London: The “punishment” of Pakistani girls

Studying laughter as emotional gratification has awakened in me very particular attention towards the phenomenon in everyday life. What I will share here is just one of many things that I have noticed, found interesting, and recorded in a kind of “logbook” that I have been completing over the last few years. Some stories are quite recent, others are not so much, but all of them somehow marked me and, for this reason, I have been trying lately to (re)visit them with a different perspective. What I am about to tell you took place in the first weeks of 2023.

I don’t know if it was because of my head wandering from side to side as I passed a few seconds of sleep and woke up half startled, my totally sloppy hair or my green (Sporting Football Club) scarf rolled up to my eyes, at one moment, in London, a group of girls (who I later found out were Pakistani) started laughing at me on the bus. It wasn’t at me. It was really about me. At first, I have to admit, I was a bit annoyed and even made a frown. It worked very quickly, as they stopped laughing right away. However, not long afterward, I was filled with great regret for what I had done. It is their laughter and they should use it how and with whom they want, I thought. Besides, laughter is a very intimate thing, which somehow builds the relationship of those who share it. How could I have thought I had the right to stop it? How could I have been so unfair and cruel? I was very angry and upset about what I had done. I needed to do something! In the midst of an avalanche of ideas, I then decided to start making “faces”. It worked! They laughed at me again, and this time I can say that they did it with even more desire and intensity. What a relief!

I have a very particular affection for a part of Henri Bergson’s theory (1993), which states that laughter is like society’s “punishment” for those who somehow think they are above others, that is, above laws and social mechanics (by what they say or do). Laughter is, in this view, like a social horn, a warning, from others to us, from outside to inside, from “us” to “me”. To ignore this laughter is thus to ignore a good opportunity to reflect on our place in society and to what extent we deserve to be adjusted, punished, and helped by it.

I had never stopped to think about my figures. But those children somehow helped me. In Henri Bergson’s (1993) view, they were as if used by society to get my attention, to put me in my place, to wake me up, to tell me, if it were possible to translate, something like: ” Wake up, you are in society and it is as a social being that you should behave”. They punished me, obviously in the least evil sense of the word, but very deservedly so.

Henri Bergson (1993) sees something very interesting in laughter: a reminder that we are human, and that it is not as gods, nor as works of art, but as humans that we should behave. Someone who gets “uppity” usually gets a hoot from the rest of society, a punishment, which, in the Bergsonian view, can be done through the laughter of others. Many other authors defend an idea similar to this, like Norbert Elias (1994) and Friedrich Nietzsche (2000), although each one bases it in his own way.

I, in some way, behaved like “someone superior”, and disrespected some social laws, even if unconsciously. I thought, perhaps, that I would not be noticed in the middle of such an open city. But I was wrong. I was caught! That horn sounded. It was a matter of time, I guess. The social body used those kids, but in time it would have used other people to laugh at me. To tell me, “Wake up!”. I can’t help but think that I could have stopped that horn for stoking I didn’t. Or I did. But, fortunately, I was in time to remedy it. I was in time to wake up, in both directions…

Text: Abílio Almeida

Published on 14-04-2023


Bergson, H. (1993). O riso: ensaio sobre o significado do cómico (G. d. Castilho, Trans. 2.ª ed.). Lisboa: Guimarães Editores.

Elias, N. (1994). O processo civilizador: uma história dos costumes (R. Jungmann, Trans.  Vol. 1). Rio de Janeiro: Jorge Zahar Editor.

Nietzsche, F. (2000). A gaia ciência (A. Margarido, Trans. 6.ª ed.). Lisboa: Guimarães Editores.




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