L76: Laughter as Weapon

First let me say that I believe in using humor as a weapon over guns, bombs, tazers and tanks. The Daily Show is a formidable force against the lies and corruption of the people and institutions in powers. Laughter is a great assault on hubris. Jon Stewart’s self-deprecating style is refreshing against the ignorant arrogance Bush and Cheney. I recently embedded really funny videos of British funny guys Fortune and Bird. But I am emphatically against targeting people simply because they are different. Feminists, Environmentalists, Disabled, Blacks, LGBTQ or otherwise labeled by the privileged power brokers have all been fair game in politics, advertising and entertainment.

My previous post was about the seemingly spontaneous groundswell of defiance against Jay Leno’s continued homophobic, lame comedy on the Tonight Show. The full response is still growing. BTW, I learned in this event that the Q of LGBTQ would make it “Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Transsexual & Queer” (or Questioning). One commenter today was critical of all the posters saying there were more important issues than being so hyper-sensitive to this comedy. Melissa McEwan gave her usual erudite response. A portion follows:

Jeff and I have already gotten so many emails expressing gratitude for providing a space in which LGBTQs and their allies can express frustration or contempt or anger at something of which, we have all been told in explicit or implicit ways, our jovial and uncomplaining acquiesce is expected.

In the larger world, people are silenced by the fear of reprisal, by the fear of being told they are humorless, hypersensitive, over-reactionary, boring. It's a terribly effective silencing strategy, which is why the conveyance of heteronormativity is so often closely associated with humor. Anyone who dares complain is just No Fun -- hence, we find ourselves mired in a culture in which LGBTQ and allied people who don't laugh at gay jokes and treat them as No Big Deal are the ones considered weird.

It can be really daunting to go up against all that, especially in one's everyday life, on one's own, just one person against someone(s) equipped with such an effective institutionalized mechanism for shaming and silencing.

I am fully aware of my own behavior. I have used humor to silence, to put down and to fight back. In retrospect I was taught this passive, aggressive style since I was a little girl. This week is an 'Earth' week, so I'm thinking of my roots. My father was always considered a funny, funny man. This family photo below really struck me. My father brought howls of laughter more than fifty years ago by imitating a drunk. What irony that he died in his early fifties largely because of alcohol.

Oh yes, he was constantly imitating limp-wrist fairies, the cliché of the times for all homosexuality. In later years, after my parents were divorced I heard that he had some latent homosexual experiences before he remarried two more times. It made a lot of sense to me in retrospect as I could well imagine this tortured man was closeted.

But, my biggest battle in my young life was against my father’s bigotry and racism. He was a Kentucky-born man who was proud of his racist views, though he learned to mask them in the Midwest where he moved for his wife’s family connections. Just as with aping the drunk and the pouf, his Stepin Fetchit numbers may have hidden his own angry refusal to speak of his possibly mixed family roots in the Deep South. Humor was where he attacked because this was culturally acceptable. Also, I believe he was a frightened coward at heart.

Let me be clear, a life without humor is unimaginable. Laughter is healthy, it feels physically cleansing and deliciously sensual. One of my primary fears in my life is taking myself too seriously, and laughter is a great antidote to pomposity or navel gazing. I just think that Melissa makes a wonderful point of laughter or fear of being laughed at is a tool of manipulation. It opens a flood of ruminations.


Jurgo said...

Great post. Over the past few years I've been working very hard to examine my own thoughts and my use of language, trying to root out the thoughts and words stained by prejudice and privilege. I was surprised to find it a lot easier said than done; a lot of that programming really gets in there deep.

And I'll be the first to admit that, as examined a life as I try to lead, I've not done nearly as good a job as I'd like. The prejudices I've had the hardest time rooting out are against groups I expect, based on stereotypes and cultural assumptions, to be more homophobic - older people, African Americans, the religious, members of the military, men who are more 'macho.' As a gay man, part of my mind wants to call those prejudices a self-defense mechanism, but somewhere in there I know they're just my cultural programming using my fear to perpetuate itself.

Humor has been a powerful tool in healing some of those, though. My African American friends and I make jokes that mock those stereotypes, and that mock my whiteness and their straightness. It's something we tend not to do in mixed company (so to speak) though, because there's a fine line between mocking the stereotypes and perpetuating them, and some people don't understand what's going on.

And again, maybe it has something to do with the idea that the most homophobic people are often closeted gays themselves. Maybe deep down inside I'm actually an elderly Black Evangelical ex-Marine dripping with machismo and someday I'll have to come to terms with that. 8^)

katecontinued said...

Ha! That is rich. Have you checked out Stuff white people like? You might get a kick out of it. I wrote about it last month.

Jurgo said...

I love Stuff White People Like, but I haven't thought to check it in a long time. Thanks for the reminder! How exciting that there's going to be a book!

Also, gah! I hadn't realized how long my previous comment was. I tried to be concise! Now I'm one of those fools who writes a five-paragraph essay in the comments section.

katecontinued said...

Jeebus, jurgo . . . It's not like you are holding up traffic on this thread. It matters at Shakesville. It is just you, me and the crickets here. Chill

I didn't match your output in my response, but I think it is more to the point that you felt moved to go on a tear there. (Don't read that aloud, it sounds silly.)