Mark Reid, “African American Comedy Film”

August 26, 2011 § 1 Comment


One of the fastest and most reliable ways to put my ass to sleep (and/or to piss me off, depending on my mood) is to bring up Freud in the context of humor. As far as I’m concerned, Freud + comedy =  automatic tl;dr, really it’s just the WORST. I’m happy to concede that his whole shit about tendentious humor i.e. rape triangulation (you have a speaker, an object of derision, and an audience; the speaker and audience tag-team whatever object) is…………well it’s a shape, and sometimes jokes do follow that formula. But to say that ALL jokes follow the SAME formula, and are motivated by the same libidinal urges across the board regardless of race, gender, class, whatever, is either tautological and worthless or so laughably offensive to be comical in and of itself.

Re: the former, once you plug the respective variables into their respective positions, what else is there to say? Especially if the triangulation is always-already configured as rapish, the joke can only be reflective of racism, sexism, or homophobia in the speaker/listeners, which may gesture towards racism and sexism and homophobia in the Larger Culture but otherwise has limited theoretical applicability (although I’m sorry, but the racist, sexist, and deeply homophobic Freud doesn’t have a chin to lean on when it comes to the condemnation of offensive cultural output). Re: the latter, the whole setup is as politically problematic as it is simply unhelpful — the speaker and listener are gendered MALE, and the butt is gendered female, which means not necessarily biologically female but something weaker than the joke teller/listener (weaker either literally, as in, some defenseless creature, or ethically/morally less-than, allowing for subordinated groups to mock those in more exalted positions of power deemed morally depraved or otherwise inadequate). The act of telling a tendentious joke is thus framed as homosocial, at least — the teller and listener of the joke touch tips via the symbolic degradation of the butt, and that’s a problem because fags, gross.

Thus I knew it would be a rocky road when I encountered Reid’s first reference to Freud in the third goddamn paragraph. OH GOOD, I wrote in the margins. TENDENTIOUSNESS. Because. It’s just. WHY. (granted , this essay was written in 1993, which is a totally, or maybe not totally, unrelated issue — still, there’s just no excuse for Freud ever) Otherwise the article is straightforward enough, maybe a bit too straightforward (again though, 1993) — Reid chronicles the development and popularity of blackface minstrelsy (performed by whites), hybrid minstrelsy (performed by blacks, though mostly just a continuation of earlier and more explicitly racist tropes) and satiric hybrid minstrelsy (occupies a more negotiated relationship to blackface). Although all three forms are racist in origins, both white and black audiences have a number of –sometimes conflicting– reception strategies, blah blah blah Stuart Hall.

God, it’s been so long since filing a breadth exam thing I forgot my standard protocol. Ummm relationship to other selections. Probably something with Mary Douglas, the assimilating impulse of matter out of place. And Eve Sedgwick, but only if I get to play the I-hate-Freud card, which I highly doubt. Oh man I have so many rude things to say here, but I’ll just keep my mouth shut due to self-preservation and the desire for similar. Smile and nod, honeybadger. Smile and nod.


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