Who Gets to Say What’s Funny?

Posted October 29th, 2007 at 2:40 pm.

Welcome to the Diversity Conversations group blog. We’ll start with the most recent Conversation, Friday, October 26th. We met to examine Who Gets to Say What’s Funny: Humor, Satire and Living in a Diverse Community.

While the Conversation was extremely fruitful, one hour was not enough–as it rarely is when we discuss important topics. We hope you will continue the Conversation online–whether you attended the live discussion or not. Please feel free to contribute your thoughts below.

Filed under: diversity,humor,language by Vanessa Christman

4 Responses to “Who Gets to Say What’s Funny?”

  1. Claudia Ginanni Says:

    thanks for hosting this discussion on a very important topic — and for getting the blog set up so we can continue it! It occurred to me after the conversation that we spent a good deal of time discussing offensive language that doesn’t really qualify as humor at any level. For instance, when someone says, “That’s so gay,” or “She’s a retard,” it isn’t really a joke; it’s simply an insult. An utterance isn’t made funny simply by virtue of being insulting, even if you accept, as some hypothesized, that humor always has an aggressive or offensive edge. I don’t agree that humor is by definition aggressive, although I grant that it often is.

    Humor is important to me; I think my life would be terribly impoverished without it. As a couple of people said during the conversation, it can have both therapeutic and subversive functions. In some cases (like, perhaps, Eddie Murphy’s “Mr. Robinson’s Neighborhood” sketches from Saturday Night Live, also mentioned in the discussion), subversive humor invokes stereotypes in order to ridicule the stereotypes themselves, not the victims of stereotyping. That’s a fine line to walk, and it’s easy to stumble; nevertheless, I’d hate to think nobody is willing to take the risk. But I’m perfectly happy to be rid of “that’s so gay” or “he’s a retard.” Those things aren’t funny in any case.

  2. Wil Franklin Says:

    A closely related issue that was highlighted in a recent NYTimes article “Protesting Demeaning Images in the Media” (http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/05/arts/05enou.html?_r=1&oref=slogin) is who get to say what’s cool?…Viacom, BET, or MTV? The vast majority of all images and programing glorify “gangsta’s” and misogyny – “get on the floor so I can smack that #@%”. It’s offensive to almost everyone’s sensibilities, but what can we do about it? Does Freedom of Speech apply to mass media or only the marginalized? Does Viacom have the same rights to be ignorant and vulgar as an individual? Is it hypocritical to silence individuals, but do nothing to stop MTV? Needless to say, the article is very provocative and brings up much to talk about.

  3. Darla Attardi Says:

    I wonder about this a lot. When I used to watch MTV, which I no longer do, I would regularly find myself angry or offended. But is it really MTV’s fault if they’re mirroring what their research shows “we” want? If individuals change their sensibilities about what is offensive and what is funny, will MTV and other media giants eventually be forced to reflect that change in order to maintain high ratings?

    But what gets that to happen? And why does it feel like we’re moving in the opposite direction as a culture?

    Just more (unanswerable?) questions to add to Wil’s…

  4. chuckles Says:

    Hi, guys. It looks like the OIA (along with the Women’s Center and Zami) is addressing that issue head-on next Friday, Nov. 16, with a screening of the documentary Hip Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes, to be followed by a panel discussion with three scholars of hip-hop culture.The show starts at 7:30 p.m. in Carpenter 21. See you there?