Conclusion

The seemingly simple pleasure of cracking jokes can be a precarious undertaking in a contemporary pluralistic society in which human rights are promoted, pressure groups proliferate, and personal politics are commonplace. This is especially the case for public figures (actors, comedians, politicians etc.) whose utterances are represented through mass media that court controversy, and even more so for those whose previous talk has caused heated debate. Such complex situations can in part be understood through the use of models of humour which recognise the interactive nature of such exchanges and thus show that a number of interpretations are possible (differential competence). The disputes about the social meanings of contested utterances are invariably resolved by the power relations involved, and can range from verbal disagreements between a few individuals through to the exercise of various degrees of state control. On a local level it may be possible to shed some light on such matters by considering people’s humour networks and a tentative attempt at this was made, though the explanatory power of such a preliminary sketch remains to be seen. What is clear is that when such conflicts arise, a dominant interpretation will emerge in most cases. As Humpty Dumpty observed, the question of what the words may or may not mean becomes a matter of who is in a position to enforce a particular meaning.