The Joke is the Thing: 'In the Company of Men' and the Ethics of Humor

Film and Philosophy 11 (1):49-66 (2007)
Any analysis of "In the Company of Men" is forced to answer three questions of central importance to the ethics of humor: (1) What does it mean to find sexist humor funny? (2) What are the various sources of humor? And, (3) can moral flaws with attempts at humor increase their humorousness? I argued that although merely finding a joke funny in a neutral context cannot tell you anything reliable about a person's beliefs, in context, a joke may reveal a great deal about one’s social attitudes, or feelings of insecurity. Especially in its portrayal of Howard, the film exposes the role of insecurity as a source of humor. Not only can insecurity make one more prone to laugh, but it can also make someone seem funnier in some contexts. I contended that this shows that a strong version of the superiority theory of humor is clearly wrong. Furthermore, the disparate audience reactions to Chad's jokes showed that the morally sensitive who were aware of the purpose of his jokes would see them as ethically flawed. Rather than making the jokes more amusing, the fact that the jokes were considered to be ethically flawed made them less funny. Hence, immoralism is most likely false.
Keywords humor  immoralism  moralism  superiority  In the Company of Men  philosophy of film
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Aaron Smuts (2009). Art and Negative Affect. Philosophy Compass 4 (1):39-55.

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