The European Journal of Humour Research

Vol 3, No 2/3 (2015)

Burning effigies with Bakhtinian laughter

Florian Göttke


The hanging or burning of effigies as an expression of dissent is a well-established genre of playful political protest. It is enacted in a variety of ways, accessing the conventions of various traditional rituals and social practices, and can function either as a progressive force demanding change, or repressively in seeking to enforce the existing order. Building on a close reading of media images of effigy protests from over the world, I relate the employed strategies of reversal and debasement and the grotesque aesthetics of these dummies to Bakhtin’s concept of the carnivalesque. I trace the different kinds of laughter that emerge during the effigy protests and explore the complicated relationship between laughter and violence inherent in these performed images of violent death.


Bakhtin, M. (1984a [1941]). Rabelais and his World. Indianapolis: University of Indiana Press.

Bakhtin, M. (1984b). Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics. Minneapolis/London: University of Minnesota Press.

Billig, M. (2005). Laughter and Ridicule: Towards a Social Critique of Humour. London: Sage Publications.

Bruner, M. L. (2005). ‘Carnivalesque protest and the humorless state’, Text and Performance Quarterly 25 (2), pp. 136–155.

Crichlow, M. A. & Armstrong, P. (2010). ‘Carnival praxis, carnivalesque strategies and Atlantic interstices’, Social Identities 16 (4), pp. 399–414.

Chvasta, M. (2006). ‘Anger, irony, and protest: Confronting the issue of efficacy, again’, Text and Performance Quarterly 26 (1), pp. 5–16.

Edwards, E. & Morton, C. (2009). ‘Introduction’, in Edwards, E. & Morton, C. (eds.), Photography, Anthropology and History. Surrey: Ashgate, pp. 1–24.

Erll, A. (2011). ‘Travelling memory’, Parallax 17 (4), pp. 4–18.

Ferguson, M. A. and Thomas, E. F. (2008). ‘Disparagement humor: A theoretical and empirical review of psychoanalytic, superiority, and social identity theories’, Humor 21 (3), pp. 283–312.

Griffin, J. H. (2004 [1960]). Black Like Me. San Antonio: Wings Press.

Hariman, R. (2008). ‘Political parody and public culture’, Quarterly Journal of Speech 94 (3), pp. 247–272.

Horlacher, S. (2009). ‘A short introduction to theories of humour, the comic, and laughter”, in Pailer, G., Böhn, A., Horlacher, S. & Scheck, U. (eds.), Gender and Laughter – Comic, Affirmation and Subversion in Traditional and Modern Media. Amsterdamer Beiträge zur neueren Germanistik 70. Amsterdam: Rodopi, pp. 17–47.

Kershaw, B. (1997). ‘Fighting in the streets: Dramaturgies of popular protest, 1968—1989’, New Theatre Quarterly 13 (51), pp. 255–276.

The Milwaukee Journal (1917). ‘Burn effigy of the Kaiser’, 21 October 1917. Available online:,6543344 [Accessed 16 August 2013].

Muir, E. (1997). Ritual in Early Modern Europe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Pfeifer, M.J. (2011). The Roots of Rough Justice: Origins of American Lynching. Urbana: University of Illinois.

Rooiakkers, G. (1995). Eer en schande – Volksgebruiken van het oude Brabant. Nijmegen: SUN.

Schechner, R. (1987). Performance Studies. An Introduction. London: Routledge.

Shepard, B. (2010). Queer Political Performance and Protest. Play, Measure and Social Movement. New York: Routledge.

Smith, M. (2009). ‘Humor, unlaughter, and boundary maintenance’, Journal of American Folklore 122 (484), pp. 148–171.

Stallybrass, P. & White, A. (1986). The Politics and Poetics of Transgression. New York: Cornell University Press.

Thompson, E.P. (1992). ‘Rough music reconsidered’, Folklore 103 (1), pp. 3–26.

Turner, V. (1990). ‘Are there universals of performance in myth, ritual and drama?’, in Schechner R. & Appel, W. (eds.), By Means of Performance. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 8–18.

Wilf, S. (2010). Law’s Imagined Republic. Popular Politics and Criminal Justice in Revolutionary America. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.