Re: Why ethnical jokes?

Mike/Damon or Peni R. Griffin (
Sat, 28 Sep 1996 17:11:33 GMT

(Sloan A Schang) antsn example of a positive ethnic joke. My very
favorite Aggie joke falls into that category.

For those of you who are not Texans, an Aggie is someone who
attends/attended Texas Agricultural and Mechanical College. They have
an intense football rivalry with the University of Texas at Austin,
which also represents a class / cultural division. Aggies are
rednecks, ranchers, farmers, and the miltary; UTA is your great
opportunity to become an intellectual, and Austin is liberal mellow
city (by Texas standards). When we first moved to Texas, we
discovered that any and all ethnic jokes could be translated into
Aggie jokes without a blip. Aggie cowboy boots are labelled TGIF to
remind them that Toes Go in First; the A&M library burned down and
both books were destroyed, one of which hadn't even been colored in
yet; etc. If you have an ethnic joke you want to tell in Texas, just
change "Polack" or "Irish" or whatever to "Aggie" and you've got it.
Anyway, my favorite Aggie joke won't work on a newsgroup because
you've got to mime the action, but it involves a UT Austin student
(Longhorn) walking down a street in Austin and seeing an Aggie jumping
up and down on a manhole cover yelling "53!" His curiousity gets the
better of him, and he stops to find out what the deal is. The Aggie
explains that this is the latest thing from California and it's really
fun, the Longhorn should try it. The Longhorn, seeing that the street
is deserted, indulges him by hopping on the manhole cover and
whispering "53." The Aggie encourages him to jump higher and yell
louder; then, when he's starting to get into it, the Aggie pulls the
manhole cover out from under him, lets him fall through, claps the
cover back on, and starts over again -- this time yelling: "54!"

By showing the Aggie as a cunning trickster figure triumphing over his
rivals, who are too contemptuous of the Aggie's low intellect to be on
guard, the joke reverses expectations and makes the Aggie the hero of,
rather than the butt, of the joke. It's still essentially an ethnic
joke, relying on stereotypes for its humor.

The thing is you've got to have characters to supply the action of a
joke. You can't have individuals; you must have quickly labelled
generalities which the listener can identify at once. Actually mean,
derogatory ethnic jokes are seldom funny. The funniest jokes of all
cannot be translated, but depend for their humor on recognizable
traits that really do belong to a group of people, and require a
certain amount of in-group knowledge in order to come off. If I tell
you that an '09er woman thinks natural childbirth means not wearing
her makeup, or that they commit suicide by stacking up all their
embroidered Oaxacan dresses and jumping off, you won't laugh unless
you're from San Antonio. If you're from San Antonio, even if you're
an '09er, you'll laugh, because you know it says something true about
that upscale section of town.

The difficulty of omitting jokes with ethnic components from one's
repertoire is illustrated by a story Bjo Trimble told in her book on
Star Trek fandom. She raised her kids with an ethnic joke ban, and
extended it to her friends: she did not want to hear any jokes which
had any potential to hurt anyone's feelings, period. So people
started substituting the label "Klingon" for Irish, Polish, black,
whatever, in the jokes they wanted to tell her. Not being a stupid
woman, Bjo felt she had to forbid these, too -- with the proviso that
if anyone came to her with a joke that really did apply to Klingons,
that would not make sense with another ethnicity dubbed in, she was
willing to hear it. She got one, too. "How many Klingons does it
take to change a lightbulb?" "Two. One to change the bulb, and one
to shoot him and take the credit."

This is Peni.
Kid books are better than grownup books.
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