If there was ever a time to study stereotypes and their interactions with humor, now is that time. Do I even need to explain why?
One of the things I’ve been wanting to do with this blog is use it to make scholarship more accessible. I’m thoroughly annoyed by the paywalls that much scholarship resides behind, as well as how academic audiences are often other academics, leading to inaccessible language and dense writing.
I can’t promise that my writing won’t be dense (especially if I wrote it before becoming a blogger), but by golly, I can take some of my work and post it here.
Here’s an essay (in six parts) that I wrote while an undergraduate at UC Berkeley in 2003. It was for a class on comparative approaches to studying the Holocaust and the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It’s a good fit for this blog because the professor wasn’t a folklorist, so I had to introduce some of the terms and theories of our discipline in the paper (though I’d hope that you, dear readers, have been with my blog long enough to start picking some of this stuff up).
If you want some background reading, consider the following posts:
And please keep in mind: yes, this is a controversial topic. There is content in here that is potentially offensive, or even triggering (for mentions of genocide, violence). In studying these materials I do not advocate for their existence, but rather suggest that in understanding even the worse and most dehumanizing parts of culture, we better understand ourselves and the world around us.
Dehumanized and Rationalized: Humorous American Approaches to the Tragedies of World War II
The atrocities committed in World War II have led to proclamations by two groups of victims, the Jews and the Japanese, that they have each suffered unique persecutions, and that any attempt at comparison trivializes their very real psychic and physical anguish. Of course, there is much to be gained by comparing and contrasting how groups mourn, and certain disciplines, such as folkloristics, demand a comparative approach. Folklore, the folklorist’s object of study, is difficult to define succinctly; at one time, “folklore” denoted orally transmitted traditions, but nonverbal genres exist as well as written ones. The expressive genres must balance between being tradition and innovation, and must display multiple existence and variation in order to qualify as folklore—it is sheer idiocy to refer to only one text of a song, game, or rhyme when there are undoubtedly more in existence. The “folk-” of “folklore” can be any group with one characteristic in common, be it as large as an ethnic, religious, or linguistic group, or as small as a family, school, or occupational group. Attempting to interpret the “lore” without taking into account the “folk” is not really interpretation at all, since folklore reveals how and what people think: “Folklore furnishes a socially sanctioned outlet for cultural pressure points and individual anxieties” (Dundes 1980, x). No folklore text exists in isolation—for it to be passed on and modified (even if only slightly) in each performance, it must address a real concern. For this reason, folkloristic analysis can provide valid insight into the reactions of a national group to a historical event such as World War II.
Stay tuned for Part 2…