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Is Sexism "Funny"? December 9, 2005 by RedStar2000


We of the "ultra-left" are often criticized for "not having a sense of humor"...in other words, we conspicuously fail to "join in" the "enjoyment" of the "consensus" of "acceptable humor"...or at least most of it.

Humor in class society focuses sharply on the divisions that such a society generates. Most of it targets "perceived social inferiors".

Some people contend that it's "not a big deal".

Well, it's not.

But it's not "trivial" either.


======================================

From the context, this seems to be the continuation of other threads that I haven't seen.

If someone is arguing (or did argue in the past) that sexist "jokes" are "acceptable" on the left...then by now they must realize that they are (or were) sadly mistaken.

There is nothing "funny" about sexism.

Indeed, if someone finds sexist "jokes" to be "funny", I think they should seriously ask themselves why that is so. Revolutionaries should be well aware of the fact that there are no significant "cultural accidents".

Humor that is considered "acceptable" in the mainstream of capitalist society reflects the cultural prejudices of that society.

For example, consider Scott Adams' Dilbert cartoon series. It is very popular because it reflects our popular cultural disdain for the stupidity of our bosses.

But what other message does it send? Very simple. Adams constantly reminds us that "our co-workers are all incompetent assholes". In other words, he attacks the very idea of proletarian solidarity as "totally unthinkable".

This is, I think, why the bourgeois media is happy to circulate this series even though individual capitalists are probably not terribly fond of it.

If revolutionaries want to use humor as a weapon against capital and all its cultural appendages, then it follows that we must be careful not to inadvertently reinforce any of "that old crap".

There's also another aspect of this question that might be considered: the professionalization of humor. Just as we "don't play sports" any more but rather "watch professionals play", we don't really "make jokes" any more but instead rely on "comedians"...and just repeat their material whenever a social occasion seems to call for "a joke".

Is there some "reason" that we cannot "invent jokes" that reflect our understanding of reality? Has no one thought to try?

I remember the rise of modern feminism from the late 1960s and early 1970s. Its enemies complained that "feminists have no sense of humor."

But nothing could have been further from the truth. Feminists then told a whole bunch of very sharply critical jokes...jokes at the expense of sexism itself.

A woman must accomplish twice as much as a man to get half the credit. Fortunately, that's not difficult!

I think those feminists had "the right approach" to humor...and we should learn from them. Let us direct our humor against our class enemies and not against our sisters.
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First posted at RevLeft on December 2, 2005
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quote:

No it doesn't, that doesn't make sense at all, both you and others seem to "be right" and "have a logical explanation" for this, just say that it's humor in Capitalist society and your argument is "perfect".

Sorry, as I have proven above that doesn't cut it.


"Proven"? What exactly have you "proven"?

That contemporary humor, unlike all other manifestations of modern culture, is "totally unrelated" to capitalism or patriarchy but instead just "floats up in the air"?

Like a Platonic "pure absolute", humor exists "independently" of its entire surrounding social milieu.

I suggest that all you've managed to "prove" is that it would be a good idea to remove the word "Marxist" from your username...since you are apparently unacquainted with his essential insights or, perhaps, even opposed to them.

quote:

Women, the people who are supposed to be "hurt" by those jokes, actually find them amusing, and no, these are not just small groups of women, I'm talking about the majority of women (in imperialist nations, that is, since they are the most emancipated).


This seems to be the "heart" of your "case". Sexist humor is "ok" because "lots and lots" of women "laugh".

Are you aware of the fact that human laughter is not simply provoked by humor? That it is, for many people, a nervous reaction that's actually the result of anxiety?

What would happen if a woman (or a whole lot of women) expressed open outrage when a sexist joke was told in their presence?

Breaking the "norms" of patriarchy is still not without the risk of physical harm...and women know that.

So they "go along with the joke"...but do you imagine that they are really amused?

Perhaps you do...since you don't strike me as a particularly insightful fellow.

It does take at least a minimal amount of empathy to imagine what it must feel like to be on the receiving end of such "humor"...from the age of five onward.

And far too many guys definitely still fall short in that regard.

However, on this board, you've picked "the losing side". Should it become necessary, you will provoke a furious controversy and even most of the guys here are not going to support you.

If a female comrade submits a motion to ban your sorry ass, I'm going to vote for it.

There's no excuse for that stupid reactionary crap!
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First posted at RevLeft on December 2, 2005
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quote:

Oh, and can you explain this to me, why are women in Imperialist nations more tolerant towards these jokes, then, let's say, women in the third world? Isn't it supposed to be the other way around according to your theory?


You, of course, have just completed a massive sociological study of female attitudes and reactions to sexist "humor" in several neo-colonies as well as in several imperialist countries...hence your "well-founded" conclusion.

Not exactly, eh?

Asking me to "respond" to whatever sexist smoke you happen to feel like blowing out of your ass is not necessary.

I would instead wonder what motivates you to make up that kind of shit?

I don't think there's any way that the answer would be a good one.

quote:

Am I sexist because I laugh at Eddie Murphy?


No, you are sexist because you are a male raised in a society that is still permeated with the residue of patriarchy.

We males are taught from the time we are old enough to comprehend language that we are "superior" to the female half of the species.

Like racism, homophobia, patriotism, religion...all that old shit that is crammed into our skulls when we are too young to resist.

When we get old enough to resist, we learn -- sometimes grudgingly -- to stop acting as if any of that old crap is "true".

But that does not mean that we are not plagued with a "residue" of those old indoctrinations...and finding sexist (racist, homophobic, etc.) "jokes" to be "really funny" is a manifestation of that.

I have seen with my own eyes, for example, a white guy go considerably out of his way to be courteous and helpful to a person of color. Afterwards, when that person is no longer present, out pops a racist "wisecrack".

Residue.

"Humor" thus functions as an "acceptable way" to express ideas that would otherwise be condemned as totally unacceptable.

Well, what about us? That is, what about those of us who sincerely want to see a new society in which patriarchal stereotypes are totally absent?

How does it help us achieve what we want if we continue to act is if "there's some truth" to patriarchy?

Telling a sexist "joke" or laughing at one (or publicly praising those who tell such "jokes") weighs, from a historical standpoint, "less than a dead bug".

And that appears to be the "last refuge" of the people here who defend that.

It's "just a joke"...meaning that it carries "no" historical significance at all.

But this ignores what history really is...it is the sum of all human actions.

Yes...even "jokes".

So go ahead and enjoy yourself -- tell all the sexist "jokes" you like and listen to Eddie Murphy if you think he's funny and whatever. On the "grand scale" of things, all that don't mean shit.

It's just your own extremely tiny contribution to the maintenance of patriarchy.

Something to be proud of???

quote:

The PC lefties on this list are avoiding my question. What about dead baby jokes?


Well, what about them?

Among humans who have very unpleasant jobs dealing with death, there is a kind of "humor" that emotionally distances them from the tragedies they encounter as part of their jobs. It seems to be a psychological "coping mechanism" at work.

Perhaps the first "dead baby joke" arose as a consequence of some medical worker removing an infantile corpse from a garbage can.

I do not find them at all funny...but then I don't have a job that deals routinely with the handling and disposal of dead infants.

I think it's also been hypothesized that one of the reactions of some adolescents when they discover how bad the world really is is to seek refuge in "sick humor".

They laugh at tragedy because otherwise they would simply dissolve in tears...or even just commit suicide.

Humor is a very effective "coping mechanism"...and "dead baby jokes" may be keeping some kids alive long enough to discover the possibilities of changing the world.

They are unnecessary on this board, of course. But there are sites devoted to "sick humor" where they'd be appropriate.

Take them there.
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First posted at RevLeft on December 2, 2005
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quote:

Every time someone makes a sarcastic remark about a nazi, a fascist, a cappie, a reformist, should we restrict them for holding that view?


Why would we want to do that?

Indeed, the "sub-text" of this entire controversy is that humor should be directed against our enemies.

Not against women.
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First posted at RevLeft on December 3, 2005
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quote:

I quite agree, however the point I am endeavoring to put across is that a lot of comedians do exactly that, but by creating a mocking parody of our 'enemies'.


A rather subtle point...and one perhaps lost on those who appear to be "fans" of Eddie Murphy.

As I read their posts, they seem to be saying...

1. Sexist "humor" is "really funny".

2. "Enormous" numbers of women laugh at sexist "jokes".

3. It's "just humor" and has no historical or political significance.

4. And it's "outrageous" that they should be removed from this forum for holding the views that they do...an example of "political correctness run wild" or something like that.

It is quite possible that with regard to some professional comedians that your view is more accurate. However, since this controversy has, at least in a sense, revolved around the "humor" of the American comedian Eddie Murphy, it seems quite clear (from the quoted excerpts) that he had no such "progressive intentions".

Reactionary asshole would seem to be the appropriate description of this individual American performer.

An example of a "different kind of sexism" that you might be familiar with was that of the late British comedian Benny Hill. The difference between Hill and Murphy is instructive, in my opinion.

Hill wrote and performed an enormous number of "skits" in the old British "Music Hall" tradition...basically about the sexual dynamics between men and women in patriarchal society.

But Hill's sexism was never mean-spirited...he never suggested, even by implication, that women were "really rotten" and "deserved" male contempt.

I think that the defenders of Eddie Murphy on this board have a "mean streak" regarding women. That's why they enjoy Murphy's "humor".

Murphy says out loud what they feel they "can't say themselves".

But that they wish they could.
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First posted at RevLeft on December 3, 2005
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quote:

Perhaps it is a difference in culture...


I think it may well be.

Contemporary American "humor" tends to be of the aggressive "in your face" variety...with very little of what I think a British listener would call "wit".

Frequently instead of merely being spoken, it is shouted or even screamed.

And there's a real tone of rage present...not at the injustices or stupidities of the prevailing social order but rather at the changes that have taken place in what might be loosely regarded as a "progressive" direction.

The rise of women's status and the emerging public presence of gay people seem to be "particularly outrageous" in the eyes of these "comedians".

But they are also quite bitter about the "failure" of other countries to "get on board" with America's imperial projects.

You recall the "wisecracks" about the French as "surrender bunnies", for example.

So I find it remarkable...and disturbing that some American "lefties" find this sort of crap to be "funny".

It suggests to me attitudes that they may not want to publicly express...but wish they could.
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First posted at RevLeft on December 3, 2005
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quote:

If you didn't take Orwell as a socialist, should the strong enjoyment had of such a reactionary text result in anyone who enjoyed reading the book being restricted?


I will, if you permit, take this one "personally" since I've written at some length against the reactionary content of both Animal Farm and 1984.

I think someone who "enjoyed" either of those tedious texts would have effectively identified themselves as politically immature...people who haven't yet really learned to look beneath appearances.

Neither I nor anyone has ever proposed "restricting" such people to Opposing Ideologies...though one could, at least in principle, question their admission into this forum.

"Enjoyment" is something that we experience privately...and no one knows unless we tell them.

Thus, it's not so much a matter that someone "enjoys" sexist "humor" that is at issue in this or all the other threads.

It is that they publicly defend such "humor" as "really funny" and "otherwise harmless".

They publicly reject in principle the idea that "humor" that targets women is a reactionary cultural phenomenon.

Thus they bring their "private enjoyments" (which no one cares about!) into the arena of public discourse.

Once you do that, then you have to accept the fact that people will have opinions -- sometimes very strong ones -- about the political quality of what you have brought up yourself.

This is what happens on message boards.

And no one can appeal to some "ethic of tolerance" to avoid the flak.

People on this board, as they become more serious about their politics, are becoming more intolerant of reaction.

Progress is being made.

PS: On the odious Mr. Orwell...

George Orwell -- Reactionary?

Orwell Again???
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First posted at RevLeft on December 4, 2005
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quote:

Even if you view the text of 1984 as reactionary, could you not appreciate it as merely a story? As a piece of art, a powerful piece of writing within certain premises?


In other words, redstar2000, what's your theory of "revolutionary aesthetics"? *laughs*

I don't "have one", of course. I just "know what I like" and "what I don't".

Pretty much like most people, I suppose.

Material that is overtly reactionary does not appeal to me at all.

Thus the literature of previous centuries holds very little attraction for me...precisely because it was all written within historically reactionary frameworks. It "makes assumptions" that I find repugnant.

People claim to find Shakespeare "emotionally moving", for example. The only emotion I feel is an intense desire to move to the exit.

What I like, among "older works", are things that sound like they were written yesterday.

Works that I would call "proto-modern"...where you can actually see the author reaching for an outlook that I would today consider valid.

Some of the things written by Mark Twain, for example, sound "almost contemporary" to my ears.

Here and there I've run across such examples and am always delighted by them.

Here is someone in late 18xx or early 19xx who "thought like me".

All the rest can go to the "basement stacks" of the library, as far as I'm concerned. I am no more in "awe" of "great books" than I am in "awe" of "great leaders". *laughs*

quote:

No one can expect to form a movement (even if they can go it alone) of people that are completely politically motivated in every aspect of their life, which exists contrary to their beliefs.


Indisputable.

The problem is always one of making a distinction between what is "really important" and what is "trivial".

I think it's deplorable that many young people in the left "like Orwell"...but I can't imagine any circumstance that would lead to me calling for a ban of so-and-so because they "defend Orwell".

On the other hand, what about sexist "humor"? These overt, contemporary, and mean-spirited attacks on women are politically reactionary in an immediate sense.

These "jokes" are not made by 17th century writers who "didn't know any better". They're made by contemporary "entertainers" who know damn well what they're doing!

The people on this board who defend that have called into serious question their own understanding of what it means to be a revolutionary.

What could they possibly mean when they say "oh, it's really funny"?

Would they laugh if they saw some asshole trip a cripple and cause him to fall???

You see, I don't think this is a mere question of "aesthetics". If you want to privately read Orwell "for pleasure", I don't care. Nor would I care of these folks privately watched Eddie Murphy videos and laughed their asses off.

It's publicly defending Murphy and his imitators that makes me dubious about their whole political outlook.

Why would they want to do that? Why would that be important to them?

And what does that say about their real attitudes towards women?

quote:

If you do disagree, would you say that all 1984 fans should be booted from this forum on the same logic?


If I caught some forum member denouncing the very possibility of proletarian revolution and quoting from Orwell to "justify" his opinion, then yes, I'd vote to give him the boot.

Otherwise no...it's "not a big deal" at the present time. And I expect no one will even read Orwell any more by the second half of this century.

They're really bad books and as the memory of 20th century Leninism fades, no one will see "any reason to bother".

Any more than anyone bothers now to read 19th century polemics "against atheism".
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First posted at RevLeft on December 5, 2005
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quote:

Seriously, who really fucking cares?


Well I do...and evidently so do some others.

Dismissing the arguments raised in this thread as "political correctness" suggests that either you haven't bothered to read them at all or else that you find the subject especially "uncomfortable" for you personally.

Perhaps you should clarify your position?

quote:

Stop complaining about people making jokes and start complaining about people being tortured and such.


Why? Do you wish to imply that we "don't care" about torture "because" this thread is about sexist "jokes"?

That's not very perceptive of you, is it?

quote:

Honestly, men and women are different.


Indeed they are. But I know of no reliable evidence that would suggest that women are "especially receptive" to vicious and sadistic "jokes" that specifically target them.

My observation is that women's humor often focuses quite sharply on the wide gulf between male "assumptions of superiority" and the dismal reality of their actual performance.

But what we are talking about here is the contemporary practice of "humor" that portrays women as only worthy of male contempt.

That says something...and that "something" is reactionary.
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First posted at RevLeft on December 6, 2005
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quote:

...most successful comedians are not really racists, sexists or homophobes. If they were, they would never have become popular; it is as simple as that.


I'm not as confident as you seem to be about this. In a sense, it's very difficult to tell what entertainers "are really like" because their public identities are constructed for the very purpose of attaining popularity.

So all we really have "to go on" is what they actually say in public...in the case of comedians, what they think will "make people laugh" and thereby gain popularity and increased income.

A comedian who tells "jokes" that viciously attack women, gays, etc., obviously thinks that this is "a pathway to popularity".

And not without some justification, as we've seen in some of the posts on this subject...this board has people who think that this shit is "really funny".

The suggestion that some comedians are "satirizing" the views of people that they actually despise may have some merit in some cases...I am extremely ignorant of the details of "pop culture" and would not presume to comment on any particular individual comedian.

The example that has been brought up is that of Eddie Murphy and actual quotes from his "humor" have been posted.

His "jokes" are not only "not funny" but outstandingly vile in their implications.

Some members of this board actually defend this and even praise it.

In my opinion, that's unacceptable!
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First posted at RevLeft on December 7, 2005
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