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Elements of Structure Series: Part 11: Tough questions: students and humor

This video is PG-13. And no, the number doesn’t work.

A student shared this with me a few weeks ago. To spark a conversation, I thought it would be interesting to see what other students thought about it, too.

Students also watched this one, too. No commentary from me, just questions.

As this writing, they’ve only seen it once in the context of notes, but haven’t had a chance to do a QFT or discussion about it.

But — I have my own questions. A lot of them.

  • Would I have shared this with students who were predominately white? Or would it just increase potential racism?
  • Who owns humor?
  • If some students understand parody, and that not all parody works — and what is the function of parody?
  • Does this ‘punch up, down, or in the middle?

Molly Ivins articulated the distinction in a 1991 People magazine interview:

“There are two kinds of humor. One kind that makes us chuckle about our foibles and our shared humanity — like what Garrison Keillor does. The other kind holds people up to public contempt and ridicule — that’s what I do. Satire is traditionally the weapon of the powerless against the powerful. I only aim at the powerful. When satire is aimed at the powerless, it is not only cruel — it’s vulgar.” [1]

  • Are these ads “foibles and our shared humanity?” or something much deeper, or worse?
  • Is it racist?
  • Is it funny?
  • Can something be racist and funny?
  • Is humor inherently classist, racist, bigoted, and if not, what are the characteristics of innocuous humor?

As a teacher, how do you address when a student brings humor to the classroom — determining these questions? Do you encourage students to discuss it?

From Nerdy Feminist: 

It reminds me of an awesome Fresh Air interview with Hari Kondabolu that I caught recently. Kodabolu is a comedian (check him out, if you’re unaware) who is able to make his audiences roll without playing to oppression. Definitely a student of the “punch up” philosophy. One of the things he discussed with Terry Gross was how he no longer parodies his father’s accent on stage. He said,

The idea that when maybe my father says something and he walks away, the idea that people are laughing because what he said is funny to them because of how he sounds crushed me when I thought about it. And the idea that I was contributing to that, it was hard. 

 

A few years ago the Youtube meme was the young boy who mistakenly answered a math question with “21.” Kids in class would pop up and say “21” at random, or if the number 21 came up would parrot it back. (Click at your own risk — this is a mocking song of the original video.) I told my students that particular meme wasn’t allowed in my class, just like the words ‘ghetto’ and the ‘n’ word. It’s just mean-spirited, and making fun of a kid saying the wrong answer doesn’t make us better people.

If students see humor used in a racist and bigoted way, what effect does it have on them? If they identify with the person depicted (race, gender, sexual orientation, etc.) are they offended, try to save face, do they speak up?

Well, currently probably not. Anyone who challenges offensive or racism is called a “snowflake.” But another damning idea is the one of ‘inspiration or poverty porn.’ Is not addressing worse, in other words?

Which leads to another question: how do we learn to speak and challenge while someone is attempting to gag us?

From Does Racist Humor Promote Racism?

Second, humor is not always positive and fun. We tend to think about humor as something that is innocuous, something that might be good for our health, moods, relationships and so on, but humor also has its dark side, and we should all be aware of it. Sometimes humor can lead to negative and harmful outcomes against others, and we should be conscious of when and how it can happen.

Some articles (note: not posting because I agree or disagree, just reading)

Punching Up and the Rules of Comedy by Liz Labacz

When Did We Lose Our Understanding of Satire? 

Does racist humor promote racism?

Punching Up/Geek Feminism Wiki

Truth In Comedy; Or, The Myth of ‘Punching Up”

 

2 Comments »

  1. Have to judge each audience. It’s only shared experience if they actually have shared that experience. Also, the second one might be construed as mocking poverty, so I personally wouldnt show it.

  2. I guess my fundamental question is — since students are watching mocking, offensive videos under the guise of ‘humor’ how do we help facilitate conversations that analyze what is or isn’t “funny” about them? I’m not sure if not showing it is the answer because they find their way to these videos. If I had a dollar for everytime a student blurted out “21!” in class I could probably buy myself some expensive shoes.

    Maybe the conversation centers around — there are offensive videos out there – make sure you’re connecting to why you’re feeling uncomfortable?

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