Wanna See My Displacement Joke?

While Freudian conceptualisation of displacement jokes is most easily applied to verbal jokes, it can also be applied to nonverbal jokes. Explaining joke techniques more broadly, Lisa Trahir uses the concept of signification, in which signification is the relationship between ”a sound-image, which is a material signifier, and a concept, or immaterial signified” [1]. A joke is created by disrupting signification [2].

While words seem like the most obvious signifiers and so Freudian explanation seems to more immediately apply to verbal jokes, his conceptualisation of displacement jokes is not limited to verbal jokes. Rather than being bound to words, signification is bound to anything that evokes these mental concepts. Displacement jokes are instances in which a concept that was initially made to be expected is transformed into a new unexpected concept, in other words, instances in which a train of thought gets diverted [3].

In this clip from She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, a joke is made by showing a shadowed figure shoot an arrow into the wall right above Glimmer’s head, making her jump back, interpreting the arrow as an attack, only for a message to pop out of the arrow, revealing a goofy message full of hearts sent by her friend. Initially, the arrow is a signifier of the concept of a hostile ambush, and the joke is made when this concept gets debunked and replaced by the concept of goofy friend-messaging, the signifier of which the arrow becomes. It is not just the message attached to the arrow that is a signifier of friend communication, it is the arrow itself; the identity of Glimmer’s friend who shot the arrow, named Bow, is inseparably bound to archery. His arrows, then, signify his friendly attention and presence. The process of signification is disturbed when the arrow as a signifier is revealed to relate to an unexpected concept, and a displacement joke is made nonverbally.

 

[1] Lisa Trahair, “Jokes and their Relation to…” The Comedy of Philosophy: Sense and Nonsense in Early Cinematic Slapstick (Albany: SUNY, 2007), 113.

[2] Lisa Trahair, “Jokes and their Relation to…” The Comedy of Philosophy: Sense and Nonsense in Early Cinematic Slapstick (Albany: SUNY, 2007), 113.

[3] Lisa Trahair, “Jokes and their Relation to…” The Comedy of Philosophy: Sense and Nonsense in Early Cinematic Slapstick (Albany: SUNY, 2007), 113.

Youtube, 0:22. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yXKcaMUsSCc

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