Comic Racism and Violence

  • Michael Billig

Abstract

Freud, in his book Jokes and their Relation to the Unconscious (1905/1960), argued that we constantly deceive ourselves about the reasons why we laugh. We like to believe that we laugh at the clever wittiness of jokes, but, as Freud argued, our pleasure may derive from less creditable sources that we do not care to acknowledge. Otherwise why should there be so many sexual and aggressive jokes? If, as Freud supposed, an element of self-deception surrounds much humour, then this would be especially true of racist humour today. The category ‘racist humour’ is itself contested. Because the prevailing standards condemn prejudice, people will like to believe that their behaviour, including their taste in humour, does not offend those standards. Those who laugh at ethnic jokes are likely to deny that their humour is racist. They will typically claim that they are ‘just joking’, defending themselves with a phrase that Goffman described as being one of the most commonly used in the English language (Goffman, 1974). As will be seen, there are academic versions of this position, defending the status of ‘ethnic humour’ from the criticism of being racist. On the other hand, the term ‘racist humour’ can create problems for those who criticise the telling of racist jokes. For them, the problem does not arise from the ‘racist’ part of the phrase ‘racist humour’.

Keywords

Defend Vince Archie 

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Copyright information

© Michael Billig 2005

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  • Michael Billig

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