Upon reading the theories of Plato and Hobbes regarding humor, I felt that their understanding of laughter as mockery struck a chord with a very powerful undercurrent of humor in our own modern society. I disagree with them that all humor has a basis in cruelty, but it is undoubtable that some humor does, and moreover that humor is often founded on general tragedy and pain. Looking at much of the political humor shows, skits, and stand-up available to us today, from “Saturday Night Live” to “The Daily Show,” it is clear that the satire and mockery on display there has much in common with Plato and Hobbes’s notions of humor. Hobbes, for instance, says that people often laugh when they feel superior to another. I think political shows offer this to their viewers by allowing them to laugh at political opponents who are portrayed as buffoons, their statements and mannerisms exaggerated to the point of total absurdity. What makes this funny? It is not merely the unexpected, which several of the writings for today noted as an element of humor, but also a sense of laughing at someone and enjoying someone we hate being made to look like a fool—our inferior, as it were.
However, there is another element to seemingly mean-spirited humor that these writers fail to address. Mockery and Juvenalian satire are often born not out of cruelty, but out of pain. Living in the tumultuous political climate that we do, when many minority or otherwise vulnerable groups fear for their future, humor of Hobbesian sort allows not for revenge but for relief. Humor offers a pleasingly ridiculous, morally fair world in which cultural villains are lampooned and frightening, complicated politics are distilled to their ignoble basics. Yes, this allows people to feel confident and superior to the politicians and political stances that they oppose, but this also gives a sense of justice. Juvenalian satire, after all, though looking to be base cruelty, is intended as important condemnation and as a corrective. Pain and injustice fuel the kind of humor that exists beyond delight, and this humor is goal-oriented as a way to criticize or change dangerous and foolish political views. Thus if one considers the satirical shows we have today, it is clear that Plato and Hobbes do not dig deep enough into the true source of mockery.