8.4.2 The Interactive Establishment Of Meaning

We take it as given that in the period of the collaborative floor most if not all meanings are established interactively. From 53 onwards there is a failure in this interaction. Emerson remarks that in such situations the joker is strongly obliged to indicate that he intends humour and that if the recipients do not accept the humorous intent it is the joker who becomes responsible (p.171). However, the exemplification she provides in support of this seems to miss an important point. She gives the example of cabaret performers in Nazi Germany who were arrested for making jokes about Hitler, though they themselves did not feel they were committing any crime - they were, after all, comic figures in a performance space in front of a fee-paying appreciative audience. Likewise, RB in uttering 53 may feel that he is simply performing another joke as he has done up to that point without problem. Indeed, with 53 he is even more explicit than hitherto as he provides distinct comic features to signal his intent – the pause, the wry smile, the shrug. Yet this does not save him from criticism. The reason for this is quite simple, as it was in the more extreme Emerson example of Nazi Germany: power.

No matter how much the audiences appreciated the cabaret jokes, it was the state whose power easily overrode that. Here, even though the majority response to RB’s 53 is amusement, it is the discussants who have more power in the layering of the audiences, and within the discussants it is the host who has most power of all. As Buttny observes, ‘The labelling of an incident and the ascription of responsibility for it is not enacted by a distant, neutral observer or judge, but by interactants variously positioned and aligned in social contexts’ (1993:5). Here you have the rest of the panel using what Buttny calls ‘the group’s folk-logic of action’ (p.10), their ‘commonsense understandings about social and moral orders’ (p.8), to take RB to task for his utterance. This concurs with a point made by Douglas in her study of African joking relationships. She distinguishes between joking and obscenity: joking ‘exists by virtue of its congruence with the social structure. But the obscenity is identified by its opposition to the social structure, hence its offence’ (1975:106). It also recalls a point of Freud’s mentioned above (5.2) concerning permission and joking invective: an audience which identifies with the butt is hardly likely to provide a humorous response. So with the host and the majority of the rest of the panel pitted against him, RB is forced to take responsibility for his comment, a responsibility which, despite his initial resistance, he, if only inadvertently and partially, accepts, and which leads us into the next section.

8 Humour in Context: The Thatcher Joke>

8.4 Negotiating The Serious Import of Humour

8.4.1 Negotiating Prior Permission To Joke>

8.4.2 The Interactive Establishment Of Meaning

8.4.3 Taking A Joke Seriously Adds To Its Import>

8.4.4 Three Possible Positions A Joker Can Adopt When Challenged>