The Comedy of Mechanisation According to Bergson and Freud (Alicia Ferrández Cros)

In Mary Douglas’ chapter ‘Jokes’, she draws attention to Bergson and Freud’s views on the essence of a joke. Following Bergson’s belief that man’s essence lies in his spontaneity, both seem to agree in that a joke can be seen as the disruption of a controlled and organised organism.

I agree with this statement, as many comedies use this to amuse the viewer. Moreover, and unlike Douglas, I am also convinced that in many instances moral judgement plays a role in the working of this type of joke. To illustrate this technique, I will be using one of the characters from the American television sitcom, The Office, as an example.

Dwight Schrute is the pure definition of a mechanical being, and this aspect of himself is exploited extensively throughout the series. In these clips, Dwight is constantly teased precisely because of his mannerisms. In the first clip, what makes him a joke is his mechanical way of thinking, the fact that, as human-machine, nothing simpler could cross his mind but an extremely complex and arduous plan to steal a chandelier.

This tendency to get stuck in his automatism is what betrays him in his attempt to impersonate Jim in the second clip. It is also what makes the third and fifth clip funny, as he never even realises that he is being made fun of –in his mechanical world, being the object of a joke is inconceivable (in spite of being too often put in that position).

Lastly, to show how this teasing is always made towards the ‘organised’ character –in contrast with Mary Douglas’ view of the bidirectionality of the joke–, the second and fifth clips are good examples, as even when he is trying to prank Jim in the second clip (as a form of revenge for his impersonation of Dwight in the last clip), he is turned again into the object of the joke.

2 comments

  1. I agree with your analysis of Dwight from a Bergsonian point of view, and you provide some good evidence to support the idea of morality factoring into why we laugh at mechanised behaviour. I think that Jim can also be understood from a Freudian standpoint, as he pranks Dwight to escape from the responsibility of monitoring his subconscious in the work environment.

  2. The use of Dwight Shrute from ‘The Office’ as an example of a mechanical being in comedy and the disruption of control makes a lot of sense and is wonderfully illustrated. He is so often the butt of the joke and is never aware of it, which makes it all the more amusing.

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