humor

Velanie W. sent me this video (found at here), in which the parents clearly think it’s funny that when their toddler daughter says “sparkling wiggles,” it sounds like she’s saying something very different:

(after the jump b/c it automatically plays and that gets annoying)…
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The documentary “People Like Us: Social Class in America” (an excellent film, if you haven’t seen it; my students always get a kick out of it) includes a section about Honfest, a yearly festival in Baltimore. The film brings up some interesting questions about Honfest, particularly what it means that one group of Baltimore residents dresses up and acts like a caricature of another part of the population–“hons,” or working-class women (so named for their supposed habit of calling everyone “Hon”).

From the Honfest website:

The Bawlmer term of endearment, Hon, short for Honey, embodies the warmth and affection bestowed upon our neighbors and visitors alike by historic working-women of Baltimore. HonFest is an annual celebration in honor of these women…

In answer to the question, “Is the hon a dying breed?,” Denise Whiting, creator of HonFest, exclaimed, “No! Absolutely not. Hon will live on forever in our hearts, and HonFest gives everyone an opportunity to celebrate and embrace their heritage.”

The festival includes a Miss Hon contest. Here is a photo of Miss Hon 2007:

The website’s description of hons:

…the women who vie to become Baltimore’s Best Hon are a vision of the sixties-era. They are women with beehive hairdos, bright-blue eye shadow, spandex pants and anything with leopard print!

But commentators in the documentary argue that some of the things being parodied–big hair, certain makeup and clothing styles–are still common, particularly in the working-class areas of Baltimore. From this perspective, it’s not just that people are mimicking or parodying the past; there’s also an element of class ridicule involved (since the style, taste, and speech associated with working-class women are being fetishized and parodied by other, often wealthier, women). This brings up a number of questions: Is this just good-hearted fun? Is it truly honoring these women, or mocking them? Does it bring attention to Baltimore’s working class residents, or simply treat them like they are historic relics?

(In)famous Baltimore resident and “Hairspray” director John Waters says,

It’s condescending now. The people that celebrate it are not from it. I feel that in some weird way they’re looking slightly down on it.

This might be useful for a discussion of social class and issues of representation–is Honfest respectful and fun or condescending? Does it make any difference whether some of the styles and mannerisms being parodied are still used by working-class women? Does it matter what the class background of attendees and participants tends to be? You might compare it to the controversy surrounding American Indian sports mascots for a discussion of concerns about representation more broadly.

Last week, John Kerry made a joke about John McCain’s age, implying that he wears Depends (that is, adult diapers). I have searched everywhere and haven’t been able to find any video of Kerry telling the joke; all the discussions I’ve been able to find of it seem to lead back to an original story at PolitickerMA.com. It brought up something that has bugged me throughout this campaign: the cheap shots about McCain’s age. For example (thanks to Burk for finding me all these images):

Found here.

Found here.

The Baltimore Sun posted this photo and asked readers to provide captions for it:

Suggested captions included jabs about Ensure, reaching out to senior citizens, nursing homes, forgetfulness, and so on.

While I’ve heard a lot of people talking about racism in depictions of Barack Obama, and sexism in portrayals of Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton, I have heard very few people discuss the very negative depictions of the the “old” being used to ridicule McCain. Depictions of older people range from out-of-touch, doddering fools to crazed racists to pathetic invalids. Although Kerry’s joke drew some criticism, jokes or comments about McCain’s age have generally been given a pass–they’ve been declared fair game. You might get in trouble in our culture for being sexist or racist, but apparently ridiculing people for being old is fine.

I don’t know about you, but I know some old people, and they are healthy, coherent, mentally competent people who appear to have complete control of their bladders and bowels. My grandmother is 70 and runs a 110-cow ranch on her own in Oklahoma, doing all of the labor herself (except that she hires someone to come in and bale the hay each year). Just as I thought it must be awful to be an Arab American and hear accusations that Obama is secretly Arab or Muslim used as a slur against him, I’ve wondered how my grandma feels, hearing McCain’s age ridiculed. My guess is that she finds it mortifying, but I haven’t gotten up the courage to ask.

I have also on more than one occasion heard people mock John McCain’s physical appearance, particularly the fact that one side of his face is swollen because he had a patch of skin removed due to skin cancer. The times I overheard this, they weren’t expressing concern that he might have a serious form of cancer that could kill him or force him to leave office; they were just laughing at how he looked.

If McCain showed evidence of dementia or osteoporosis or some other condition that you could maybe directly relate to his age, then ok, fine, I could see people commenting on it. But that’s not what’s going on here. This is just making fun of his age for the sake of it–it’s funny that he’s old, because old people are laughable. It’s an interesting statement about the value we place on older people in this culture.


The video “The Great Schlep,” featuring Sarah Silverman, is part of The Great Schlep campaign, which, according to the website,

…aims to have Jewish grandchildren visit their grandparents in Florida, educate them about Obama, and therefore swing the crucial Florida vote in his favor. Don’t have grandparents in Florida? Not Jewish? No problem! You can still become a schlepper and make change happen in 2008, simply by talking to your relatives about Obama.

(Go here if the video isn’t working.)

The Great Schlep’s Facebook page has a link to talking points (titled “Obama Talking Points for Jews”), including,

*He is a Christian and has never been a Muslim.
*Obama ran the business side of his primary campaign significantly better than any other candidate of either party…
*His love for the United States is similar to that of generations of Jewish immigrants, who loved America for giving them an opportunity to succeed if they worked hard enough…
*Obama represents a different kind of black leadership, less interested in the confrontational tactics favored by many who came of age in the 1960s and 1970s…
*Biden’s knowledge of Middle Eastern affairs and his decades of strong support for Israel (he identifies himself as a Zionist) are well documented.

It’s an interesting list, drawing on the “up by your bootstraps” immigrant ideal (“…an opportunity to succeed if they worked hard enough”), the idea of Obama as a non-threatening Black leader, and that Jewish voters would be particularly impressed by Obama being able to manage the “business side” of his campaign.

Now watch this clip of Dave Chappelle’s “Reparations” skit:(Go here if the video isn’t working.)

These would be great videos for discussing humor and the way that in-group members may be allowed to make jokes that others would be criticized for. Both of these videos are full of images and statements that, should a non-Jew or non-African American say them, would almost certainly be considered incredibly offensive. Are they necessarily not offensive simply because the person presenting them is a member of the stereotyped group? How can we distinguish between humor that pokes fun at stereotypes and humor that just uses them for a cheap laugh?

On the one hand, Whites often use the “it’s just a joke” disclaimer to deny responsibility for racist content in jokes; on the other hand, minorities may use the “I’m a member of the group I’m making fun of; how could the jokes be racist?” argument to deflect criticism. And of course, we may legitimately feel differently about a joke depending on who said it (the whole “are you laughing with us, or at us?” phenomenon). But at the same time, I think it’s sort of fascinating that we’re often allowed, or encouraged, to laugh at racist stereotypes, as long as the person saying them is a member of the stereotyped group–and in fact, we often wouldn’t really know how to go about criticizing them if we felt it was warranted.

Gwen Sharp is an associate professor of sociology at Nevada State College. You can follow her on Twitter at @gwensharpnv.

In a comment to another post, Max S. pointed out this video of a question-and-answer session where, when asked about policy toward Iran, John McCain makes a joke about the Beach Boys having a song called “Bomb Iran” and sings “bomb bomb bomb” to the tune of “Barbara Ann”:

I’m probably the only person left on earth who hadn’t already sseen it, but anyway. It might be useful for a discussion of militarization and/or foreign policy, or the ways in which we obscure the reality of war such that the idea of bombing “Iran” is separated from any acknowledgement that you’re talking about bombing actual people.

Thanks, Max!

UPDATE: In a comment, thoughtcounts z said that this was probably a reference to the Capital Steps‘ parody of the Beach Boys, which it very well may be–I’m apparently horribly out of touch with…well, everything. McCain said The Beach Boys, so I just took him at his word.

The video clip The Olsen Twins Walk Into a Bar might be useful for sparking a discussion of the way in which, once shrouded in humor, nearly anything is fair game.

Found here via Copyranter.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

In a comment to another post, Umlud provided a link to this post from Thoughts from Kansas about the following joke allegedly told by John McCain in 1986 when speaking to the National League of Cities and Towns:

Did you hear the one about the woman who is attacked on the street by a gorilla, beaten senseless, raped repeatedly and left to die? When she finally regains consciousness and tries to speak, her doctor leans over to hear her sigh contently and to feebly ask, “Where is that marvelous ape?”

Here is an image of the original story about the incident in the Tucson Citizen (link to image found at Think Progress). I know it’s small and hard to read, but I wanted to provide the original source.

According to Think Progress,

McCain said he did not “recall” telling the joke. More recently, the McCain campaign scheduled a fundraiser with a Texas oilman who compared rape to the weather while running for governor. “As long as it’s inevitable, you might as well lie back and enjoy it,” said Clayton Williams in 1990. After public outcry, the event was “postponed.”

From what I recall, the comment by Williams was widely credited as a major reason Ann Richards won the gubernatorial campaign, becoming the second female governor of Texas.

Huh. I was looking up some information on Ann Richards really quick and discovered this list of the governors of Texas and discovered there have only been 6 Republican governors of Texas, and two of those were right after the Civil War, when the Republican party had quite a different platform and orientation. The other 4 have all been since 1979. And my home state of Oklahoma has only had 4. This shouldn’t be surprising, given that the Southern swing to the Republican party occurred mostly after the Civil Rights movement and Civil Rights legislation signed into law by President Lydon Johnson (who correctly predicted that the Democratic party would lose the South as a result of the policies), but it still surprised me.

Thanks for the link, Umlud!

Breck sent in a link to this post about the controversial New Yorker front cover depicting Barack and Michelle Obama as Muslim extremists (I found the full-size image here):

As you may guess, there have been some quite negative reactions to this cartoon. The Obama campaign did not particularly like having him portrayed as an American flag-burning Muslim, oddly enough. And apparently this has gotten wide enough press coverage that even my mom had heard about it and was distressed, and my mom doesn’t follow politics too closely.

I’m kind of fascinated by this entire situation. When I went to Oklahoma last month to visit my family, my uncle informed me that Obama is a Muslim with some secret evil motive for wanting to be president that the rest of us can’t even imagine because we aren’t diabolical enough to think of it. When I pointed out that Obama is not a Muslim, my uncle said he used to be, which is the same thing, and that if Obama really loved America he would change his middle name from Hussein. I gave up on the conversation at that point and returned to pulling ticks off the dog, since that was a lot more pleasant.

What I’m saying is, I have first-hand knowledge of the people out there who honestly believe Obama is some type of Muslim extremist with an evil plot for when he gets into office. Fox News reported on the “fist bump” as a possible terrorist gesture. This distrust of Obama is out there. So this cartoon could spark a really interesting discussion of political humor/satire and the boundaries between “appropriate” and “inappropriate.” I assume–and I’m just assuming here–that this cover was supposed to be a commentary on the fact that some people (and Fox News) are convinced Obama has a connection to Muslims and/or terrorists and, as a result, has evil plans for the future of America. But the cover could also simply reinforce those ideas–I really hope my uncle doesn’t suddenly take up reading and pass by a magazine rack in the near future, because this cover will prove to him that he’s been right all along. So what’s the line between social commentary that points out and/or ridicules issues such as these and just reinforcing the misconceptions or stereotypes that you claim to be undermining?

It could also be used for a discussion of how we read things into images based on our own assumptions. I mean, I have no evidence this cover is supposed to be a commentary (however misguided, dumb, or inappropriate it might be) on misconceptions about Obama; I’m just presuming based on what I know about The New Yorker, its liberal slant, and my recent experience with my uncle. If you showed me the exact same image and told me it came from Fox News, I am certain my reaction would be different because of my assumptions about what Fox News would be trying to say with the image. I can check that tendency to make assumptions about the intention of the creators of an image, and I try to, but I think it’s always good to point out to students that we don’t just passively see an image; our own experiences, assumptions, and so on influence how we interpret them. This is part of the reason that, once an image is put out there, the intention of the creator doesn’t necessarily have much to do with how people interpret or use it.

Thanks, Breck!

On an unrelated note: If you’ve noticed my absence from posting the last few days, I can only say that the first 2 seasons of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” turned out to be way more compelling than I was expecting and watching them can be quite the time sucker.