You are what you laugh at

The little book of shame

At some point in my distant past, I ended up with a little book of jokes.  It might’ve been published as late as the early 80s, but I suspect the 50s or 60s is more likely and the content clearly went back closer to the turn of the century.

I’d almost want to quote something out of it, but (like most of my books) it’s still in a box out in the garage, and I can sum up over 90% of it as a variant on these two statements:

  • “Ha ha! That [insert ethnicity|gender|age|race|other] is really stupid!”
  • “Ha ha!  That [insert unfortunate accident] is so hilarious when it happens to you!”

About the only good things to be said about it are the lack of homophobic jokes and that it will probably make a good firestarter when I come across it again.

“Apparently the pratfall is the peak of all humor.”

Mind you, I’m normally all for the preservation of books, as my small collection of turn-of-the-century (and I don’t mean 21st century) school books demonstrates.  The educator in me enjoys seeing the straightforward ways they explain things and their expectation that the learner will put in the effort to process the information.  The armchair sociologist in me finds them both fascinating and horrifying in the way that they reveal the underlying social dynamics and perspectives of that time period.

The joke book, on the other hand, only evokes the horrified reaction.  It casts only the thinnest veil over its messages of sexism, classism, racism, and xenophobia.

I won’t feel even the slightest bit bad about letting this book vanish into the midden of history.  We, as a culture, are still pumping out these messages through jokes, caricatures in TV and movies, “funny” tshirts, and all over our entertainment.

You are what you laugh at

Today, I’m challenging folks to take a real hard look at the things they laugh at.  To look past that immediate response and take the jokes apart for what they’re really saying.  To think about the jokes that we tell.

What are you saying about the types of people who are the objects of those jokes?

Are they still funny when you change the jokes to include yourself as the object?

What and (more importantly) who are you laughing at?

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4 Responses to You are what you laugh at

  1. Teaspoon says:

    Weeding is an important tool for making sure the library contains the highest quality information. While it will one day be necessary to preserve this sort of information, you are absolutely correct that we’re soaking in examples to choose from when that happy day arrives.

  2. Dwenjustdwen says:

    Hmm… Usually what I get laughed at for (I don’t tell lots of jokes) is my mixing up various bits of language, and making up language on my own.

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