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The Politics of Humour

The Politics of Humour: Laughter, Inclusion, and Exclusion in the Twentieth Century

Martina Kessel
Patrick Merziger
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 232
  • Book Info
    The Politics of Humour
    Book Description:

    The Politics of Humouroffers an intriguing look at how entertainment helped everyday people make sense of the turmoil of the twentieth century.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-9512-2
    Subjects: Language & Literature, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-2)
    M.K. and P.M.
  5. Introduction. Landscapes of Humour: The History and Politics of the Comical in the Twentieth Century
    (pp. 3-21)

    Narratives of the twentieth century usually focus on ‘big issues’: war, violence, and ethnic cleansing; the Holocaust; the conflict between democratic and authoritarian politics; or the development of nationstates and empires. So far, despite an immense literature on humour and the comical in general, humour and laughter have not figured high on historians’ agendas for this century.¹ But humour is an important means to negotiate identity and belonging, and in the twentieth century, comics and funny magazines sold extremely well while cheerful radio shows and films attracted a huge audience both in democratic and authoritarian societies. Using humour as a...

  6. 1 When Are Jewish Jokes No Longer Funny? Ethnic Humour in Imperial and Republican Berlin
    (pp. 22-51)

    Jewish comedians have long been a fixture of the mass media in the United States and Canada. The association of Jews with joking is common in many parts of Europe as well – indeed, it commenced in Central Europe in the nineteenth century. But inevitably, the catastrophic fate of European Jews in the twentieth century casts its shadow back upon earlier entertainers and encourages us to examine their performances more closely. Historical inquiry informs us that from the beginning, Jewish jokes were considered problematic by some observers. Before the First World War, Jewish entertainers could tell Jewish jokes on public stages...

  7. 2 Creole Cartoons
    (pp. 52-81)

    The thesis of this paper is simple; it pushes the standard critical assertion that animation ‘serves to question and challenge the received knowledges which govern the physical laws and normative socio cultural orthodoxies of the “real world”’ in asserting that the ‘challenge’ includes specific ‘received knowledges’ about race and ethnicity.¹ Animation technology enables an uncanny fluidity of identity whose potential for racial (and, though not the subject of this paper, gender) play is seized upon by some early animators. Succeeding technological innovations in animation result in different kinds of racial representation, all of which nevertheless appear as a kind of...

  8. 3 Talking War, Debating Unity: Order, Conflict, and Exclusion in ‘German Humour’ in the First World War
    (pp. 82-107)

    The production of humour was a vast industry in Germany during the First World War. Joke collections, satirical journals, and funny postcards were best-sellers in contemporary popular culture. Furthermore, a lot of them projected a particular brand of ‘German humour’ as one of those cultural traits that supposedly set German culture apart from Western civilization, associating it with harmony, truth, and German ‘Gemüt’ (i.e. soul and ‘true’ feeling). If mentioned at all by historians, humour in war times has so far been mostly understood as subversive or affirmative. But the sheer amount of humorous products, their ubiquitous and repetitive presence,...

  9. 4 Producing a Cheerful Public: Light Radio Entertainment during National Socialism
    (pp. 108-130)

    In this poem Bertolt Brecht describes how simple and harmless words turn out treacherous or at least problematic in the Third Reich because they might signal silent assent or compliance with issues not to be spoken about. The bulk of entertainment shows offered by German broadcasting in the 1930s and 1940s were made up of harmless utterings and jokes. This paper will consider these seemingly apolitical radio programs, usually described as bright or cheerful in the radio guides of the time. Cheerfulness, however, is not the prominent feature that comes to mind when thinking about radio during National Socialism. These...

  10. 5 Humour in the Volksgemeinschaft: The Disappearance of Destructive Satire in National Socialist Germany
    (pp. 131-152)

    Humour and National Socialism are currently perceived as contradictions in point. The National Socialist movement is not associated with humour of any kind. Adolf Hitler is supposed to have been ‘a deeply humourless person’ who pursued his aim with ‘deadly seriousness.’¹ Accordingly, Germany between 1933 and 1945 is said to have been characterized by a fanatical austerity, an aggressive humourlessness, and even a ‘bestial seriousness.’² Popular accounts present a period in which ‘laughter could prove deadly’ and real humour was forbidden.³

    Only a cheerless and cutting, aggressive, and combative form of satire has been attributed to National Socialist Germany and...

  11. 6 Laughing to Keep from Dying: Jewish Self-Hatred and The Larry Sanders Show
    (pp. 153-174)

    Did the Jews invent self-hatred? A case can be made – from the production and the reception end. Centuries before they were branded collective Christ killers in the Gospel of St Matthew, a calumny that laid the groundwork for both anti-Semitism and Jewish self-hatred, Jews themselves had planted the seeds of self-hatred for all humanity in the Garden of Eden. The biblical God’s banishment of the ur-couple from Paradise inflicted a primal self-loathing (with a decidedly gendered component) that would prove, at least for the faithful, all but inexpungable. Then there’s the Jewish Freud, whose non-denominational take on original sin postulated...

  12. 7 Ethnic Humour and Ethnic Politics in the Netherlands: The Rules and Attraction of Clandestine Humour
    (pp. 175-201)

    In the Netherlands of the early twenty-first century, as in most of Western Europe, ethnic humour is the most ‘dangerous’ form of humour. People freely joke about nationals from other countries, such as Germans or Belgians, or ‘native’ minorities like the Limburghers in the south of the country, or the Frisians in the north. But jokes about ethnic minority groups like Turks, Moroccans, Surinamese, and Antilleans are highly contested. Since the 1970s, such jokes told in public have caused considerable controversy from time to time, replacing sex, religion, and the Royal Family as the most taboo topic for joking. This...

  13. 8 ‘The Tongues of Mocking Wenches’: Humour and Gender in Late Twentieth-Century British Fiction
    (pp. 202-220)

    A decade ago, I published a book in which I set out to describe a form of humour that, although relatively rare and often inconspicuous, could with a little digging be reliably uncovered in a number of British novels written mostly by nineteenth-century women.¹ While the gender of the author was by no means insignificant, I was initially drawn to study these novels not because they were written by women, but rather because they seemed to me to share a distinctive humorous aesthetic that I found at once especially appealing and extremely difficult to categorize or define, fitting so awkwardly,...

  14. Contributors
    (pp. 221-222)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 223-223)