kylie, about Suey saying jokes aren't helpful. Mel Brooks said that one of his aims in life was to turn Hilter into a joke, he wants it so that when people look at pictures of Hilter they don't see a dictator, an unholy terror, a terrible powerful man but instead Brooks wants people to see a nothing, a nobody, an insignificance, a joke. Obviously context is important, but I'll take Mel Brooks' view over Suey Park's any y day of the week on this one.
I do think humor has a significant place, but I also think it has certain limits on its effectiveness across society. There is even a potential for humor to be appropriated by reactionaries or ignorant parties, and used more as a diversion. It quite commonly is. Notice how often, in everyday situations, any mention of controversy (especially, with an abused sizeable minority) is soon channeled into "uncomfortable laughter" and maybe a few, sometimes bawdy quips: These often serve to publicly shut off
the whole issue with some illusion of "casually" juggling it for a moment. This is a large part of why Colbert, or at least Comedy's tweet in this particular situation, may come off as hugely inconsiderate (if not intentionally ambiguous, no one can really ever say with finality) when it circulates.
The Mel Brooks example is perhaps interesting, but again within limits... (Though didn't he
take a lot of flak for something similiar, or maybe worse?? But I didn't follow that one.) One can
, I hope, make some people think Hitlerites, etc.
are banal and ridiculous by joking, and that audience might then avoid supporting or joining the said camp. But I'm not sure how much of that is preaching to the choir. It won't convince people who believe humor is a sign of excessive frivolousness or otherwise "against" their declared values.
For example, quite a few American conservatives pointedly refuse to deal with even the more insightful of liberal jokes about their
policies -- they say, because
they are too joking, "too sarcastic" for civil discussion! (Personal experience? But if that sounds weird, there was research a few years back, using Colbert in fact, on how various political camps respond to humor. Just the technical abstract
here, but some aggressive commentary on it
maybe.) I am not saying US conservatives and fellow travelers are generally interested in following a whole Nazi social program. Hell, I certainly wouldn't say they are the only ones to ever
dismiss well-intentioned humor. But it's an example I know. The sort of focus on "seriousness" and even sometimes, on "respect" used in that tone
of uptight uniformity, as a precondition for admittance to discussion which quite a few conservatives and Nazis (among ohers?) have shared, shows that sometimes humor does not jolt people to think about their ways or associations. So if one is concerned about people behind undesired policies actually adjusting their
behavior because of what you say, then humor may not touch those
people. In fact, their image is all about being "tough" and "serious" and by default, they often claim that anyone else must be "uncivil" or "disrespectful." (Maybe it does double duty -- if you're tough enough, how could anyone else really have a say anyway?
More cynically, I would say: Some leaders should be quite aware they are pursuing some policies that are grossly unfair and reasonably open to public ridicule... (Not neatly limited
to putative "conservatives," yes.) So what do they do? They say in effect
that for anyone to ridicule any such serious business of theirs, to be a critic, to find any irony or any rumple in the facade, is to be a traitor. And traitors are not to be listened to; they are to be ignored, branded childish and clownish or maybe attacked. You can see this most clearly with Snowden or the "support the troops" rhetoric from 9/11 well into Iraq... But there is a bit of that flavor on many issues, whenever someone makes light of a glaring problem in hopes of making people think. (Part of Snowden's problem is that he made the US government look foolish, laughable for how much it relied on massive contracting and how little control it had. And again with Iraq, thousands of people in New York joking about Bush this, Shrub and Dick that -- all quite valid jokes... But should more people be involved actually changing
the intel collecting rules or perhaps helping refugees in Iraq and Syria in the meantime, instead of just joking maybe?)
Simply joking, also does not necessarily lead to investments in practical projects like say giving more air time to actual minorities or contributing to house building, food kitchens, abortion clinic help, or what have you on whichever issue. People can
often just crack a joke, show how sympathetic and enlightened they are, and go on home.
Now all that being said... I would be the last person to say humor is generally pointless or completely
useless on all fronts. I'm rather often attacked for "using too much sarcasm" by people who you know surprise
, often also don't like what I'm trying to say
about issues where the irony is just boiling over, if anyone cares to look around.
I don't quite feel like Suey is actually is trying to say all humor is always pointless, either. I think it's more that she has the impression some very visible people who joke, are not particularly invested in dealing with racism. That may mean they don't generally
seem to talk about it enough to be consistently informed and involved for her taste. Or it might mean, they just don't tend to join in concrete, time-consuming projects to deal with racism -- they only talk glib about it, whether they are calling some attention
to it or not. As she says, many liberals joke but do very little else involved directly with the problem, on the ground. Some people are very concerned that merely calling attention to a problem, and not putting in hours and helping hands to directly get to know it and fix it more in person, actually tends to glorify the original state of affairs -- it becomes a "discussion topic" more than a solution in this view. I would not go quite that far myself. But it is something to be concerned about, so I can understand that too.
But out of all that wider problem which is in fact out there... Colbert can appear as something of an extreme case. He has a big national audience, and he (as well as his network in the current twitter mess) sometimes jokes messily
enough that people can sometimes wonder what side he's really on, so he's kind of an obvious example for her to pick out. That is, if I understand the thrust of the Reappropriate blog and just assuming it's correct in saying he has tended to abuse race jokes somewhat himself in the past (I don't follow the guy at all, myself).
Sometimes Suey really overstates her case, and she did blow up a bit at the end... But I think to understand everything she intends as a whole
: Consider how she says there are other
things people could be doing that might be more helpful (at least, certainly as she sees it). Maybe if people were talking about those half as often as they were joking and not doing anything else, or as often as they were defending people's rights to joke without discussing the context of those jokes, then she wouldn't be so easily upset? It's unfortunate the interview never really got into just what projects she would like more people to join.