Early Titanic jokes : A disaster for the theory of disaster jokes?



Year of publication 2019
Type Article in Periodical
Magazine / Source Humor - International Journal of Humor Research
MU Faculty or unit

Faculty of Arts

Web https://www.degruyter.com/view/journals/humr/32/2/article-p201.xml
Doi http://dx.doi.org/10.1515/humor-2018-0090
Keywords disaster jokes; dark humor; sick humor; historical humor; Czech humor; Titanic; pragmatics; historical pragmatics; jokes
Description This paper contributes to our understanding of the inception of disaster humor by refuting the position of 'technological determinism' that is central for the theory of disaster jokes. This view, developed by Christie Davies, ties the emergence of this form of humor to the visual presentation of disaster events on television. The paper reports on the discovery of several contemporary instances of pre-television disaster humor on the topic of the sinking of the Titanic from 1912, thereby explicitly challenging the premise that prior to televised coverage, there were no disaster jokes. While the data come from a culture that was cognitively very distant from the disaster (and, thus, more likely to give rise to instantaneous disaster humor creation), the paper suggests that a modification to the original theory is possible, arguing that disaster humor can be interpreted as a reaction to the more general process of mediatization, whether televisual or exclusively verbal, which constructs a shared body of knowledge that people can draw upon as a resource when constructing humor. That is particularly the case with iconic disasters, such as the sinking of the Titanic, which can be seen symbolically as an epic fail of modernity rather than a mere tragic disaster.
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