“Dumb Blondes, Dan Quayle, and Hillary Clinton: Gender, Sexuality and Stupidity in Jokes”

July 1, 2011 § 1 Comment

Jeannie Thomas has a lot to say about jokes you guys. First of all, people tell them. Second of all, some people laugh and some people don’t. Third of all, the same joke that’s funny to George D. Asshole might not be nearly as funny to Cindy F. Christian. Also, joke cycles don’t just appear out of thin air, thematic jokes “spread” because they tap into some manner of zeitgeist, whether relatively positive (born of collective interest) or relatively negative (born of collective prejudice or fear). The ubiquity of blonde jokes, for example, can be linked to the rise in visibility of women in the workplace and other positions of power (278), as well as to the gradual association (both positive and negative) of blonde hair with femininity. Blammo! There be joke cycles.

Thomas postulates that blonde jokes, along with all other jokes in the whole wide world, are successful to the extent that they embody or create the illusion of incongruity, superiority, ambivalence and/or transgression (282). Of course, what seems incongruous to one person might appear perfectly normal to another, meaning that each individual response will feature some unique combination of the above criteria, often shifting based on who tells a particular joke when and where. That is to say, the same person might have entirely different reactions to the same joke –or same kind of joke– depending on the circumstances (280-282).

Thomas expands her analysis to include Dan Quayle and Hillary Clinton jokes; as one might expect, the emergent joke cycles are…you know…different. Jokes about Quayle focus on his apparent stupidity, undeserved privilege, immaturity and cowardice. Jokes about Clinton portray the then-first lady as “a bitch, a witch and finally a cunt” (301). Salty! Again, there are lots of reasons for telling and laughing at these sorts of jokes — it depends on the person and situation. Thomas suggests that much politically-motivated humor in the US reflects and/or implicitly critiques a two-party system in which the population is already divided into “us” and “them,” making jokes about politicians entirely par for the course (“I think the joke about X is funny because he’s a ___ and I’m a ___”). Attitudes towards sex and gender are also on parade, though jokes about Dan Quayle are, thankfully, less likely to focus on his genitals or sex life. Which is part of Thomas’ point — jokes allow people to articulate their anxieties and frustrations; the more anxiety-inducing the situation, the greater number of subsequent jokes. Clinton caused/causes a lot of people a lot of consternation, discomfort(s) which tie directly into contemporary effed-up attitudes towards women, particularly powerful honeybadger women. Consequently the jokes about Clinton have far more teeth than jokes about dumb old butthead Quayle, though Thomas doesn’t much address this discrepancy.

If feeder-question: First of all yawn. Second of all hmm in terms of my own research I’d say…well I guess I could talk about the difficulty, if not outright impossibility (and/or ineffectuality, which might be the more important adjective) of positing intentionality on the part of the teller or listener of a particular joke — that instead of focusing exclusively about how an individual feels about a particular joke (i.e, having them explain what the joke is about, who cares), we should focus on what the prevalence/popularity of that joke or kind of joke says about the culture out of which it came. Which could provide an ok segue to trollshit.

If stand-alone question: Provides another example of context trumping content. There is no one correct or definitive response to a particular joke, since the meaning of that joke isn’t static, at least not in the real world.


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