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.


August 16, 2011 § 2 Comments

Mia Consalvo, “A Mage’s Chronicle: Cheating and Life and Vana’Diel” (2007)

Ethnographic slippage. Significance of persistent social identity. Borderline cheating, but where’s the border? PK/MPK? Power leveling? Bots? Chinese gil sellers? Gaming capital. Some degree of deception. Notorious Monsters. Shaming and blacklisting. Ephemerality of “moral” codes online.

Julian Dibbel, “A Rape in Cyberspace” (1993)

Mr. Bungle, the Bisquick-faced harlequin clown. Rape by voodoo-doll, a community coalescing under CYBERTRAGEDY. Techno-utopian fantasies. KISS ME UNDER THIS, BITCH. The forced virtual consumption of virtual pubic hair. Where meat-puppet and word-puppet collide. A psychological device that is called thought-polorization. A new voting scheme, binding on the wizards. Dr. Jest rising from the ashes. A symbolic punishment for a symbolic crime. Words as action? Afterward: Bungle the communal property of an entire dorm room. “lol,” they say collectively.

Charles J. Stivale, “Spam: Heteroglossia and Harassment in Cyberspace” (1997)

Uses term “compu-sex,” plus this is not what “spam” means now. But! Spam! Qualities of humor and tedium! Unnecessary data transmission! Harassment! But not flaming. Phatic dialogic function. Diologized heteroglossia. Bakhtin. LambdaMOO. Sposed to be a spam-free zone! But WAAAT, some forms of spam built into social fabric??? Spam as liminal play??? Sure, three kinds: playful spam (call-response cybergoofin), ambiguous spam (cybergoofin with an abusive flair) and pernicious spam (call the hate and harassment team). Words as acts? Yeah prolly! Ref to Bungle. “Virtual rape consequences.” Fun!!!

William B. Millard, “I Flamed Freud: A Case Study in Teletextual Incendiarism” (1997)

Good lord, it’s not like talking shit is some new thing. Why ppl get their panties in a twist when it happens online is a mystery (ed. note: no it’s not). Funnily, screaming about how horrible flaming is tends not to have the intended effect. Just more flames, douchebag! Also flaming may be technologically dependent you guys! Except it’s also a form of cheating? Maybe! But that makes it an even more teachable moment. The reasons for all this constant flaming are overdetermined, oh well. Either way I call people on the inter cyber webby web homo incinerans. Because everyone is such assholes!  Haha especially academics, they’re the worst. Like this one time, on this listserv called H-AMSTDY? Which has something to do with history but HAM, lol. Anyway I was saying how psychoanalysis is the second-worst idea in history (ed. note: this guy is awesome), and holy shit! Everyone freaked out, it was pretty funny. In conclusion, maybe flaming isn’t so bad.

Ok, I’ve reached my limit for today — note my natural progression from mostly just the fax ma’am to giggle-bear madness. This whole process, it’s just so boring. Or maybe not boring, just tedious. Tomorrow I’ll be rereading Tom Boellstorff’s dumb thing about dumb Second Life (aw I’m just joshing, it’s not a bad book, but Second Life is very stupid) and also Judith Donath’s SUPER SEMINAL essay on identity deception/trolling. I’ll be lumping these selections together & will consider transgression generally in/and/verses/as community expectations. Should be a thing.

Men, Women and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film

August 5, 2011 § 1 Comment

Since Scream came along, even people who don’t know much about horror films know how horror films work. They know who’s a goner (and usually in what order, typically starting with the black guy and moving on to the Girl Who Fucked Too Much) and who will make it to the end (the badass chick who keeps her tits covered); they know that men will be killed with much less fanfare than women, and they know that what they expect to happen probably will, i.e. if there’s a poorly-lit area that looks like a good place for a killer to hide, that’s where he’ll HEY WHY ARE YOU WALKING TOWARDS THE WOODSHED, NOTHING GOOD WILL COME OF WALKING TOWARDS THE WOODSHED slash scream crunch LOL I TOLD YOU, WHAT AN ASSHOLE. The “rules” of this game long preceded the Scream franchise, but ask the average 90s rat & he’ll probably mention something about liking scary movies and Drew Barrymore’s boobs heh heh.

Carol Clover’s analysis, though written six years before Wes Craven offered up the horror-film blueprint to the unwashed masses, covers much of the same ground as does Scream’s creepy psycho Billy, or the other guy, you know, funny-face. Clover does add some psychoanalytic flair to her account, from which she occasionally backs off and then returns, only to back off again, sort of. The  basic talking points are as follows: in horror films, sex often precedes from gender, making characters’ visible sex less to do with genitalia and more to do with how the character behaves; passivity, fear, and victimization are gendered female and virility, strength and action are gendered as male; the bad guys are almost always male and the victims, or intended victims, are most conspicuously female; female bodies sure do get cut up a lot; etc. Although many feminists cite this last point as evidence of slasher films’ inherent misogyny, Clover counters with the claim that in almost all slasher films, there is a Final Girl who either evades or kills the shit out of whatever psychokiller; this doesn’t mitigate or rearticulate all those cut-up female bodies but it does challenge, or at least complicate, that which is perceived to be straightforwardly and irredeemably sexist.

But then Clover does this somewhat weird thing where she argues that actually, the Final Girl represents a kind of slippage between gendered male and female characteristics — in the process of “manning” herself she “unmans” the bad guy (49), thus replacing one gender binary with another, which is better? Clover presents a number of explanations for why this might be the case, starting with a bunch of psychoanalytic horseshit about the fetish, and how the Final Girl is a way for male viewers to feel a little better about their mom’s vaginas or whatever (50). She then seems to veer towards Eve Sedgwick territory, arguing that perhaps this “male” on “female” violence actually represents repressed homosexxxual desire (52), thus causing fear –and therefore femininity– in the mostly-male audience. It’s not clear to what extent Clover buys any of these explanations; by the end of the chapter, she backs off the irritating foregone-conclusion Freud stuff and instead suggests that maybe guys are just curious about women’s experience, and/or are actually capable (GASP!!!) of identifying with a female protagonist.

After talking a bunch about vaginas and rape-revenge and eyeballs and gashed-open abdomens plus the relative difference between a one-sex verses two-sex world view (in the former, women and men have the same junk but everything is inverted and internalized i.e. incorrectly placed in women, while in the latter, women are defective humans missing the all-important penor; apparently the one-sex system is supposed to be less offensive, though as far as I’m concerned both can die in a fire), she goes on to argue that, whatever their political status, low-budget horror films function as a cinema of (for lack of a better term) trollishness (64) — they state outright what is often implicit in mainstream films, namely the degradation of women, the privileging of the male gaze, all that fucked-up jazz, the end.

No Laughing Matter: The Rationale of the Dirty Joke

June 20, 2011 § 2 Comments

No Laughing Matter is an ethnographic collection of thousands upon thousands of off-color, rude and downright nasty jokes; the volume is divided into “clean-dirty” and “dirty-dirties,” distinction Legman halfheartedly draws between jokes intended to nauseate and distress the audience and those which do so incidentally. The book contains nearly two thousand samples, including rape jokes, castration jokes, prostitution jokes, and every kind of joke about every kind of excretion one could possibly imagine. It really is fun for the whole family, boasting subsections entitled “Defiling the Mother,” “Fuck” and “Urinating on Others.”

In his weirdly caustic introduction, G. Legman considers the origins and significance of the aforementioned shitshows and attempts to place the (dirty) joking impulse in the appropriate social context. Taking a page from Freud’s playbook, G. Legman argues that tendentious jokes –i.e. jokes directed at a particular butt, whether an individual or group– originate as “hostile impulses of free-floating aggression in the tellers of jokes” and function primarily as “expression[s] of social and sexual anxieties [the joke tellers] are otherwise unable to absorb or express” (20). In other words, they’re not funny, and they’re not fun (18). As Legman cheerfully explains:

“the whole dramatic recital seems to be taking place inside the Dragon’s guts, and everyone involved is bathed in the same fiery and disgusting dirtiness and wet, slipping and sliding together in the same humorous blood, shit, piss, pus, puke, and slime. Worst of all, as might be expected in the liqueous and nauseous stuffs so often used as subject, there is no firm footing anywhere underneath. One is disgusted and yet one laughs, and one is disgusted with oneself for laughing. Yet, as the whole mud-bath has been entered into under the name of humor and under the mask of jokes and good-fellowship, there can be no end until one does laugh” (19).

Thus, “the laughter which greets the ‘punchline’ of jokes is really just an expression of the anxiety of all concerned over the taboos that are being broken” (21). It sure is a good thing that all humans have a single Freud-approved, universally applicable and therefore highly predictable response to everything that happens ever!

Oh, sorry, was I editorializing? I can’t keep track sometimes– I am large, I contain hostilities. Anyway, on Legman’s view, jokes are more a Rorschach test than a throwaway moment of bullshit between friends, suddenly imbuing a seemingly fun and harmless act with far-reaching social significance, due in large part to Legman’s claim that jokes are a “disguised aggression or verbal assault directed against the listener, who is always really the butt” (20). And what these jokes are matters, since “a person’s favorite joke is the key to that person’s character” (14). That is to say, what one laughs at reveals who (or what) one truly is. But not just “is” in the predicate, i.e. Clintonian sense — is in the nominative, i.e. serious business sense. As in, what you are, at your core, as a human. Per Legman, “Your favorite joke is your psychological signature. The ‘only’ joke you know how to tell, is you” (16). Freud!

One of the more notable aspects of this selection is Legman’s utter rejection of the clear distinction between joke-teller and joke-listener, a position based on his assumption that jokes aren’t created as much as they are repeated. “Since the jokes that are told are really only being repeated from previous listening, in the deepest sense teller and listener are indivisible and identical. The favorite jokes of one are -by and large- the favorite jokes of the other…[and] Only the special favorites are retained, or transmitted very often” (15, his angry italics) — thus likening Legman’s position to one of memetics (and/or spreadability, to use Henry Jenkins’ term). Legman takes this one step farther, arguing that the existence of dirty-dirty jokes speaks to a collective unconscious riddled with shared cultural anxieties and prejudice (assumption: that collectivity/consensus is something that happens in culture, which apparently is a thing, and consequently all people a) have the same anxieties and b) express these same anxieties in similar if not identical ways. -Ed)

If feeder question: OMG OBVI, trolls are very bad men and say all kinds of naughty things. Based on Legman’s analysis, it seems reasonable to conclude that trolls must be the jokes they tell — namely racist, sexist and homophobic. But nay! Because it’s a wee bit more complicated than that. I mean yes, trolling is disturbing, trolling is politically problematic, etc. But it’s not merely racist, sexist, or homophobic. In fact it’s not merely anything. Insert everything I’ve done for the last three years, ending with them Dickwolfs. Course there’s still all that jazz about how it doesn’t matter why something is said, it’s the fact that it’s said…which is the whole crux of the issue and can only be countered with a discussion of overdetermination of meaning and intent.

If stand-alone question: HUGE emphasis on the breakdown between joke teller and joke listener. Am reluctant to make a blanket statement about the -apparent, per Legman- magical kindred connection between teller and listener, since two different people can and frequently do take two different meanings from the same joke, but Legman’s system does give me some places to hang my hat in terms of the repercussions of transgressive humor, and the ways in which joke telling releases whatever thing into the wild despite the teller’s intent (the joke gets passed along & may fall into the “wrong hands,” thus reifying whatever social inequity, even if the teller meant to challenge whatever injustice).

Spotlight On – METHOD

May 22, 2011 § 1 Comment

(Originally posted February 26 2011)

Just say no.

I am something of a late bloomer, I suppose, and didn’t start researching INTERNET or thinking about INTERNET or even spending that much time on INTERNET until a few years ago, when I discovered 4chan (“Go check out this website,” my brother kept telling me. “You’ll like it there”). He was right, sort of — I’m not sure “like” is quite the right word, but I was pretty intrigued.

So intrigued, in fact, that I enrolled in a 4/500 split English class titled “Comedy and the Grotesque” for the explicit reason (lol u see what I did there) of writing about trolling behaviors on /b/. The problem was, not only did I have very little experience with my subject matter, I quite literally had no theoretical or generally smart-sounding language with which to describe what I was seeing.  When I sat down to try and write about /b/ (jesus how many times do I have to say this, I DO NOT CARE ABOUT RULES 1 & 2) I had very few methodological tools to work with, in large part because I was a first-year English PhD student who could barely tell my ass from the Norton Anthology of British Literature (in that sense not much has changed HAR HAR), but also because I was treating troll-stuff like a text to be read and subsequently deconstructed. I had a difficult time making sense of all that anonymity, and an even harder time accounting for the simultaneously chaotic and yet somehow highly structured behavioral patterns which trolling seems to necessitate. Not to mention the seemingly endless march of the meme-guins.

I can’t really blame my young & stupid self, though — how do you do close textual analysis of a target that keeps shifting? You can do what I did and throw some effing Freud at it, or even worse, some Bakhtin. Not that I would recommend either approach, as they lead one to the respective conclusion of a) dicks, the end and b) dicks, the end. There aren’t many places to go after that, which is where I left my first draft swinging like some raggedy sock draped over a fishing wire (i.e. precarious! inexplicable! toeless!).

My next pass fared a little better — in large part because by then I’d discovered performance theory. This was important for a number of reasons, including my subsequent introduction to ethnography. Mainly, though, I was able to move beyond (or perhaps not beyond, but I was no longer solely reliant upon) theory which had the unfortunate effect of calcifying its subject. Under the methodological umbrella of straight-up close reading, I was treating trolling –and its emergent humor– as a noun, something that could be pinned to the inside of a decorative box. With performance theory, I was suddenly dealing with a present progressive. The target was still moving, but this time I was too. Since then, I’ve continued to round out my approach with various social science oddities. But I no longer fight against the fact that what I study is verbs, and boy oh boy does that make a difference.

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