Evan- if you’ll offer a quick definition.
EVAN: Uh, I’m going to leave you to that, actually. Gordon sent me this link to check out, and the bit about “hipster racism” is actually quite short [appearing at about 00:00]. The speaker, China Miéville, had a lot of amazing things to say, and I lost it in there somewhere. [I’ll probably be writing more about the lecture on Friday]
GORDON: Essentially, “Hipster Racism” or “Ironic Racism” are jokes or comedy with traditionally racist content, funny not because they put people down, but funny because of how utterly atrocious and ignorant they are. Similar to a dead baby joke.
The question we’ll be dealing with tonight is this: Is ironic racism still just racism?
EVAN: This strikes a similar chord with a conversation I had with . . . a friend of mine, where he called Arab people “towelheads.”
EVAN: After I chastised him, he questioned why it was a big deal. His argument being along the lines of “if a tree falls in the forest, etc.”
GORDON: Could you expound a bit on that? Is he arguing that it’s not racist or offensive if no Arabs are around to hear it?
EVAN: Essentially. It has a lot of holes.
GORDON: So you’d be arguing in favor of this, I presume- racist jokes, even without malice, are still bad?
EVAN: I’d argue that it’s inappropriate in basically any context.
GORDON: But you yourself are a huge fan of this kind of humor. I can’t count
the times you’ve cracked casino and alcohol jokes at me [Gordon is part Cherokee. -E], and need I remind you of our little trip to Rochester? [We won’t go into that. -E]
EVAN: So yes, this may be the pot calling the kettle black. Which, admittedly, I’m tempted to make a racist joke out of, simply because of the context.
GORDON: I assumed so.
EVAN: Rebuttal: what about that euphemism you made about using the bathroom? [We’re not getting into that one. -G]
GORDON: Ah indeed, which brings us back around to the crux of the matter- what exactly are we laughing at? Like I said in the description, it’s not race we’re mocking with these jokes, but racism. We laugh at how ignorant and idiotic these jokes are.
But not too long ago, I came across an article on that fount of wisdom Cracked.com in which the author asserted that in a generation, these jokes will revert to being racist. He said (and I’m paraphrasing here), that because our little brothers and sisters didn’t grow up in a world where racism was so prevalent, they won’t know what we’re actually laughing at- i.e., the irony of ironic racism is lost, and it’s just racism…
EVAN: Irony and taboo, as well. Taboo fringing on shock value. That’s why dead baby jokes, which you brought up, are funny. Or seen as funny, anyway.
GORDON: Is there a problem with shock, then?
EVAN: A problem with shock? It’s necessary to drive a point home in some situations. I don’t think it’s needed in humorous situations, really.
GORDON: Interesting point.
I’m going to offer another angle here: Family Guy. This is a show known for pushing the limits, and often with regards to racism. Take for example, their “Palestinian Alarm Clock” joke.
I’ll give you a minute to look it up; should be on YouTube.
EVAN: And, sure enough, it’s the first auto-fill when I type in “Palestinian.”
GORDON: That’s a damn shame.
EVAN: And- yeah. I have seen this.
GORDON: A classic example of what we’re talking about.
EVAN: Then again, you know how I feel about Family Guy in its entirety.
GORDON: I do- but looking at it objectively- is the intended humor here the stereotype surrounding Arabs (Palestinians in particular) or is the humor here just racist?
EVAN: I would say it’s just plain racist.
GORDON: Expound, my dear sir.
EVAN: So there have been suicide bombing in Palestine. So therefore, a Palestinian alarm clock is akin to a suicide bomber. The cry of “Allāhu akbar” really hammers the point home.
Is it a stereotype that all Palestinians are suicide bombers? As a non-American, I’m not sure. Maybe? It seems so blunt to me. Just really offensive.
GORDON: Interesting. And certainly I wouldn’t have to point out that to someone who doesn’t get irony so well, this would appear to be a sincere smear against Arabs. Though of course, that opens up an entirely different set of problems…
EVAN: I’d say to veer away from Family Guy, I mean, it’s bilge. Let’s talk instead about an example of “hipster racism” being used in conversation.
GORDON: Provide me an example.
EVAN: So- jokes funny because they’re ignorant.
I actually think that Rochester, which I said we wouldn’t go into, is a good example. I made fun of every black person we saw, but did it in such an outrageous manner that it could never be construed as serious, or really racist.
I guess that makes me a perpetrator of what we’re discussing.
GORDON: So you’re vindication is that it was so extremely wrong no way one could take it seriously?
EVAN: Well, you’d have to take into account tone as well, but I think you sort of see what I’m saying. The over-the-top-ness of what I was doing passes into the realm of parody, almost.
GORDON: Tone? You were screaming it out the windows!
EVAN: Whoa, I was not.
GORDON: Ah, but you were. Close enough, anyways.
Obviously, I don’t consider you a racist.
GORDON: But assuming we hold ironic racism acceptable. We’re confronted with another set of problems.
In the lecture, China offers an anecdote of a comedian adopting a racist character to make fun of racists, and winding up with the people he was making fun of as his fanbase. Should we be concerned that ironic racism is (1) misunderstood by others (2) making real racism indistinguishable and (3) making racists think that kind of joke is acceptable?
EVAN: Right, yeah, I remember that. I think that is a legitimate concern, yeah. People are just dumb enough to not understand satire, see: strong Republicans who like Colbert.
GORDON: So how do we deal with it?
EVAN:Well, is it helpful? I think that’s a good counter-question- is racist humour [Ha! Weird Canadian spelling! -G] actually helping us? Russell Peters might be a good point in this case.
GORDON: Go on…
EVAN: He jokes about a wide range of races, and mocks each and every one, including his own. For the most part, from what I’ve heard from people, we laugh most when he makes fun of our own personal ethnicity. We see the same cultural foibles he does and it amuses us.
And then we hear what he has to say about other cultures and we laugh alongside them, not at them. At least that’s how I feel about it.
GORDON: He is a funny guy. In that case, where’s the line?
EVAN: Well, I think a big part of it is that Russell Peters is never really what I’d consider racist.
GORDON: Well- is that it? Public consideration of the source? People probably didn’t think that the comedian China cited was a racist, yet he wound up with a racist fanbase…
EVAN: At the same time, I’ve never heard first-hand any of this comedian’s stuff. I have heard Russell’s.
GORDON: Are you familiar with the psychological process of reverse association? That actions precede opinion?
EVAN: Uh, I only minored in Psych, so I’m going to let you elaborate on that one.
GORDON: Basically, it’s been found that what you do for a person winds up determining how you feel about that person, rather than how you feel about a person determining what you do.
If you get someone a glass of water every time he asks for it, or similar actions, your brain will wind up telling you that you must like this person (for feel some kind of connection), rather than you first liking the person and therefore doing stuff for him [or her, dang, Gordon, be a little more PC. -E]
Easy is the path that leadeth down into destruction, and all that.
But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean.’
[Oooh- fancy block quote! -G]
GORDON: Hearts change, one might argue. And, as we’re coming up on our time limit here, I’ll leave with this last thought:
Ironic racism is, first and foremost, ironic- the purpose is the mock racism. Obviously that can be taken wrongly by various people, and naturally, you’re going to have to deal with it should it happen. But why should the misconceptions of others really affect what you do or say?
As Mark Twain said of Censorship “…the whole principle is wrong; it’s like demanding that grown men live on skim milk because the baby can’t eat steak.”
EVAN: That was excellently well put.
Tune in next Wednesday, when we will be talking about . . . um . . . affirmative action. Because you asked for it, internet. [You may or may not have actually asked for it.]