Punchlines: The Case for Racial, Ethnic, and Gender Humor

Punchlines: The Case for Racial, Ethnic, and Gender Humor

Punchlines: The Case for Racial, Ethnic, and Gender Humor

Punchlines: The Case for Racial, Ethnic, and Gender Humor

Synopsis

The concept of ethnic, racial, and gender humor is as sensitive a subject today as it has ever been; yet at no time in the past have we had such a quantity of this humor circulating throughout society. We can see the power of such content manifested continually in our culture's films and stand-up comedy routines, as well as on popular TV sitcoms, where Jewish, black, Asian, Hispanic, and gay characters and topics have seemingly become essential to comic scenarios. Though such humor is often cruel, it can be a source of pride and play among minorities, women, and gays. Leon Rappoport's incisive account takes an in-depth look at ethnic, racial and gender humor. Despite the polarization that is often apparent in the debates such humor evokes, the most important melting pot in this country may be the one that we enter when we share a laugh at ourselves.

Excerpt

Humor based on racial, ethnic, and gender stereotypes has always been a touchy subject, particularly in our current era of political correctness when even hinting at it can be the kiss of death for any public figure. In colleges and universities, faculty tempted to crack wise at the expense of any national, religious, sexual, or handicapped group risk the loss of their jobs and reputations. As a social psychologist who was first attracted to the field in order to investigate the apparent irrationality of prejudice, I am fully aware of all the good reasons for our present sensitivity to such jokes. Some of my own research on attitudes and social conflict even might have contributed to this sensitivity.

On the other hand, at no time in the past have we ever had so much down-and-dirty racial and ethnic humor circulating throughout our society via films, TV comedy concerts, the Internet, and stand-up performers in comedy clubs. Even more prevalent are the softer forms on display in popular TV sitcoms, where the presence of one or more Jewish, black, Asian, Hispanic, or gay characters seems to have become mandatory. Although most of these sitcom characters are presented in a sympathetic fashion—perhaps a bit screwy but usually lovable—the humor they contribute is mainly based on how they either directly represent or contradict familiar stereotypes. So despite concerns about political correctness, it is no exaggeration to suggest that our society is awash in racial, ethnic, and gender humor as never before.

How did this happen? Is it, as so many ultraconservative commentators seem to enjoy suggesting, simply one more sign, along with sexual promiscuity, gay liberation parades, and low math scores in our public schools, that our society as a whole is going to hell? Or is the increasing prevalence of such humor a reaction against our efforts to achieve a politically correct, multi-

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