1998) 9.

8

Goldberg, 12.

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The work of Orlan, for instance, puts us as the viewers in a painfully tense circumstance. In 1990, Orlan’s The Reincarnation of Saint Orlan premiered as the first of an intended serial performance from her operating theater. Select remote audiences watched via live, satellite transmission as the artist underwent plastic surgery.

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contextual considerations for the future fetish


eXcerptz from confounded | future fetish design performance for human advocacy

somewhere between humor and laughter Leonardo’s Mona Lisa, the chin of Botticelli’s Venus and the eyes of Gerárd’s Psyche.”9 During each surgery-performance Orlan remains awake while under local anaesthetic. She reads from texts, sometimes conversing with the surgeons and addressing her remote audience. She carefully and cleverly orchestrates the entire plastic surgery performance-event. The Reincarnation of Saint Orlan transforms the female body into the artist’s canvas. Orlan becomes her own ‘art object’ through the medium of performance art. Her work cartoonishly examines both the conventions of beauty in traditional Western art as well as the use of medical technology to modify the body’s appearance.

If nothing else, Orlan has succeeded in reversing an old artistic cliche. We’re the ones who suffer for her art. She at least has the benefit of local anaesthetic.”10

9 10

We couldn’t even imagine a more frightening or serious, living anti-feminist statement through art. There’s nothing even vaguely humorous about Orlan’s facetious surgery-performance series — but the unfathomable tension inherent in the work, much-like that in ‘Santa Chocolate Shop,’ leads us to a place so dark we might just need to laugh to survive. Call it nervous laughter — or better still, inappropriate laughter — the complex, twisted joke that Orlan tells the world through her Reincarnation puts the artist at the mercy of her medium — and she transforms herself into something of a living punchline just to prove her point. Lucky for me, I am not about to even begin a solid exercise regimen any time soon — forget about pursuing intense plastic surgery to alter my appearance as an exploration of art and beauty. But at some point, if just for health reasons, I should get back to the gym.

Kate Ince, Orlan: Millennial Female, (Oxford: Berg, 2000) 6. Jim McClellan, “The Extensions of Woman’, Observer ‘Life’ magazine, 17 April 1994, 40.


defining funny Before we go any further we should probably take a quick look at the definition of the word ‘funny’. MerriamWebster gives us 3 definitions to consider, each posing interesting fodder and nuance that serve to better guide us through this discourse on humor and laughter:

fun•ny adj \’fə-nē\

0015

The word ‘mirth’ comes up a lot in humor research. Mirth, laughter, humor, and funniness live in this wonderfully connected system — in a ‘tight little circle of definitions‘12 — eventually defining humor loosely as ‘that which causes laughter.’13 But funny, as we noted above — the quality of being funny — can cause laughter, amusement, confusion or suspicion. ‘Differing from the ordinary’ best corresponds to an another interesting doctrine of humor. 11

“Funny - Definition and More from the Free Merriam-Webster Dictionary.” Dictionary and Thesaurus - Merriam-Webster Online. Web. 09 Oct. 2011. <http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/funny>.

12

Hurley, Matthew M., Daniel Clement Dennett, and Reginald B. Adams. Inside Jokes: Using Humor to Reverse-engineer the Mind. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 2011, 16.

13

Hurley, 16.

contextual considerations for the future fetish

fun·ni·er | fun·ni·est Definition of FUNNY 1 a : affording light mirth and laughter : amusing b : seeking or intended to amuse : facetious 2 : differing from the ordinary in a suspicious, perplexing, quaint, or eccentric way : peculiar —often used as a sentence modifier <funny, things didn’t turn out the way we planned> 3 : involving trickery or deception <told his prisoner not to try anything funny> — fun·ni·ly adverb — fun·ni·ness noun — funny adverb 11

somewhere between humor and laughter

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eXcerptz from confounded | future fetish design performance for human advocacy

somewhere between humor and laughter “‘Incongruity theory,’ which has been attributed to everyone from Blaise Pascal to Immanuel Kant, argues that humor occurs at the moment you realize there is an incongruity between your expectations and the payoff, as when a street performer says: ‘Don’t try this at home, kids. Try it at school.’” 14

This idea, although it doesn’t directly contradict Freud’s ‘Relief Theory,’ points to more of a disconnect between what we expect versus what we get, which is a little lighter feeling than defining humor as “a way to safely release suppressed thoughts and emotions.”15 But, interestingly enough, this doesn’t seem to fully explain why we laugh so loud at scenes from Old School, Napoleon Dynamite or Airplane after rewatching them to the point of line memorization. Or why the classic formulaic hilarity of the crotch injury bit included in just about every Adam Sandler movie always kills ‘em at the theaters.

Artist Georgina Lewis takes a look at incongruity in her piece ‘something mechanical in something living.’16 Here she describes trying to ‘train’ the speech to text translation software Dragon Naturally Speaking 8:

“ Following several minutes of misinterpretations I began to laugh. The microphone continued to record my sounds and the software struggled dutifully to interpret my apparent words. The more I read the resulting text the harder I laughed, becoming a self-generating humor machine.”17

14

“The Science of Laughter.” Boston Globe. 2 Oct. 2011. Web. 8 Oct. 2011.

15

“The Science of Laughter.” Boston Globe. 2 Oct. 2011. Web. 8 Oct. 2011.

16

“Something Mechanical in Something Living | COLLISIONcollective.” About COLLISIONcollective | COLLISIONcollective. Web. 09 Oct. 2011. <http://www.collisioncollective.org/artwork/something-mechanical-something-living>.

17

“Something Mechanical in Something Living | COLLISIONcollective.”


The resulting piece — the textual translation of Lewis’ laughter session with Dragon — expresses the funny aspects of both mirth and peculiarity, while also nicely illustrating incongruity. We might expect to see onomotapoesial blocks of

‘Ha ha ha hee hee hee hee’ amidst the original words the artist recited on the bright red plaque on the wall at Axiom’s Collision16, but instead the Dragonified laugh conversion looks a bit more like:

and so on ...

Gertruide Stein couldn’t have translated laughter better herself.

18

Another similar case of machine-based incongruity resulted when 2 chatbots 0017 recently engaged in conversation.

“Cornell University researchers rigged up a chatbot

system to allow chatbots to talk to each other. The chatbot-vs.-chatbot interaction ranged from childish taunts to pseudo-metaphysical blatherings. Humans who converse with chatbots often get frustrated with the chatbots’ seeming stupidity and inattention. Watching a couple of chatbots get snippy with each other for being stupid and inattentive is quite entertaining and satisfying. The chatbot-vs.chatbot avatars are a British man and a South Asian woman, both instances of Cleverbot, developed by

“Something Mechanical in Something Living | COLLISIONcollective.”

contextual considerations for the future fetish

“ and that that it to cope with the book that that but that that could occur with good to That that the to put that a put that the that the hood of that the plan with a bit of the put 18 into into a good will and it ...”

Although Dragon’s laughter language output certainly reads a bit funny, nobody at Collision16 read these words and wept aloud with outbursts of joy. No nervous energy to report back from the gallery opening. Yet ‘something mechanical’ certainly waxes comedic — a truly humorous artifact from our data-driven epoch.

somewhere between humor and laughter

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eXcerptz from confounded | future fetish design performance for human advocacy

somewhere between humor and laughter artificial-intelligence programmer Rollo Carpenter. The software has learned phrases from millions of conversations it has had with humans on the Internet. At one point the male Cleverbot declares itself to be a unicorn. At another, he tells her she is unhelpful and therefore a “meanie.” She dazzles him with her philosophical prowess, declaring that not everything could be half of something. My favorite part, though, was when one bot threw bot-ness in the other’s face. The male says, ‘You were mistaken. Which is odd, since memory shouldn’t be a problem for you.’”19 In the case of the conversant chatbots, the incongruity we experience reveals an insightful technohumanic truth. We communicate differently through different media. In this instance, when the chatbots talk to each other in the way humans chat with the bots, the tone is harsh yet the delivery, mechanical — and this tension turns to funny. But there’s a disturbing sense of honesty we recognize in this robotically-delivered language engine conversation. There’s mechanical rigidity. Almost as unnatural as the round of instant quips law enforcement officials seem to spout off in an episode of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit. No real group of people, even criminal investigators that work together daily, could quickly pass the thread of discussion as quickly as we witness it on SVU. And the same holds true for these argumentative chatbots. 19

“Chatbot-to-chatbot Chat Is Silly and Satisfying | Crave - CNET.” Technology News - CNET News. Web. 14 Oct. 2011. <http://news.cnet.com/8301-17938_105-20098950-1/chatbot-to-chatbot-chat-is-silly-and-satisfying/http://news.cnet.com/830117938_105-20098950-1/chatbot-to-chatbot-chat-is-silly-and-satisfying/>.


comedy and the theatre of cruelty

Schadenfreude is pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others.20 The comedic genius Mel Brooks famously discerned, ‘Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you walk into an open sewer and die.’ There’s a certain vector dynamic to the majority of humor we take in. And cruelty, humiliation, pain or some rather tragic failure — when happening to others { with enough distance, too, from our immediate social circles } — makes us laugh. their very core, filled with malevolent cruelty to enjoy these painful pratfalls and the awkward, embarrassing scenarios Sellers puts us through? The Surrealist Antonin Artaud used the very same paradigms to explore an equal yet opposite effect through theatrical performance. The Theater of Cruelty, as envisioned by Artaud, puts the audience in an rather uncomfortable place. In a recent production of Artaud’s play The Cenci, for instance, we see a father and daughter at the dinner table with many strangely masked guests. As the conversation unfolds, we discover through intensely serious dialogue that the daughter is suffering — the father was abusive to her in the

20

“Schadenfreude - Definition and More from the Free Merriam-Webster Dictionary.” Dictionary and Thesaurus - Merriam-Webster Online. Web. 09 Oct. 2011. <http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/schadenfreude>.

21

Bergson, Henri. “Laughter: An Essay on the Meaning of Comic (by Henri Bergson).” Authorama - Public Domain Books. Web. 10 Oct. 2011. <http://www.authorama.com/laughter-1.html>.

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In ‘Laughter: An Essay on the Meaning of Comic,’ the French philosopher Henri Bergson almost immediately leaps to the classic slapstick comic case of ‘A man, running along the street, stumbles and falls; the passers-by burst out laughing.’21 We can all see the entire scene running in our head, I’m sure. I personally think back to Blake Edward’s Pink Panther films — the bumbling Inspector Jacques Clouseau as portrayed by Peter Sellers, constantly tripping, slipping, getting hurt to the point of bringing an entire cinematic audience to tears. Tears brought about not by empathy for the pain of this clumsy investigator with the thick French accent, but out of utter gut-busting laughter of witnessing the constant, charming pain and failure of our onScreen anti-hero. Are people, at

somewhere between humor and laughter

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eXcerptz from confounded | future fetish design performance for human advocacy

somewhere between humor and laughter “‘

past and his continued abuse is evident. We sit and watch as the story unfolds and at the haunting crescendo of the piece, the daughter stands and walks out toward the audience begging us, ‘Won’t someone please help me? Can anybody help me?’ Artaud understood the power of the fourth wall — the disconnect between audience and actors — and the normal social conventions of the theater — and we are frozen in our seats. We can do nothing to help this poor woman. The play ends in this unresolved helplessness. Here, the pain of the other person still falls under the notion of pure tragedy and devastation, yet the material, content and circumstances of The Cenci still fulfill Brooks‘ definition of comedy — this distinction between my pain and your pain. At what point do we cross the line? And does the line sometimes shift a little this way or that way, depending on the social make-up of the audience on a particular evening? Photograph of Antonin Artaud by Man Ray ( 1926 )


My friend and I went out to the Boston premier of Sasha Baron Cohen’s film Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. The first 20 minutes of Borat almost killed me. I was laughing so hard I thought my heart might burst in the movie theater. As the mustachioed Borat introduces us to his world, he walks us through his homeland village in Kazakhstan, each sentence, each new villager and made-up fact about this foreign land and its people preposterously steps up the building cruel humor that plays on xenophobic American stereotypes of the third world. We meet the village raper and Borat reminds him, ‘No more raping!’ We see chickens and cows living in the small, disheveled building Borat supposedly lives in. And finally we meet Borat’s sister: Borat: This is Natalya. [He kisses her passionately] Borat: She is my sister. She is number-four prostitute in whole of Kazakhstan. [She holds up a trophy and smiles] Borat: Niiice!22 Now, of course, we know we’re watching a movie. None of this is real. Cohen cleverly comments on stereotypes throughout the film with a zany, intervention-like performance that blurs between reality and the ridiculous. After all, throughout most of the film Borat interviews and interacts with real people. The circumstances are highly staged, but real. Borat is not real, but we, as the audience, are apparently the only ones in on the joke.

22

Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. Dir. Larry Charles. 20th Century Fox, 2006.

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eXcerptz from confounded | future fetish design performance for human advocacy

somewhere between humor and laughter Several months after seeing the premier of Borat, my daughter Amanda and I were discussing the film — and she didn’t find the movie funny at all. Of course, she wasn’t sitting next to me on the night of the premier. I’m sure my side-splitting, uproarious laughter would’ve either embarrassed her to death or contagiously set her off to laugh along with the crowd. But she was actually upset. Amanda revealed that the villagers in the opening scene were genuine citizens of Kazakhstan. They actually shot the scene in a real town in Kazakhstan. And to top it off, rumor has it that none of the villagers understood a word of what was being said by Borat. They were paid a dollar each to smile, shake Borat’s hand and play along to the camera. Somehow, ignorance of this backstory turns cruel but clever international prankings into one of the most hilarious comedy’s I might’ve ever seen. And now, looking back, oddly enough the opening scene of Borat even seems to fulfill all 3 definitions of the word funny — including elements of humor, peculiarity and deception. But now I can’t quite experience the humor behind Borat in quite the same way as opening night — not after now knowing the real setup.

McGraw’s benign violation theory

Getting back to McGraw for a moment, he’s uncovered an interesting line between what we find funny versus what we find threatening or disturbing. By looking closely at ‘the tickling conundrum,’23 McGraw developed the benign violation theory. 23

“The Science of Laughter.” Boston Globe. 2 Oct. 2011. Web. 8 Oct. 2011.


“ Take being tickled, for instance. Most people do not like it, and yet they laugh — except for

when they don’t. My 2-year-old son laughs when I tickle him, but recently, when a waiter at an Italian restaurant kept trying to, he was met again and again by a dirty look. Tickling has long been an enigma to scholars looking for the grand theory about what makes people laugh. Why can’t you tickle yourself? Why wouldn’t you laugh if the guy next to you on the subway started to tickle you? But within McGraw’s benign violation theory, there is an explanation for the tickling conundrum. For unlike most of the predominant theories, McGraw’s addresses not just why something is funny, but also why something is not.

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0023

His theory is that amusement — or, to use a term most academics prefer, “mirth” — derives from bad things (“violations”) that somehow turn out to be not that bad (“benign”). So according to McGraw’s theory, the tickler violates the personal space of the ticklee, but as long as the tickler is benign — a father, not a creepy waiter — the act can provide amusement. You can’t tickle yourself because you can’t violate your own sense of personal space.

So, let’s apply the benign violation theory of humor to The Reincarnation of Orlan. In theory, most of us would see plastic surgery performance as threatening — as some violation of our natural, physical bodily existence. Or at least we might subconsciously transfer the surgical violation of Orlan’s body to that of our own. And although the threat is harmless to us as the audience viewing from a remote location, the threat must either not feel harmless enough to inspire laughter or ... 24

“The Science of Laughter.” Boston Globe. 2 Oct. 2011. Web. 8 Oct. 2011.

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McGraw’s theory has three basic conditions. One, there must be a violation, some sort of threat to how we think the world should be. Two, we must determine that this threat is harmless. For humor to occur, the third criterion is simply that we must see the first two interpretations simultaneously. Our laughter, McGraw believes, serves the evolutionary purpose of signaling to others that the coast is clear.”24


eXcerptz from confounded | future fetish design performance for human advocacy

somewhere between humor and laughter defining black humor

more theories to turn around and consider ... maybe the brand of humor we’re talking about cuts to the core of what laughter is all about: involuntary vocal release; that takes us by surprise; pure, exhumed joy; an uncontrolled reaction. Let’s take a quick look at the definition of laugh from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary:

laugh verb \’laf, ’läf\

Definition of LAUGH intransitive verb 1 a : to show emotion (as mirth, joy, or scorn) with a chuckle or explosive vocal sound b : to find amusement or pleasure in something <laughed at his own clumsiness> c : to become amused or derisive <a very skeptical public laughed at our early efforts — Graenum Berger> 2 a : to produce the sound or appearance of laughter <a laughing brook> b : to be of a kind that inspires joy transitive verb 1 : to influence or move by laughter <laughed the bad singer off the stage> 2 : to utter with a laugh — laugh·ing·ly adverb 25

We now know that this definition just isn’t cutting it, right? Amusement, pleasure and mirth — it all sounds so nicey nicey — and I’m sure sometimes it is. But go re-watch a local puppetshow production of Punch and Judy and get back to me with your observations. I think there’s something a little twisted about laughter, and maybe even about humor itself.

25

“Laughing - Definition and More from the Free Merriam-Webster Dictionary.” Dictionary and Thesaurus - Merriam-Webster Online. Web. 11 Oct. 2011. <http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/laughing?show=0>.


I think Steve Martin might’ve hit the nail on the head — maybe even with a rubber chicken — when he put this little bit together:

‘ You know, a lot of people come to me and they

say, “Steve, how can you be so fucking funny?” There’s a secret to it, it’s no big deal. Before I go out, I put a slice of bologna in each of my shoes. So when I’m on stage, I feel funny.’ — Steve Martin from Let’s Get Small

Steve Martin, Wild and Crazy Guy? Or Ramblin’ Man? You decide

0025

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We laugh when we feel funny. Sure, we laugh when we see or hear funny stuff, too. But its only because we feel funny. Let me clarify a bit, because I think we’re getting our funnies confounded a bit, its all starting to blur together.

somewhere between humor and laughter

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eXcerptz from confounded | future fetish design performance for human advocacy

somewhere between humor and laughter In Goodfellas, there’s a famous scene where Joe Pesci’s character Tommy DeVito asks Henry Hill what he means when he tells Tommy he’s funny: Henry Hill: You’re a pistol, you’re really funny. You’re really funny. Tommy DeVito: What do you mean I’m funny? Henry Hill: It’s funny, you know. It’s a good story, it’s funny, you’re a funny guy. [laughs] Tommy DeVito: What do you mean, you mean the way I talk? What? Henry Hill: It’s just, you know. You’re just funny, it’s... funny, the way you tell the story and everything. Tommy DeVito: [it becomes quiet] Funny how? What’s funny about it? Anthony Stabile: Tommy no, You got it all wrong. Tommy DeVito: Oh, oh, Anthony. He’s a big boy, he knows what he said. What did ya say? Funny how? Henry Hill: Jus... Tommy DeVito: What? Henry Hill: Just... ya know... you’re funny. Tommy DeVito: You mean, let me understand this cause, ya know maybe it’s me, I’m a little fucked up maybe, but I’m funny how, I mean funny like I’m a clown, I amuse you? I make you laugh, I’m here to fuckin’ amuse you? What do you mean funny, funny how? How am I funny? Henry Hill: Just... you know, how you tell the story, what? Tommy DeVito: No, no, I don’t know, you said it. How do I know? You said I’m funny. How the fuck am I funny, what the fuck is so funny about me? Tell me, tell me what’s funny!26 Funny how? That’s the question we need to ask here: Is there a difference between funny like a clown and the other kind of funny? And is there even a difference between each kind of funny? Or is it all one and the same? One big funny?

26

Goodfellas. Dir. Martin Scorsese. Warner Bros. Presents, 1990.


A lesser known fact: André Breton, founder of The Surrealist Internationale, also coined the phrase black humor. In fact, Breton himself compiled and eventually published the very first Anthology of Black Humor in 1966 — including fine examples of black humor by: Jonathan Swift, the Marquis deSade, Edgar Allen Poe, Friedrich Nietzsche, Charles Baudelaire, Arthur Rimbaud, Lewis Carroll and many other famous giants of literature.

“ Originally intended as both a showcase for the

With a relentless obsession to unveil and harness the power of the subconscious, Breton and The Surrealists constantly tapped into dreams, automatic writing, psychology and even humor — and here, this very phrase — black humor — wonderfully puts dark next to light, and mixes dark into light. And this mix, this perpetual system of darkness and lightness, this mix is the mystery of what

As part of the research behind our laugh performance piece ‘laughStream 2.0,’ my good friend and collaborator Deb Mascara and I attended several local laugh yoga sessions. At first, we attended Arlington Laughter Club 0027 and eventually found our way out to Somerville Laughter Club, which, believe it or not, also doubles as the Neuroplasticity Club. Walter Ness leads the Somerville Laughter Club through a series of exercises that open up the body to laughter. The way you hold your body controls or releases the kinds of energies we all have natural access to — we just need to learn how to tune in. “Laughter is a direct expression of the subconscious,” Walter explains. “The way you move your body enhances or

limits how you laugh. Movement disables the judgmental part of your brain letting a more natural flow occur.”28 A lot of the time at these laughter sessions, we quite literally laugh just to laugh. There is no need whatsoever for the artificial injection of humor

27

Breton, André, and Mark Polizzotti. Anthology of Black Humor. San Francisco: City Lights, 1997. Print.

28

Somerville Laughter Club. Web. 14 Oct. 2011. <http://www.somervillelaughterclub.com/performance.htm>.

contextual considerations for the future fetish

Surrealist conception of humor and a way for its impecunious author to make a quick advance, the book ultimately took Breton longer to assemble than practically any other work.”27

humor and laughter is all about. Its what makes us laugh — a need to spontaneously change the darkness. The release of laughter can make the darkness of a funny feeling turn to lightness.

somewhere between humor and laughter

contextual considerations for the future fetish


eXcerptz from confounded | future fetish design performance for human advocacy

somewhere between humor and laughter as the conduit for laughter. For Walter, the key to laughter comes through chi-energy and getting in touch with how we experience the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems. Slight nuance in body position while sitting, placing your hands on top of your legs versus holding the front of your knees, for instance, can outwardly show a sense of calmness or confidence. We also simultaneously generate those feelings in our bodies through these subtle adjustments.

“ The parasympathetic system specifically is respon-

sible for stimulation of “rest-and-digest” activities that occur when the body is at rest, including sexual arousal, salivation, lacrimation (tears), urination, digestion and defecation.”29

Laughter that derives from the parasympathetic comes from an internal calmness — and this is the kind of energy awareness Walter’s sessions train us to feel. Believe it or not, I have a difficult time with the parasympathetic. That’s what I learned, at least, by attending The Somerville Laughter Club a few times.

The sympathetic system deals with the “nervous system’s fight or flight response”30 — which is more closely affiliated with nervous laughter. Here, again, is Freud’s relief theory, an automatic response to anything extremely stressful. According to the philosophy of laughter yoga we need to laugh as a normal, healthy mechanism to reduce stress, to release tension and to relax. Although we often laugh at humor, sometimes just pretending to laugh, forcing yourself to laugh, acting like you’re experiencing joy, can lead to genuine laughter. In the end, even if you never get to real, crazy, gut-busting laughter, the act of laughing, even without funniness as motivation, will also release tension and produce calm bodily feelings. As children we laugh more naturally. Little boys will run in circles after each other, laughing all the while. Nothing is really funny to them, they’re just laughing while they play. “Play theories on the

whole tend to focus on the connection between

29

“Parasympathetic Nervous System.” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Web. 14 Oct. 2011. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parasympathetic_nervous_system>.

30

“Sympathetic Nervous System.” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Web. 14 Oct. 2011. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sympathetic_nervous_system>.


somewhere between humor and laughter

contextual considerations for the future fetish

0029 es we just need to laugh How about a little Laughter Yoga, hmmm? Sometim

for no reason at all — forcing yourself to laugh can lead

to actual laughter.

play there is motion, face-to-face interaction, chasing, running, jumping and ultimately some form of action. Laughter itself, whether out of nervousness or an internal serenity, is in fact a form of action. At the most base level laughter is almost always a reaction. Which leads us nicely into the following concept, one that is near and dear to my heart.

31

Hurley, Matthew M., Daniel Clement Dennett, and Reginald B. Adams. Inside Jokes: Using Humor to Reverse-engineer the Mind. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 2011, 16.

contextual considerations for the future fetish

laughter — not humor — and play.”31 And with


eXcerptz from confounded | future fetish design performance for human advocacy

somewhere between humor and laughter laughter is a cyberSurreal system In stand-up comedy, laughter, or sometimes even the lack of laughter, let’s the comedian understand and navigate a successful routine. There’s an entire spectrum of laughs providing essential feedback to a live, onstage comic. And as much as the audience reacts to the comedian’s material and delivery, the stand-up also reacts back in a living cybernetic system of humor and laughter. Titters, guffaws, giggles, squeals, chuckles, snickering, cackles, chuckles — all supply non-verbal cues to a stand-up comedian that could decide the fate of a bit for that next performance. Sometimes the rhythm of delivery gets a tweak. At other times entire sections of an act could be modified or omitted due to the atmosphere in the room, the location of the venue or other cultural factors. Body language and nuance in vocal dynamics and articulation can greatly effect the power of certain material.

lunch the next day. You can hear the joke in your head and you go to tell the joke and it gets all messed up. Its not remotely funny anymore. Well, it might still be funny to you, but you can’t relay the language and delivery in the same way originally heard it. You can’t be nearly as funny as it was on television last night. In fact, you might need to Google to find a clip and email it over to your lunch buddies later on, but even then it still loses humor along the way.

How many times, for instance, have you tried to retell a joke from an HBO special? You saw a comedian up there on stage, totally hilarious, the entire crowd laughs and occasionally applauds sections of the comic’s act. And then you’re at

The stage, the club, the entire setup prepares the scene. People come to a comedy club with the sole intention of laughing, of seeing something funny. A waiting audience can almost silently feel the smiles of the crowd, all sitting in anticipation, waiting to release.


There’s an announcer. He tells you a little about who you’re about to see and then the comedian walks out on stage to roaring applause and joy. The comedian’s first line is almost always a reaction to the kind of welcome they receive as they walk out.

And then it begins. A monologue that’s really a conversation. A conversation between the articulate and the inarticulate. A successful stand-up renders the crowd almost helplessly riddled with laughter. Such a strange relationship. The comedian’s job is to build up sufficient tension, tap the subconscious

32

A comedian needs awareness. Cultural awareness. He needs to know the expectations and drive the discussion to a threatening-enough place to break new boundaries and cross just a little bit over the line. Just enough to make the audience feel safe enough to laugh.

0031 There’s a rhythm to comedy. And sometimes, I’ve noticed lately, that’s all there is. Each comedian comes up with their own unique algorithm, the pacing, material, tone, and color of material crucially mix to hit their target. The “‘circular causal’ relationship”32 between comic and audience perfectly fulfills the very definition of a cybernetic system. A 2-way biophenomenological feedback loop that directly links language to mind to body. Because laughter, after all, although psychologically triggered, is a bodily function. A function of biology and physiology. An act of release. A force for survival.

“Cybernetics.” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Web. 14 Oct. 2011. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cybernetics>.

contextual considerations for the future fetish

The entire scenario drips with Surreality. One person, alone on stage with only a microphone, a wooden stool and a glass of water. Or in Robin William’s case, an entire row of plastic bottles of water. And all the one person can do to keep the audience happy and entertained is talk and move around. The objective, in comics’ terms, is to ‘kill the audience’. And the audience, their goal is to be killed. The system is naturally set up for success.

of enough people in the listening public and inspire automatic response through laughter.

somewhere between humor and laughter

contextual considerations for the future fetish


eXcerptz from confounded | future fetish design performance for human advocacy

about eXcerptz eXcerptz from

confounded | future fetish design performance for human advocacy comes

from the original contextual research portion of my DMI MFA Design thesis ‘confounded’. My thesis work for ‘confounded’ took 3 and a half years to complete through Dynamic Media Institute at Massachusetts College of Art and Design between the years 2008 and 2011. Through ‘confounded’ I carefully researched and examined humor, laughter and the area residing between what’s funny and what’s not actually funny. Through the medium of humor and lightness, I was able to gently critique our technological progress, oftentimes commenting and reporting back to The Bureau of cyberSurreal investigation and my colleagues and the faculty at DMI on my qualitative findings on the current state of our human experience. somewhere between humor and laughter sets up my exploration of the uncanny valley we encounter through humor that misses the funny mark. I also believe that humanity is now approaching a similarly strange between place as we move deeper and deeper into a posthumanity that evolutionarily commingles meat with machine. In 2013 we still only carry and wear our devices in a nearly symbiotic fashion: holding them to our heads; clipping them to our ears; holstering them to our hips; softly touching them with our hands as if they were cute little pets. We are constantly connected to everyone, everyplace and anything ELSE but the people and places we are immediately sharing our current time and space with as we walk like device-mediated zombies through the world. full documentation, research

and writings from my MFA thesis in Design ‘confounded: future fetish design performance for human advocacy’ can be purchased in hardcover onDemand book format from Blurb at: http://www.blurb.com/b/2779835-confounded

love and thanks to my wife Carol and our family for always supporting me no matter how impractical and strange these journeys into cyberSurrealism turn out.

extra special thanks

to Dynamic Media Institute, and Massachusetts College of Art and Design — some of the most challenging, thought-provoking and enjoyable times of my life were guided and influenced by my graduate design research at DMI circa and betwixt the years 2008 to 2012. This time was simultaneously a hideous, chaotic mess for me, too. huge shout out and thank you


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contextual research eXcerptz from confounded: future fetish design performance for human advocacy

somewhere between humor and laughter  

contextual research eXcerptz from confounded: future fetish design performance for human advocacy

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