Why so serious? Framing comedies of recognition and repertoires of tactical frivolity within social movements

A Kingsmith
What makes something funny? That depends. When it comes to humour, we are all experts. We know what we find funny. Such ambiguity is one of the central reasons a phenomenological analysis of humour as a means for radical political subject formations has been neglected within the study of social movements. Yet in many contexts a joke can represent liberation from pressure, rebellion against authority, a subversive political performance. We might even say that given common social norms and
more » ... al norms and linguistic signifiers, joke telling can tear holes in our usual predictions about the empirical world by creating disjunctions between actuality and representation. After all, those in power have little recourse against mockery. Responding harshly to silence humorous actions tends to in fact increase the laughter. As such, humour must be appreciated not just as comic relief, but as a form of ideological emancipation, a means of deconstructing our social realities, and at the same time, imagining and proposing alternative ones. By informing this notion of humour as subversive political performance with one of the most instrumental approaches to social movement studies, Charles Tilly's repertoires of contention, this paper begins by framing the dangers of comedic containment, before theorising the creative and electronic turns in social movement studies through a lens of rebellious humour as a post-political act. The paper emphasises these contributions with two unique explorations of political humour: 1970s' radio frivolity by the post-Marxist Italian Autonomous movement, and present day Internet frivolousness by the hacktivist collective Anonymous. The paper then brings these interventions together to make the case that while humour can indeed serve as a control function, providing temporary recognition that disarms potentially conflictive situations and naturalises prejudice by denigrating certain marginalised groups within society, the authentic rage that humour expresses also has the potential to be transformed into meaningful acts of socio-political dissension.