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conservatism

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.”

    “Magnolia?”

    “No, no. A basic flower.”

    “Orchid?”

    “No! Basic.”

    “Rose?”

    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: See David Neiwert, who points out in this post that the IMAO blogger has a history of hostile “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.

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12 Comments

  1. maha  •  Apr 27, 2006 @9:41 pm

    She adores him even more than his disciples

    (sigh) I suppose if more of us women had better sense about men we’d all be on the endangered species list.

    That was a joke, by the way.

  2. Sam  •  Apr 27, 2006 @10:17 pm

    What was that Aristophanes play about the women withholding…? Oh, Lysistrata. I often had my doubts that it would work, though…

  3. Swami  •  Apr 27, 2006 @11:00 pm

    OK, can we all just get along?

    Way back in the comments was a mention of Lawyer jokes… one joke that I’ve heard and thought was particularly funny is,..”It was so cold outside yesterday that my Lawyer had his hands in his own pockets”

  4. coff  •  Apr 28, 2006 @3:10 am

    Let’s see, advocating violence against all conservatives?

    I’d rather be choking Republicans.

    Support Gun Right, Shoot a Republican!

    I found plenty more advocating general hatred toward Republicans and Christians but none so blatent as these.

    I am a Moderate Conservative. I’m all for gay marrige, legalizing marijuana, teaching evolution in schools and keeping intelligent design out of ’em. I’m against abortion but I have enough common sence to see that banning it just creates different problems rather than fixing the problem.

    I visit Frank J’s site several times a week and I think it’s hilarious. I think one of the things you don’t understand is that this type of humor stems from the stereotyping by the ultra-left of those on the right. If you think I am a gay hating, racist, violent redneck I will act like one just to get your goat. That’s what Frank J does. He takes a stereotype imposed on him and takes it to the extreme. I’m not saying that all Republicans are completely tolerant towards everyone but then there are Liberals who are intolerant of Christians and Republicans to the point of prejuduce.

  5. maha  •  Apr 28, 2006 @6:19 am

    I found plenty more advocating general hatred toward Republicans and Christians but none so blatent as these.

    I notice you don’t leave a link. You didn’t find those on any liberal blog that gets more than a 100 hits a day, did you?

    Every group has its assholes. My point is that eliminationist rhetoric is common and even condoned by what might be called the “mainstream” right, including high-ranking bloggers, but I never see it on any of the leftie blogs on my blogroll, which includes most of the popular ones. Violent fantasies, expressing desire to kill or physically harm opponents, is part of the culture of the Right Blogosphere but not of the Left Blogosphere.

  6. Pluto's Dad  •  Apr 28, 2006 @9:38 am

    Maha,

    I hope you also condemn Al Franken for his sketch where he beat up a republican, smashing him over the head with a metal fold up chair, then smiled and said “that felt good”

    I hope you also condemn the liberals who printed up the “kill Bush” t-shirts, with Bush’s face and a handgun pointed at it.

    “Liberals arent’ like that” hmph. There is bad taste to go around.

  7. maha  •  Apr 28, 2006 @10:56 am

    I hope you also condemn Al Franken for his sketch where he beat up a republican, smashing him over the head with a metal fold up chair, then smiled and said “that felt good”

    If I’d seen it I might have. He was probably making fun of you righties, though. You guys have no sense of humor.

    I hope you also condemn the liberals who printed up the “kill Bush” t-shirts, with Bush’s face and a handgun pointed at it.

    Have you ever SEEN anyone wear that T-shirt? I already addressed the “Kill Bush” shirt, which apparently was worn by a few people at a protest in LONDON a couple of years ago, but I’VE NEVER SEEN IT WORN. I’ve been in big mass protests of us lefties in New York and Washington DC and NEVER SEEN IT WORN. In fact, I’m not sure I ever did see it, even in a photo.

    I hadn’t heard Bush’s face and a handgun were on the shirt, just the words “Kill Bush” to mimic the ads for “Kill Bill.” Perhaps you never saw it, either; you just heard about it, and someone with a vivid imagination added the gun and Bush’s face.

    But this proves my point. You have to dig real hard and find the exceptions, the outliers, a few people on the fringe, to find examples as bad as the crap you righties shovel out by the truckful every day.

    “Liberals arent’ like that” hmph. There is bad taste to go around.

    There IS enough bad taste to go around. Liberal “humor” can get raunchy, which is something I’ve complained about here on this blog. But I’m not talking about bad taste. I’m talking about eliminationist rhetoric; rhetoric based on violent fantasies, expressing desire to kill or physically harm opponents, disguised as “humor.” You CAN find some of this among the left, but it’s UNUSUAL. on the right, it’s STANDARD.

  8. Mum  •  Apr 28, 2006 @3:32 pm

    Does anyone know where I can find the European travel t-shirt that says “Sorry that my president is an idiot?” I have a niece that’s going to be travelling in Europe this summer and I would love her to have an alternative to the maple leaf.

  9. No More Mr. Nice Guy!  •  Apr 28, 2006 @9:25 pm

    Mum: I think there are a couple of different shirts on this theme. Here are some links:

    http://americanapologyshirt.com/
    http://www.cafepress.com/buckfushin2004.15158310

  10. DanM  •  Apr 30, 2006 @12:47 pm

    I guess you can find a few violent jokes on liberal t-shirts, too, but they don’t carry the disciplinarian overtones of the conservative “jokes.”

    Part of the humor of the “Give Bush Another Pretzel” t-shirt is that it’s an awful thing to say. I don’t see that self-awareness in the conservative t-shirts. You get the sense that they would gladly do these things if they felt they could get away with it.

    Can you imagine a shirt that said, “Rope. Tree. Republican. Some assembly required.” It would never happen.

  11. Kip W  •  Apr 30, 2006 @7:44 pm

    Bush Supporters. Heads. Asses. Some disassembly required.

  12. No More Mr. Nice Guy!  •  May 1, 2006 @11:45 pm

    Kip W – that means not to tell the truth, in Bushspeak.

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