Digby provides some shining examples of rightie “humor.” One is a T-shirt bearing the slogan “Rope. Tree. Journalist. Some assembly required.”
The other is a list called “Know Thy Enemy: Fun Facts About Liberals.” This is followed by a list of suggestions, such as “Liberals will try to entice you with their twisted logic. Counter with a bitch slap,” and “Liberals are always whining about tolerance, but when I punch them for that, they get moody. Hey, be tolerant!”
Righties will say that if we don’t laugh at the joke we have no sense of humor. Of course, these little jokes aren’t really about being funny, are they?
There are all manner of soc-psych studies on “humor” as a form of hostility and aggression. A quickie google search turned up this one. The authors find that men who enjoy sexist humor are more likely than other men to be aggressive toward women and have, um, an accepting attitude toward violence against women, including rape.
Most women recognize when “humor” is being used to insult them and keep them in their place, and they don’t laugh. This may be the foundation of the stereotype that women don’t have a sense of humor. If you are old enough to remember the 1950s and early 1960s you might remember when a comedian only had to say “women drivers” and roll his eyes up, and the audience would howl. Ugly wives and shrewish mothers-in-law were also standard stand-up material. Women drivers, wives, and mothers-in-law were expected to laugh.
Many years ago, ca. 1978, I edited a book by a man who made a living as an after-dinner speaker. In fact, I dimly remember it was a joke book. I deleted a spectacularly ugly “joke” about wife beating, and he complained to the senior editor that I had no sense of humor. But the senior editor was a woman, too. The joke stayed out. All the ugly wife jokes stayed in, though; if we’d deleted those, there wouldn’t have been enough material left for a book.
In earlier times most white Americans just loved hideous caricatures of African Americans and other minorities. The Library of Congress prints & photographs archive is full of the stuff. This Harper’s Weekly cover from 1876 was intended to be funny, I suspect (if you haven’t been much exposed to this genre before — the guy on the right is Irish). This cartoon from 1893 is a “humorous” depiction of “darkies” at the Chicago World’s Fair. And this specimen was considered a real knee-slapper back in 1916. These illustrations were not aberrations; they’re very typical of cartoons commonly published in major general-circulation newspapers and magazines in their day.
If they don’t make you laugh, you must not have a sense of humor, huh?
Although it’s true humor sometimes can diffuse hostility, it seems obvious that laughing at a person or group is a way for the laughers to reaffirm their shared hatreds and make their bigotry socially acceptable. It is no coincidence, IMO, that the ugliest of the racial cartoons in the LoC archives come from the same time period as Jim Crow and mass lynchings. It’s also no coincidence that Jews were caricatured in Nazi cartoons. (The LoC has a collection of Nazi cartoons that are not online.)
You might remember a few days ago when a rightie wrote in the comments to this post “heh, well if its one thing you ‘lefties’ lack, its a sense of humor.” I had been dismayed at the guy’s attitude toward foreign tourism displayed in this blog post. Yes, obviously, he meant it to be humorous. But the loud-and-clear subtext of the piece is derision and condescension toward non-Americans, which only another American nativist would find funny. The authors’ defensiveness and discomfort with foreigners is palpable. It’s a very ugly piece that, apparently, got picked up by Pajamas Media and linked (no surprise) by Little Green Footballs, a not-jolly crew if there ever was one.
Liberals laugh at righties, but as a rule, liberals don’t make jokes about righties being lynched or slapped or punched. Yet these acts of aggression are staples of rightie humor. That says something, IMO.
Of course, righties don’t think Al Franken is funny, which proves they don’t have a sense of humor. You may have heard this one, but I’m gonna tell it again, anyway … here Al explains humor to Ann Coulter —
Ann recently told an audience:
“We need somebody to put rat poisoning in Justice Stevens’ creme brulee,” Coulter said. “That’s just a joke, for you in the media.”
Here’s my question. What’s the joke? Maybe it’s a prejudice from my days as a comedy writer, but I always thought the joke had to have an operative funny idea. I’ll give you an example of a joke.
Like they do every Saturday night, two elderly Jewish couples are going out to dinner. The guys are in front, the girls riding in back. Irv says to Sid, “Where should we go tonight?”
Sid says, “How about that place we went about a month ago. The Italian place with the great lasagna.”
Irv says, “I don’t remember it.”
Sid says, “The place with the great lasagna.”
Irv says, “I don’t remember. What’s the name of the place?”
Sid thinks. But can’t remember. “A flower. Gimme a flower.”
“Tulip?” Irv says.
“No, no. A different flower.”
“No, no. A basic flower.”
That’s it! Sid turns to the back seat. “Rose. What was the name of that restaurant…?”
That’s a joke.
And it still makes me giggle.
Update: Outside the Beltway tries to argue that leftie T-shirts are just as nasty as rightie ones. However, his T-shirt examples are all aimed at Bush and only Bush, not all conservatives — nothing comparative to the “liberals are the enemy” message described above — and the closest any of them come to advocating violence is the one that says “Give Bush another pretzel.” (The OtB blogger explains “there’s not a specific Democrat for Republicans to focus on.” Nah — the “liberals are the enemy” meme has been kicking around since the 1960s, at least.)
There’s a “European travel T-shirt” that says “Sorry my president is an idiot” in French, German, Dutch, Italian & Spanish. I actually kind of like that one.
He did find some bumper stickers that express hostility for all conservatives and Republicans. I say honestly that I don’t find these a bit clever or funny, just juvenile. It’s possible they weren’t meant to be funny. There’s a link to a “less family-friendly” site selling the kind of raunchy junk that I complained about in this post. They’re not funny and I’d be very happy if nobody ever wears them.
Thanks to services like Cafe Press anybody with half a brain can create nasty T-shirts and stickers and try to sell them on the web. The “Know the Enemy” shirt, however, comes from IMAO, a long-established rightie “humor” site and member of Pajamas Media. I’d be very surprised to find a leftie blog with a comparable blogosphere ranking pushing “all conservatives are the enemy so let’s smack them” merchandise.
Update update: Steve M. finds more examples of rightie “humor.”
Update update update update: As I predicted in the post above, rightie commenters on the IMAO blog have decided we liberals don’t have a sense of humor. The blogger says he just wants to make people laugh, and I suspect he believes that’s true. But the “humor” displayed is, IMO, a form of passive aggression, not real humor.