Le rire est la seule forme socialement acceptable de catharsis. Par conséquent, toutes sortes de rires qui n’ont rien à voir avec le rire sont confondues avec lui: le rire de politesse, le rire sophistiqué, le rire mondain. Tous ces faux rires accroissent souvent la tension qu’ils sont censés soulager et, naturellement, ne s’accompagnent pas de manifestations authentiques et involontaires comme les larmes. Toutes ces manifestations ont la même fonction que les larmes puisque le corps agit comme s’il avait quelque chose de concret à expulser. (…) Les conditions du rire sont (…) contradictoires. Il faut que la menace soit à la fois écrasante et nulle. (…) Naturellement, le meilleur moyen de remplir ces deux conditions contradictoires, c’est de nous fournir de vraies victimes sacrificielles. N’importe quel clown ou comédien au fait de son métier sait parfaitement que les gens riront à ses propres dépens ou aux dépens d’une tierce personne. René Girard (La voix méconnue du réel, 2002)
Chez certains singes, quand un mâle se reconnaît battu par un rival et renonce à la femelle qu’il lui disputait, il se met, vis à vis de ce vainqueur, en position, nous dit-on, d’ « offre homosexuelle ». René Girard
Le processus d’imitation est limité chez les singes, et c’est souvent dangereux pour eux d’imiter. Giaccomo Rizzolatti
When two rhesus macaques are trapped together in a small cage, they try everything they can to avoid a fight. . . . To avoid immediate aggression, and to reduce stress, an act of communication is needed to break the ice and make it clear to the other monkey that no harm is intended (or expected). Macaque monkeys bare their teeth to communicate fear and friendly intentions. If this « bared-teeth display »–the evolutionary precursor to the human smile–is well received, it can function as a prelude to grooming. One monkey brushes and cleans the other’s fur, gently massaging the skin while picking and eating parasites. This act can both relax and appease the other monkey, virtually eliminating the chance of an attack. So, if you are a rhesus macaque and find yourself trapped in a small cage with another macaque, you know what to do: bare your teeth and start grooming. If you are a human and find yourself riding in an elevator with a stranger, in theory you could do the same thing (or the human equivalent thereof): smile and make small talk. Dario Maestripieri (University of Chicago)
Les amis, suivez votre instinct. Joe Biden
Rires systématiques, sourires narquois, grimaces surjouées, interruptions constantes, y a-t-il un geste ou une clownerie que le vice-président américain Joe Biden n’aura pas fait lors de son débat avec le candidat vice-président républicain Paul Ryan pour tenter de ré-energiser sa base et sortir son colistier du trou qu’il s’était lui-même creusé après la véritable débacle démocrate du premier débat présidentiel?
Mais si, entre les constants appels à la solidarité de classe pour sa base et le mépris condescendant vis à vis de son adversaire, le vice-président a souvent réussi à neutraliser son opposant en l’empêchant de trouver son rythme, il n’est pas sûr que la cible critique des indécis ait apprecié, lors des questions sérieuses du débat sur la mort récente de quatre diplomates américains en Libye ou la bombe iranienne, une attitude aussi cavalière …
Et que soient retenus, derrière cette invraisemblable accumulation de singeries, les quelques points gagnants qu’il aurait pu faire passer, notamment sur la contradiction d’un Ryan critiquant le plan de relance mais écrivant personnellement au vice-président pour en avoir sa part ou l’évident manque de solutions de rechange du ticket Romney-Ryan concernant l’Iran …
Mais surtout, comment ne pas voir, derrière tant la quasi-égalité des sondages que les cris de victoire appuyés des tenants du camp démocrate ou l’indignation un peu surjouée du camp républicain (du moins pour ceux qui ne regardaient pas les matches de football ou de baseball ce soir-là), l’embarras des uns et des autres devant l’incongruité d’une performance où, entre lard et cochon, on n’aura décidément jamais bien su aux dépens de qui l’on était censé rire?
Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Iranian Bomb.
October 12, 2012
« Rudeness is the weak man’s imitation of strength, » the longshoreman cum philosopher Eric Hoffer once observed. Hoffer died in 1983, so he probably wasn’t referring specifically to Joe Biden’s performance in last night’s debate. Still, the observation is fitting.
In addition to the vice president’s boorishness, a lot of observers noted that he frequently smiled and chuckled at inappropriate times–even during a discussion of Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons. The Republican National Committee quickly put out an ad consisting of nearly a minute of such clips followed by the caption: « Vice President Biden is laughing . . . Are you? » If Biden finds himself out of work in January, he may have a career ahead of him as a Fixodent pitchman.
So what’s with Dr. Strangelaugh? Let’s ask an evolutionary biologist. In « Games Primates Play: The Undercover Investigation of the Evolution and Economics of Human Relationships, » Dario Maestripieri of the University of Chicago writes:
When two rhesus macaques are trapped together in a small cage, they try everything they can to avoid a fight. . . . To avoid immediate aggression, and to reduce stress, an act of communication is needed to break the ice and make it clear to the other monkey that no harm is intended (or expected). Macaque monkeys bare their teeth to communicate fear and friendly intentions. If this « bared-teeth display »–the evolutionary precursor to the human smile–is well received, it can function as a prelude to grooming. One monkey brushes and cleans the other’s fur, gently massaging the skin while picking and eating parasites. This act can both relax and appease the other monkey, virtually eliminating the chance of an attack.
So, if you are a rhesus macaque and find yourself trapped in a small cage with another macaque, you know what to do: bare your teeth and start grooming. If you are a human and find yourself riding in an elevator with a stranger, in theory you could do the same thing (or the human equivalent thereof): smile and make small talk.
A smile is an instinctive gesture of submission. Often the submission is mutual, as when two friends exchange smiles or when Maestripieri’s strangers break into small talk on the elevator. But when a man uncontrollably smiles at a potential or actual adversary, it is a show of weakness.
That isn’t necessarily to say that Paul Ryan dominated Biden, although there is no question Ryan demonstrated self-control where Biden utterly lacked it. As some commentator or other (probably several of them) observed before the debate, Biden’s assigned task was to « right the ship » after the Barack Obama disaster. Since the ship has a titanic design flaw–a gaping O-shaped hole right in the hull–that was an impossible task. Biden had ample reason to find the situation intimidating.
And so he overcompensated for his weakness by acting the bully in an attempt to dominate Ryan. His behavior was not only consistent with Hoffer’s aphorism but in sharp contrast with that of Mitt Romney, who actually did dominate Obama in a coolly masterful way. If Biden’s rudeness was an imitation of strength, Romney’s poise was a display of the real thing.
The left’s Angry Birds found Biden’s performance gratifying, but independents like blogress Ann Althouse, a swing-state 2008 Obama voter, were put off:
That debate was so annoying! Some of the CNN commentators are talking about how Biden did what he came to do, to fire up the Democrats. « This was not for the independents, » says Van Jones. Okay, well, but independents were watching, and Biden was horribly rude. He created this disturbing atmosphere of anxiety.
Again, that last point seems to us a misreading. The « atmosphere of anxiety » was the result of Obama having stunk up the place with his awful performances last week and during the past 45 months. Biden probably could not have done any better unless he suddenly developed a regard for his own dignity.
Mediaite.com reports that even Tom Brokaw said it was inappropriate for Biden to laugh during the discussion of Iran, whose president has vowed to exterminate Israel. Reader Taylor Dinerman, a journalist who specializes in aerospace (and who also knows National Review’s Rich Lowry), argues that Biden’s pooh-poohing of Iran’s developing nuclear capability was dangerously fatuous:
The worst part of the debate and the part that I wish Ryan had been able to counter was when Biden started in on the « They don’t have a bomb to put (the fissile material) into. »
This is outrageous. The hard part of building a nuclear weapon is to get the fissile material, bomb designs are a dime a dozen and anyone who has access to a copy of the Progressive Magazine from the 1970s when they published a bomb design they had dug up from some documents that were found in the Los Alamos public library can build one.
The A.Q. Khan design has long been available to them including any refinements the North Koreans have made.
Making a warhead that can fit on a missile may be harder, but building a basic nuclear weapon that could be put on an airliner or a ship is easy once you have the material.
Doesn’t seem so funny now, does it?
Even when poor Biden tried to be witty, he failed. The Associated Press reports that « the two catchiest phrases of the night » were « bunch of malarkey » and « bunch of stuff. » Oh yeah? Well, the stuff store called, and they’re running out of you!
At one point, Ryan observed that « Jack Kennedy lowered tax rates [and] increased growth. » Biden replied: « Oh, now you’re Jack Kennedy? » Oh, now he’s Lloyd Bentsen?
(For our younger readers, Lloyd Bentsen was slightly famous in the olden days for not having become vice president.)
The oddest moment of the night came after Ryan detailed ObamaCare’s cuts in Medicare, including the establishment of the Independent Payment Advisory Board. The IPAB is popularly known as the « death panel, » but Ryan did not use that phrase; he simply referred to « this new ObamaCare board. »
Joe Biden, however, called it by its popular name: « You know, I heard that death panel argument from Sarah Palin. It seems every vice presidential debate I hear this kind of stuff about panels. »
Actually, there was no mention of death panels in the 2008 vice presidential debate; the subject didn’t come up until the following year, when President Obama was pushing ObamaCare. Why would Biden use a term that people on his side claim is false and invidious? Like his compulsive smiling, it’s a tell: He has absorbed the idea that his political side has a monopoly on Truth and all dissenters are either fools or knaves. He thought he was ridiculing Palin, but she gets the last laugh. He has helped to propagate her idea instead.
October 12 2012
Joe Biden is earning rave reviews for his electricfying performance in last night’s vice-presidential debate. Vanity Fair’s own Todd Purdum wrote that Biden “was priest to Paul Ryan’s flummoxed altar boy, Scoutmaster to Ryan’s nervous, tongue-tied knot-tier. His smile veered—yes—between amused and condescending, depending on the honey or vinegar with which he referred to Ryan as ‘my friend.’” But can you blame Ryan for being so off his game? Self-satisfied smirking was sort of his Thing!
But the smirking was but a prelude to the snickering. Basically every time that Ryan said something, about anything, Biden looked down and giggled to himself, sometimes simultaneously scribbling down notes (“<– hate u paul”), sometimes not. New York magazine has a fine summary of the controversy surrounding the chuckle: “On Twitter Piers Morgan deemed Biden’s laugh ‘infectious,’ and after weathering the last week many liberals seemed happy to have something to smile about. Unsurprisingly, right-leaning Tweeters weren’t amused by Biden’s suggestion that everything Paul Ryan said in the debate was absurd.”
But this particular style of laughing—i.e., its specific aesthetic qualities—was what made it so universally, perhaps even subconsciously, persuasive. We think New York is correct that it is an implicit suggestion “that everything Paul Ryan said in the debate was absurd,” but the laugh was equal parts bemusement as it was conspiratorial. It was a laugh that also implicitly suggested that the audience—the intelligent, informed, rational, beautiful, amazing-taste-in-music-having, weight-losing audience—was in on the joke. It was not an arrogant laugh; at no point did Biden seem condescending to anyone but Paul Ryan. It makes sense that Morgan called it “infectious.” Every laugh was an audience-participation question: “Can you believe this guy?”
No one wants to say that he or she doesn’t get what’s so funny. Everyone wants to be in on every joke. Human nature is as steady as Paul Ryan’s tie is wide.
Margaret Hartmann and Sarah Frank
New York magazine
Even someone who watched the vice-presidential debate on mute could tell that Joe Biden’s debating style is wildly different from that of his boss. President Obama mainly displayed two looks at last week’s debate: blankly staring at Mitt Romney while answering questions and looking down while feverishly taking notes (apparently he was told there would be a quiz later). Biden on the other hand, showed off a wide variety of expressions: shaking his head in disbelief, raising his eyebrows incredulously, and laughing a lot. Minutes after the debate was over, @LaughinJoeBiden had already picked up thousands of followers.
On Twitter Piers Morgan deemed Biden’s laugh « infectious, » and after weathering the last week many liberals seemed happy to have something to smile about. Unsurprisingly, right-leaning Tweeters weren’t amused by Biden’s suggestion that everything Paul Ryan said in the debate was absurd. Expect to see the two takes on Biden’s laughter showcased in competing campaign ads.
Chris Rock @chrisrockoz
Joe Biden’s Laugh: « This little nerd is funny! » #vpdebates
12 Oct 12
Tahir Jetter @tahirtweets
Joe Biden shares that laugh that Denzel employs before he throat punches someone
12 Oct 12
Saul Anuzis @sanuzis
Biden condecending « smile » and « laugh » on the double screen can NOT be serving him well. Arrogance is NOT a strength. #vpdebate
12 Oct 12
Ben Greenman @bengreenman
Biden should laugh a little less. Which isn’t to say that Ryan’s answers aren’t laughable.
12 Oct 12
Chris Rock @chrisrockoz
RT if you’re laughing every time you see Biden laugh. He’s putting me in a good mood. I’m happier than I was an hour ago. Thanks Joe! #debate
12 Oct 12
Bernard Goldberg @BernardGoldberg
Gore sighed and it cost him. He came off as annoying. Biden can’t stop that condescending laugh. Bad optics.
12 Oct 12
Biden’s smirk is infectious. I’m starting to laugh too. Maybe this is a deliberate cunning strategy. #PMTdebate
12 Oct 12
Trying to figure out if Biden’s lit or he just likes to sit & laugh a lot. He prob shouldn’t have had that brownie prior.😉
12 Oct 12
Biden just got a endorsement deal for Polident. #VPdebate
12 Oct 12
If this keeps up much longer, Joe Biden’s going to sprain his laugh muscles. #vpdebate
12 Oct 12
Nicholas Thompson @nxthompson
Joe Biden: a combination of Bill Clinton and a very hungry hyena.
12 Oct 12
BUST Magazine @bust_magazine
Prediction: « Biden » becomes a verb tomorrow. As in, « man, you totally bidened that guy! You ripped him a new one while smiling! »
12 Oct 12
Here’s a look at Biden in action: