INCONGRUITY AND DISCURSIVE CUES
It remains to be asked whether Apter and Smith are in fact correct in their assertion that all humour involves the belittlement they claim. In Apter’s words, in a joke the reality should in some way be ‘less than the appearance …one characteristic must have a positive sign…and the other a negative sign, the positive sign attaching to the “appearance” and the negative sign to the “reality”’ (1982a: 180). This is what distinguishes humour from other real/ apparent synergies such as the end of a detective story, where the revelation of unexpected guilt involves a reversal between appearance and reality but where the reality is ‘more than’ the appearance and not ‘less than’ it as in humour. However, we may ask in what sense the revelation of guilt here establishes that reality is ‘more than’ appearance; certainly in this instance reality turns out to be more complicated than appearance, and different from it. But the essence of such melodramatic story endings is that someone who appeared to be the acme of respectability turns out to be anything but that: he or she is morally far less than appearance suggested. What constitutes inferiority and superiority in this instance is not clear.