Joel Warner writes, in Wired, an article called “One Professor’s Attempt to Explain Every Joke Ever.” Behold, the gist of jesting:
Peter McGraw, professor of marketing and psychology at the University of Colorado Boulder, “and Caleb Warren, a doctoral student, presented their elegantly simple formulation in the August 2010 issue of the journal Psychological Science. Their paper, ‘Benign Violations: Making Immoral Behavior Funny,’ cited scores of philosophers, psychologists, and neuroscientists (as well as Mel Brooks and Carol Burnett). The theory they lay out: ‘Laughter and amusement result from violations that are simultaneously seen as benign.’ That is, they perceive a violation—’of personal dignity (e.g., slapstick, physical deformities), linguistic norms (e.g., unusual accents, malapropisms), social norms (e.g., eating from a sterile bedpan, strange behaviors), and even moral norms (e.g., bestiality, disrespectful behaviors)’—while simultaneously recognizing that the violation doesn’t pose a threat to them or their worldview.”
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