To the pursed lips brigade

Sat, 22 Jan 1994 12:12:42 CST

I feel strange having to write this to anthropologists, so I will keep it
as inoffensive and as vertically challenged as possible. David Heller has
chosen to be offended by both Dan Foss's and my use of ethnic humor-play,
which he obviously understands, having deconstructed my one-liner. That
doesn't bother me much--there are always folks waiting out there to be
offended by something. Indeed, the publishing industry, particularly the
social science textbook industry, has moulded its texts to make such things
as the history of the United States almost unrecognizable to high school
students in order to forfend the ire of the many religious groups that lie in
wait to be offended. Anyone seen how much text material gets devoted to
religion in the formation of the U. S.? One of the major constraints shaping
the direction of a forming social order, and you'd think that it was somehow
an afterthought. Now, I can at least understand that with book publishers,
especially now since most of them have been taken over by major corporations
whose gutlessness is devoted to the bottom line. But discussion among
colleagues who are supposedly trained in multi-cultural study and intercultural
This may shock some of you, but people of the Hebraic Provenience (HP's
for vertically challenged, since S. Wilson is sick of the "Jew thing") find
humor in non-HP stereotypes of themselves, and they make jokes about it.
Afroamericans do too, and some of them even use the N word. Major newspapers
siezed on this fact late last year, and the pursed lips had a field day--for
shame for shame, after all those years of struggle, the people for whom battles
were fought are starting to use the N word again. Of, course, none of the
pursed lips stopped to ask if Afroamerican people had ever used the N word
among themselves or if they had ever stopped using the N word. And certainly
none of them ever stopped to ask what it means when Afroamericans use it, or
in what contexts people find it appropriate or humorous or, heaven forbid,
So what does one do when confronted by text whose thrust (oops, naughty,
er, connotation) might be ambiguous? What does any anthropologist do in such a
case? Ask? Dan Foss, iconoclast that he is, not only refuses to defer to PC,
not only exposes its contradictions, but has the temerity to share an ethnic
form of play. No, David, you can't see his face. So being offended is the
only other option, right? Somebody (oops-body; persons might get the wrong
idea, make that someone, okay?) might think that all those stereotypes are
true, and certainly, discussion among specialists in multi-cultural universes
is not an appropriate context for discovering emic intrusions into what is
supposedly etic talk, right? And do you think that the occasional bursts of
"academic" humor (James Carrier's posts come to mind as being among the best
of the genre) are not ethnic?
Why don't the pursed lips folk do all of us a favor and just make a list
of all of the non-subjects--that's the outcome of all of this in any case--
that should not appear in anthropological discussion in general and on the
anthro-l list in particular. Then we could take the suggestions several list
members made last fall and flag our notes as NS (non-subject) on the subject
line, so the pursed lips can delete without reading and being offended.
Short of this, I can only paraphase the suggestion by that great HP sage, Bette
Midler (quoting might offend someone)--
"Intercourse 'em if they can't take a joke."

Mike Lieber
supposed to be etic discussions, right?