I know what you’re thinking, after seeing that postcard, but no, we are not continuing our discussion of how hilarious our ancestors considered the spanking od miscreants. I have been told my last discussion was in questionable taste, and we know that is a death sentence in today’s world of humor. I thought we might instead consider one of the supporting pillars of comedy, antici
Pation. You knew that joke already? Of course you did. I told you it was one of the great supports of comedy as well as other forms of fiction. Alfred Hitchcock suggested as a basic principle of suspense the object that the audience knew was a bomb, though the characters in the story did not/
Take this joke, surely one of the most reliable of the last couple of centuries. The whole point of the illustration and caption is that YOU know what’s going to happen. He doesn’t.
The use of an ironic caption enhances the joke and/or the anticipation of what happens next.
This is naturally a standard in slapstick, whether rural
But it works just as well when the exact reaction isn’t as thoroughly telegraphed. (For those who have not experienced this plot development in stories or plays, the actor, unable to pay his rent, is sneaking out by night, but has already been spotted by the landlady. Something he isn’t expecting, we know, is going to happen next.)
Complex comedy is possible even in one picture. Here, neither man knows what is about to happen to him but is enjoying what is about to happen to someone else.
We can also enjoy the comedy if the victim does suspect what is about to happen. WE are enjoying the anticipation while HE experiences dread. Whether we are enjoying his dread or his impending fate, we can enjoy the joke. (Is that, um, a club, by the way? Where did this cartoonist grow up?)
Sometimes the humor of the anticipation is enhanced by our sharing the dread, if the oncoming fate is something we have experienced ourselves. The joke can be enjoyed whether the threat is blatant
Or subtle. (The joke has nothing to do with his eyes, which are apprehensive, and studying that cane in teacher’s hand.)
And, as noted, we can enjoy impending disaster whether it is about to happen to the loud and confident soul on the scenic drive, above, or the small and cute, as here.
Anticipation and/or dread, therefore, are basic to suspense, and suspense is very useful in comedy. You may use it to dread or anticipate the day when I feel I can discuss postcard spankings again, but sigh with relief that we passed over that this time.