Who’s Laughing Now? Indigenous Media and the Politics of Humor

  • Freya Schiwy
Part of the New Directions in Latino American Cultures book series (NDLAC)


In Canada and the United States, satire and comedy have long been staple elements in Native cultural performances, literature, and film, and humor has found some incipient discussion in critical literature.1 In the southern part of the hemisphere, by contrast, there has been much less work on the role of humor in indigenous media.2 Theories of humor have, of course, a long genealogy in the West, usually including contributions by Aristotle, Hobbes, Kant, Freud, Bergson, Bakhtin, and so forth. I will draw on some of these authors in my readings of indigenous videos, but am not interested in a formalistic analysis of the comic mode in film. Although formalist analyses of joke-work and humor seek to understand how mirth is constituted through a given text or action, I agree with scholars such as James English, Kristina Fagan, and Jonna Mackin that humor is more productively understood, not as an utterance, but as an event—what English calls a “comic transaction”3 that is constituted by the contextual aspects of shared or contested social norms and popular cultural texts. That is not to affirm the commonplace notion that all humor is culturally or nationally specific4 and that an essay on indigenous media shall focus on what creates this specificity. Rather, I am interested in the sociopolitical dimension of what humor effects in a cultural politics of decolonization in which indigenous video partakes.


Indigenous People Comic Mode Mayan Community Latin American Context Shared Affect 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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© Freya Schiwy 2016

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  • Freya Schiwy

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