The Gravity of Levity: The Aesthetics and Culture of Popular Laughter
Kurs Nr.: AWi
Semester: WS 2022/23
We have long dismissed the notion of being frivolous or light-hearted as something beneath our intellectual treatment in the arts and society in general, while eagerly producing and consuming plenty of it. What then is the lure of these derided qualities we find ourselves unable to forego? Do they offer any significance or value other than mere amusement or to passively while away our time? We may experience cognitive dissonance when indulging in inane distractions. While we enjoy ourselves, we also experience a sense of guilt for engaging in such trifling matters. We feel we’re only allowed small, prescribed doses of it, like a little treat or a controlled amount of medication. However, this small treat we sheepishly indulge in, can act as a pocket of respite from our regimented daily grind—the societal pressure to be complying, respectful and serious. Our craving for playfulness against the current of practical concerns represents our need to subvert, ridicule and rebel against the status quo; a mere act of ‘having a laugh’ in spite of crisis can act as a practice of [i]critical levity[/i] which, apart from providing pleasure and comfort, can vitalise our passive and complaisant ways.
Through examining various textual examples—from scholarly theories, such as Bakhtin’s notion of carnivalesque and Sontag’s camp sensibility, to different mass media productions of popular culture, such as cinema, television shows and cartoons—this course will attempt to valorise a sense of play or humour to ascertain how it can be rather illuminating and even of great significance and value in understanding the human condition.