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June 15, 2004

Non-PC Jokes Harmless

Posted by Michael Mosbacher

Media Should Stop Censoring Jokes
Non-PC Jokes Harmless, Finds Top Academic Expert

Ethnic jokes and disaster jokes have all but disappeared from the mass media; they are being quietly censored. The world’s leading academic expert on jokes, Professor Christie Davies, in a report, The Right To Joke published by the Social Affairs Unit, shows that those who support such censorship misunderstand the nature and exaggerate the importance of jokes.

The prevalence in a given society of jokes about a particular ethnic group is not a good indicator of feeling toward that group; it does not follow that deep-seated animosities towards that group exist. 'Jokes are based on conventional scripts which are accepted for the sake of enjoying the jokes but which do not form a guide to everyday behaviour. There may or may not exist a stereotype that coincides with the conventional script. Just as the wartime stereotype of the fiendish Japanese had no jokes attached to it, so too there is no reason to believe that Americans are hostile to Polish-Americans or Canadians to Newfoundlanders or the French to the Belgians who are the butts of their jokes about stupidity. Vigorous political rhetoric, a stirring sermon, a persuasive advertisement, a well-placed lie, a piece of malicious gossip are all uses of words that are infinitely more powerful than jokes. When jokes are used in the pursuit of particular ends they are merely ancillary. Wit is not a weapon; it is merely the artistic decoration on the scabbard.' Likewise jokes about disasters, such as the death of Princess Diana, are not an indication of popular callousness.

Regardless of media censorship, the non-PC joke remains very much alive. Jokes not permitted in the media are still told in the pub and today via e-mail and the Internet. Prof. Davies argues that, precisely because the media does not feed them, jokes are the one remaining, truly autonomous and vibrant expression of popular culture.


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Christie Davies writes extremely well on humour. Read his 'The Mirth of Nations' (Transaction, 2002).

Posted by: David Smith at June 22, 2004 01:34 PM
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