Clothes, Cryptids and the Comic

In Bergson’s essay about laughter, he writes about the innate laughable quality of fashion to illustrate his point about “something mechanical encrusted on the living”[1]. He suggests that society becomes used to seeing certain styles of clothing in daily life, which normalises the contrast between the inert quality of the object and the supple quality of a human being. The comic condition is “latent” and only surfaces when the two things are so incompatible with each other that the contrast provokes laughter. Reading this, I can think of a modern example – the nine-foot long jeans that became popular through social media.

Consisting of a few jeans attached together to form one long pair, they are completely impractical and labelled as “Sophisticated Adult Entertainment” on the online store’s website.[2] Its whole existence is for pure comedic effect, an effect so strong that its creators address their customers in the description: “What? You’ll buy it!”, almost mocking them for shelling out $500 for a useless piece of cloth. In the picture on the website, the lifeless drape of the jeans contrasts so strongly with the human form that it brings attention to the unnatural overall form, which Bergson considers to be the origin of the comic. The manner in which the jeans are being modelled also recalls imagery related to long legged cryptids such as the Fresno nightcrawler, thus giving rise to laughter due to the connection drawn with the unsteady stalking movement of said cryptid.

Bergson describes our perception of such contrasts as “disguise” and points out that qualities inherent in human such as skin tone could be considered comical because through imagination we still perceive the artificial element. I agree that a person with unusually long legs could potentially be comical due to their unique movement, but the “Negro” example that Bergson uses exposes the racism of his time. In seeing a Black person’s skin tone as “unwashed…daubed with ink or soot”, it is then implied that a normal or default face is a White one. In our society today, this would not be socially acceptable. This example exemplifies how Bergson’s theory of mechanisation is completely dependent on social context.

 

[1] Bergson, Henri. Laughter: an essay on the meaning of the comic. London: Macmillan, 1911 pp. 37.

[2] https://shop.bronze56k.com/product/extendo-pants

2 comments

  1. I agree with your analysis of how clothing can be humorous. The nine-foot pair of jeans is funny because they can’t serve the intended purpose of jeans anymore. A similar gag can be made when a common object can no longer serve its purpose. Another clip that uses clothing is

  2. To describe Bergson’s theory of mechanisation as dependent on social context is interesting as it brings us a lens to see our own comic subjectivity to. I do also completely agree with how you reject his application of this theory to people of a different race to his own. It does, raise an issue of why we laugh at people we don’t recognise as ‘normal’ or they are to be ‘other’ than the rest of us (without, I sincerely hope any racist sentiment). Do we find it easier to laugh at things that we don’t understand and therefore can only comprehend in a physical sense?

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