Yesterday, millions of public sector workers went on strike. There was remarkable support for the industrial action–even the Daily Mail was polling 84% support. Most people, it would seem, are behind the idea that we should treat our public sector workers as human beings.
Enter Jeremy Clarkson, professional troll who is largely famous for driving cars and being a dripping fuckstain. Clarkson is not one of the vast majority who support the strikes. Quite the opposite, in fact. On never-watched light entertainment The One Show, he declared that strikers should be shot. He clarified with “they should be executed in front of their families.”
Naturally, the tosser brigade have leapt to Clarkson’s defence, declaring that it must be a joke, that he was being somehow “funny”, and the outcry was down to pearl-clutching from humourless hummus-munchers. It’s the last resort of the dribbling wanker, declaring that anyone who is not amused by a brazen display of utter dickery must be boring.
Rest assured, any hummus munchers who are not tickled by Clarkson’s “joke”. You are neither boring, nor humourless. The fact is, what Clarkson proposed flies in the face of what is actually counted as humour.
The truth is, we’re not entirely sure why (most) humans have a sense of humour and laugh at jokes. Evolutionary psychology suggests it’s because it gets us laid. Others suggest it’s a natural reaction to fear being relieved. Perhaps the theory with most research associated, though, is Incongruity Theory.
Incongruity Theory started with philosophy superhero Immanuel Kant, though has since continued into a rich body of research with many offshoots. It proposes that humour is the state of realising incongruity between a concept in a certain situation and the real objects which are thought to be related to the concept. To demonstrate, here are two potentially funny scenarios:
1. Jeremy Clarkson dies in a horrible car crash
2. Jeremy Clarkson is found dead following a tragic wanking accident with three quarters of a bicycle lodged into his rectum.
Chances are, you found the bicycle-bumming scenario far funnier than the car crash scenario. This is because the likelihood of Clarkson going near a bike, let alone incorporating it into an experimental wank, is highly improbable. It is incongruous, and the theory proposes that this is where humour comes from. Humour, according to this theory, can only happen when there is something unexpected, something surreal, something bizarre, something different from reality.
Clarkson’s declaration that strikers should be shot is not particularly incongruous with reality. History and the present are riddled with stories of people taking industrial action and ending up murdered by the forces in power, in precisely the way Clarkson lays out in his “joke”. In the present day UK, the likelihood of shooting strikers is becoming frighteningly more plausible. The police are already being authorised to use weapons of greater lethality in public order situations. Following the riots, a third of British people were baying for the use of live ammunition. Last winter, the police smugly backpatted themselves for not shooting student protesters. Shooting strikers is worryingly congruous with reality, and therefore thoroughly unfunny.
Of course, the joke may still amuse some. It will amuse those whose schema of reality cannot possibly perceive use of violence by the state to attack dissenters as a remotely plausible threat. It will amuse those whose minds are anaesthetised by endless rolling Sky News, growing fat on the lies fed to them by a dangerous system. It will amuse those with a vested interest in maintaining a system from which they benefit, counting wealth gained from forcing workers into ever worse conditions. It will amuse Clarkson himself, paid millions of public pounds, who will never have to face the terrifying possibility of ageing in poverty.
To most of us, though, this joke is not funny. It is a bleak vision of our future.