Posts Tagged ‘humor’

It was a Joke!

August 17, 2011

Jokes about racism or sexism or homophobia are funny. Racist, sexist, or homophobic jokes are not.

The distinction is pretty simple. Humorous messages use social axioms and shared knowledge as tools to tell stories, violate expectations, and make people laugh. They convey attitudes, both through the assumptions they make about this shared knowledge and through the information they make explicit in the telling. It is possible – although not always easy – to parse some of the attitudes included in a package of jokes, and therefore it is possible to point out when those attitudes are bigoted. Some jokes reinforce stereotypes, some parody them. Some jokes endorse discrimination, some make fun of it. Some jokes use prejudice as a foundational axiom, some point out the absurdity of prejudice itself. The simple fact that a message is supposed to be funny does not change the need to criticize it if it endorses harmful attitudes, so it makes sense to be attentive to the difference between reinforcing, endorsing, or utilizing group bias on the one hand, and parodying, making fun of, or exposing group bias on the other. (more…)


Homophobia and Transphobia

January 14, 2010

A recent post by Brian McNaught describes David Letterman’s now-infamous skit about Amanda Simpson, who Obama recently appointed to be Senior Technical Adviser to the Commerce Department. McNaught summarizes the skit:

On the program in question, announcer Alan Kalter ran from the stage in horror when Letterman announced that Simpson was born male. The humor was supposed to come from Kalter realizing that he had been intimate with a woman without knowing that he had been with someone born male.

Jokes like this one are old staples of sexual comedy, and they probably remain the most common examples of transphobic humor. The audience is expected to laugh at the pathetic man who has discovered that the gender identity of his sexual partner, and by extension his own heterosexuality and masculinity, have been challenged. (more…)

God’s “Boss’ Life”: Humor in the Book of Job

October 30, 2009

April 15th, 2008

Job is a tale of power. It features numerous hierarchical relationships amongst God, Satan, Job, and Job’s friends, and it is dominated by long, repetitive discourses about these relationships. God’s culminating speech is an acerbic rant about how mighty he is—one which parallels some modern rap performances, such as Snoop Dogg’s narration of his supposed “Boss’ Life.”[*] God is undoubtedly the divine boss of Job’s world, but the tale portrays him as humanlike in his mannerisms to frame his seemingly senseless disregard for Job’s well-being in terms that a human audience can comprehend. For example, the audience might conceptualize this God’s apparent need to prove himself to Satan as rooted in self-consciousness. Even if such a view is an oversimplification, it gives the audience a “motive” to imagine while considering the other issues raised by the story. The juxtaposition of omnipotence and human traits thus serves a pragmatic purpose in driving the narrative forward, and an essential tool in producing the appearance of humanness is humor. (more…)