Dehumanized and Rationalized (6/6)

Dehumanized and Rationalized (6/6) November 30, 2016

The final installment of my essay on WWII humor and folklore is here. And this one only has one joke in it, and it’s not horrifically offensive! (to make up for it, the image in this post is…in questionable taste at best)

World War II propaganda poster from Wikimedia Commons. In public domain.
World War II propaganda poster from Wikimedia Commons. In public domain.

Missed the preceding part of this post? Find it here.

I have exhausted relevant material from the Folklore Archives, but a joke found in multiple versions on the internet offers a revisionist perspective in light of current events:

During a propaganda tour, President Bush visits a school to explain his politics to kids. He invites the kids to ask him questions. Bobby stands up and tells him “Mr. President, I got 3 questions”:
1. How come, that although the count of votes was not in your favor, you still won the election?
2. Why do you want to attack Iraq without an imminent reason?
3. Don’t you also consider the bombing of Hiroshima the biggest terrorist attack of all times?
Before the president can answer, the recess bell rings, and the kids leave the room. After they came back, Bush invited them again to ask questions. Joey stands up and tells him “Mr. President, I got 5 questions”:
1. How come, that although the count of votes was not in your favor, you still won the election?
2. Why do you want to attack Iraq without an imminent reason?
3. Don’t you also consider the bombing of Hiroshima the biggest terrorist
attack of all times?
4. Why did the recess bell ring 20 minutes early?
5. Where’s Bobby?

This joke indicates a willingness to reconsider what the bombing of Hiroshima means not just to Americans, but in a world context.  By framing the bombing of Hiroshima as a terrorist attack, the two intelligent students (with whom the joke teller and audience are presumably supposed to identify) question the validity of the earlier aggression that Americans felt toward the Japanese.  There is no projective attempt to blame the Japanese for the atomic bombings; rather, the United States government has erred and should, in the opinion of the joke characters, take responsibility for that action and others related to the abuse of power.

Americans unquestionably have complex and diverse feelings about World War II, and it is only possible to generalize about the representative nature of folklore insofar as one accepts that folklore reflects the concerns of the folk, on both manifest and latent levels.  The study of humor affords access to unconscious thought patterns, and can be studied from other angles such as those focusing on superiority, incongruities, and semiotics.  The bulk of American jokes about the war in Europe reflected ambivalence about the situation except to bolster the American position by abusing (Nazi) Germans, whereas American material about the Japanese for the most part showed aggressions that, from a psychological standpoint, function as a justification for the use of the atomic bomb.  Many of the jokes reported in this study hinge on cruelty and violence, which was a problem that Dundes dealt with in his essay on Auschwitz jokes:

“We are reporting these jokes not because we think they are amusing or funny, but because we believe that all aspects of the human experience must be documented, even those that most reflect the darker side of humanity.  Unless or until the causes and extent of prejudice are recognized, that prejudice will persist.  To the degree that folklore is a factor in the formation and perpetuation of prejudice, it must be held up to the light of reason.  Perhaps one day, Auschwitz jokes, or jokes like them, will no longer be told” (Dundes 1983, 38).

I share Dundes’ faith in the validity of the study of abominable forms of expression, in the hopes that through them, we will learn something about the human condition.  The fact that an essay on Holocaust jokes helped illuminate humor pertaining to Hiroshima is a source of discomfort for me, as I am unnerved thinking that I benefited from a work based on folklore derived from an attempted genocide.  I can only hope that an awareness of moral and ethical inconsistencies and dilemmas will aid in the production of rigorously conscientious scholarship.

 

Bibliography

Berger, Arthur Asa.  An Anatomy of Humor.  New Brunswick (U.S.A.) and London (U.K.): Transaction Publishers, 1993.

——.  Blind Men and Elephants: Perspectives on Humor.  New Brunswick (U.S.A.) and London (U.K.): Transaction Publishers, 1995.

Dundes, Alan.  “Projection in Folklore: A Plea for Psychoanalytic Semiotics.”  1976. Reprinted in Interpreting Folklore.  Bloomington & London: Indiana University Press, 1980.  33-61.

——.  Interpreting Folklore.  Bloomington & London: Indiana University Press, 1980.

——.  “Auschwitz Jokes.”  1983.  Reprinted in Cracking Jokes: Studies of Sick Humor Cycles & Stereotypes.  Berkeley: Ten Speed Press, 1987.  19-38.

——.  Cracking Jokes: Studies of Sick Humor Cycles & Stereotypes.  Berkeley: Ten Speed Press, 1987.

Freud, Sigmund.  Jokes and their Relation to the Unconscious.  In The Standard Edition   of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, vol. 8.  London: The Hogarth Press, 1960.

Unpublished materials, UC Berkeley Folklore Archives.

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