“Plain and Fancy: A Content Analysis of Children’s Jokes Dealing with Adult Sexuality”

June 30, 2011 § 1 Comment

First of all, children are perverts. This is science fact. Parents often pretend their little angels are pure of heart and groin until the Change, which is subsequently met with the lamentation of innocence lost. But it’s like LOL your kid has always been a sex fiend, deal with it. In her (inadvertently?) hilarious 1976 essay, Rosemary Zumwalt balks this trend (and per her introduction, it really is a trend not to talk about the freaky shit kids do with and to each other, even in academic folklore circles) and presents, as one might expect from reading the title of this post, a content analysis of prepubescent kiddie’s sexy sex jokes. Throughout the essay, she discusses a series of jokes/joke families in which children are confronted with their parents’ terrifying shriveled genitals, and offers an interpretation of what means what to whom. Here is one scintillating example:

There was a boy and he asked his mother if he could take a  shower with her. His mother said yes, if he didn’t look up or down. So in the shower, he looked up and he said, “Mommy, what are those?” And so his mommy told him they were headlights. So then he looked down, and he said, “What’s that?” And she said, “Oh, that’s my gorilla. “So then she said,” Go bug your father.”

And so he went to his father and asked him if he could take a shower with him. So his father said,” Yes, if you don’t look down.” So in the shower, he looked down, and he said, “Daddy, what’s that?” And his father said, “Oh, that’s my banana.” And so in the night, they were all ready for bed, and the little boy said, “Mommy, Daddy, can I sleep with you?” And so they said,” Yes, if you don’t look from side to side.” So in the night, he looked from side to side, and he said, “Mommy, Mommy, turn on your headlights! Your gorilla’s eatin’ daddy’s banana!” [joke fin -ed.]

In this joke, the mother has all of the sexual power. The father is equipped with a banana, which can be devoured by a hungry gorilla. And the child fears that his father is about to lose his banana to just such a gorilla. But there is electrical power to light the dark in this joke too. If mommy will just turn on the head- lights, certainly the flood of light will allow daddy to retrieve his banana, and hopefully it will all still be there. The mother is the gorilla, symbol of uncontrolled sexual drive. The father is the gorilla’s favorite food, and the little boy sounds the alarm, saving his father from castration. (262-263)

Etc, etc. Based on this joke/family (there are a number of jokes which feature some combination of headlights and hot dogs and all manner of fanciful evasions), as well as one particularly gruesome joke in which a young girl “learns” about her father’s “dolly-bird” then ends up “strangling it” and “smashing its eggs” when it “spits at her” (266), Zumwalt argues that these jokes don’t just tell us about children’s sexuality, but also about adults’ attitudes towards children’s sexuality — namely, instead of providing straightforward explanations, parents sugar-coat (inb4 lol you pervert) their explanations and, in a nutshell, facilitate the child’s ignorance about sex.  Zumwalt goes on to argue that the recurring images –of electricity, of food, of animals– are themselves significant, implying the shared desire for power, a sense that sex is an aggressive act as well as a profound oral fixation (266). Ha ha gross.

Zumwalt’s most interesting point is that children’s jokes about adult sexuality are actually somewhat subversive; the “butt” of the joke (and/or the recipient of the figurative dicksmash) is always the adult –or adults– who refuse or are too bashful to take their children’s questions seriously. This explains the apparent shelf-life of these jokes; once a child has reached sexual maturity (i.e. the juevos have dropped), they are no longer as curious about their parents’ bodies, since now they have their own filthy disease-traps to worry about. Zumwalt provides one final joke to drive home the teenage rejection of the very category of genitalia:

This little boy walks into the bathroom, and he catches his mother naked. She was a little embarrassed. He said, “Mommy, what’s that?”And she says, “Oh, that’s where God hit me with an axe.” And the little kid says,” Got you right in the cunt, eh?” (267)

If feeder-question: Well, the jokes are all basically examples of kids trolling the shit out of their parents. (lol stretching)

If stand-alone question: Could talk about the joke-work angle, how studying particular jokes can reveal a whole system of relationships and power within those relationships (relational nestings?) — in this case, the jokes reveal adults’ attitudes towards children’s sexuality and the children’s attitudes towards those attitudes (which is what gives the jokes their dolly-punch). Maybe the self-reflexive and revelatory nature of jokes? So, it’s not just what is said in the joke, but how the joke inheres within a given social context. Also there is some talk about the (implied) subversiveness of these jokes — perhaps could use as proof of how jokes allow subordinated chilrens to exert power over their parental overlords. (but how effectual is this power, is the question — in the case of the kids, yeah their jokes may provide a send-up of their parents, but a) do these kids even know that’s what’s happening, b) how important is it that the kids are aware that they’re being subversive and c) their jokes don’t get them what they want, namely knowledge)



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