Tuesday, December 20, 2005

A Priest, a Rabbi, and an Imam walk into a bar...

...The bartender looks up and says, "Is this some kind of joke?"

I love humor, and I hate political correctness. But I'm not sure what my stance is on ethnic jokes. When you think about it, the underlying stereotypes are the building blocks of sectarian discrimination. But on the other hand, they're dang funny!

Humor can be a very therapeutic process. In this vein, ethnic jokes should have their positive aspects. After all, various cultures often have very real, very distinct personalities to them. While not necessarily applicable to every last member of a specific tribe, on the whole such observations may be valid.

And if a joke is based on scientifically noted differences between sociological groups, doesn't poking fun at the differences help bring them to the fore of our consciousness and serve as a vehicle of questioning long-established quirks? If Jewish men are submissive, can't a punch line wake us up? If lawyers are seen as slimy, shouldn't a one-liner keep them on the up-and-up?

But who is the audience? Between two members of the culture, the self-depreciative humor can be uncomfortable, but possibly constructive as we analyze whether we fall into this same pitfall. Between one member of the culture and outsiders, this humor can be awkward, as regardless of the tribesman's own character, the jokester's motivations can be hard to ascertain, and defensiveness can overwhelm the conscience. And within a group of outsiders making light of another culture, the joke seems simply offensive.

As I began writing this, I didn't think I could come to a conclusion on whether ethnic jokes have their place or not. But as I continued, I slowly saw the fine line unravel between the positive and negative outcomes. It is similar to Tochecha- rebuke in Jewish law. When trying to point out flaws in another's actions, there is a fine line between constructive and destructive words. Seemingly the same statement could have both effects, and we are enjoined to be careful in our words and use our own judgement as to whether a productive influence could be had by our interjection.

If there is any positive benefit to ethnic jokes, isn't it self-improvement? This then would be the limiting factor in when a joke is a joke, and when it's Lashon Hora - slander. There is no fixed rule. It's up to your subjective judgement. But keep in mind that telling that great Polish joke is no different than telling some embarrassing story about your friend.

But I'm still not fully sure. What do you think defines good taste? Am I reading too much into things? When does laughter stop and sensitivity start?

I'm not equating ethnic jokes with Lashon Hora, just comparing them. There are still plenty of ways to be humorous without indicting any specific group of people. There's always Chelm...

Comments:
I tend to find humor in things most people don't. Whether in be politically incorrect or otherwise. Until your note at the end about not comparing, I was going to ask you to explain more. And as long there are jews, muslims, christians, budhists, oh and don't forget mormans, there will always be plenty of jokes.
 
One other note...Why is it that a yid can bust out with a rabbi joke, but if someone else does, we get offended? Kinda like, someone black calling someone a "nigga"
 
It depends. Most 'ethnic' jokes make light of our silliness in stereotyping; like Shabot 6000 - which is just funny. But when the joke come along with a low blow insult; like the jokes I heard in school about Polish people being dumb, or the jokes my Grandfather heard in school about Black people having big lips; you actually promote bigotry by twisting a cruel insult around into 'nothing but a joke'.
 
it's a tough call, because i'm the first person to roll around laughing at "where does copper wire come from? two jews fighting over a penny," but i'm also the first to go ballistic at holocaust/hitler/easybake oven jokes. so you're right in that it all depends upon who you are and what your threshold of humour is.
 
How do you differentiate between humor and laitzanus :)
 
I guess you don't like my blog.
 
I don't like stereotypes, or jokes that play on them....even when Jackie Mason's doing it.
 
Oh man, I think Jackie Mason's mad funny. To each his own I reckon.
 
wouldn't a joke simply be defined by the teller and the listener, sort of how the value of a house is determined by an agreement between the seller and the buyer? if i tell you a joke, and you laugh, then we've agreed that it's a joke. if i tell a joke and you cringe and get angry, then what i've told isn't a joke. if i tell a joke at the expense of a particular person, or group of people, and in reality, it is offensive, then is it a joke?or should we just substitute different cultures for whom the joke is about? (hmmm...don't want to offend the poles, so here, have i got a good czech joke for you!)
then again, if we get to the point where we are hyper-sensitive about everything, humour included, then maybe we've failed as a society, and have failed at being able to laugh at ourselves and at one another.
or maybe i'm just kidding.
happy chanukah!
 
Crazy man. I think it depends on the group. If the group is comfortable with it and you do not mean it in a derogatory way than it is ok..

Great post and this is my new "kosher" site

happy Cha-new-kah

Tanisha aka Tovah
 
It's a very fine line. And you never know who is listening, what their backgrounds and sensitivities may be, and to whom it may be repeated (or forwarded) in your name - or in the name of "frum yidden say..." - certainly gotta be careful.
 
Wow, ten Jews, ten opinions. You guys kind of ranged the whole gamut. I still don't know what I think. I'm not into political correctness curtailing my sense of humor. But I don't think it is about sensitivity to the listener. I think it is sensitizing yourself to the underlying messages of what we say. As long as the *generalization* beneath your joke isn't hateful or derogatory towards anyone, it passes. But making a joke that assumes that Polish people are dumb plants the seed that this assumption is true. And when this idea sprouts in realms beyond humor, it can grow to dangerous proportions.

Frum Single - That could be a whole other post. The quick answer, humor is anything that makes us laugh. Leitanus is anything that makes us laugh for no purpose. A joke that grabs the listeners' attention, relates a truth in a subtle fashion, or helps turn a smile for one in need has its place. But wasting time making light of life is just waste...

Frum Girl - Nothing personal. Your blog name is spot-on with the blogs I love. But while I totally connect with your comments around the J-Blogworld, I haven't found most of your posts dealing with either part of your name. But I'll keep checking.
 
No offense taken, everyone is entitled to their opinion. It is your choice to be so literal about my blog name and be black and white, or to choose to see deeper. I guess you work on a surface level.
 
FG - True, I do work on a surface level, you are perceptive. But I said that your blog name - the surface level - is what I relate to. It is your blog content - the deeper level - that I don't. I really do value your opinion. I really do enjoy reading your comments on all the blogs. But your own posts focus on music and other things I just don't relate to. You should definitely write about whatever excites you, and hopefully many people with value to add to those conversations will do so. (At the same time, I'll secretly admit to checking your blog regularly, waiting for a topic I can jump into!)
 
K, I feel much better now ;-)
 
I think a good deal of what we find humorous is really difficult to analyze productively. Part of it is very idiosyncratic, another part is cultural. I tend to find absurd humor pretty funny. I also find a lot of E. European jokes very darkly humorous. And I love a good Chelm story.

BTW, I think being able to laugh together at the same things is one of the best determiners of long-term compatibility. Laughing together daily strengthens a relationship in ways that are truly remarkable. Just a suggestion there for those still in the shidduch realm.
 
AV - I agree that everyone has their own definition of what's funny. The problem comes when people from different cultures, or with different personalities, collide. I think sometimes a joke is just a joke. But that is just me.

And, amen, to your BTW.
 
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