May 25, 2010

The Dudesons, Polish jokes, and minstrel shows

Here's a list of things that were supposed to be funny:

  • The Cowboys & Findians episode of The Dudesons in America
  • The "Tardicaca Indians" in South Park
  • The rapacious cavalryman in Family Guy
  • "Drunk Indians" t-shirts
  • Whooping, dancing, half-naked Indian mascots
  • The redskins in Disney's Peter Pan
  • Amos 'n' Andy
  • "Uncle Toms" and "darkies" in old movies
  • Minstrel shows in blackface

    To this, we could add a long list of cartoons and "jokes" about:

  • Stupid Pollacks
  • Greedy Jews
  • Bucktoothed Asians
  • Ape-like Africans


    Is there any difference between any of these items? If so, what's the difference? Make sure your distinctions are clear so we can tell which of these items are acceptable and which aren't.

    Debating "funny" stereotypes

    I asked people on Facebook what these things had in common. This led to the following dialogue:Ignorance.

    Racism, hands down.
    Yes, but they were all supposed to be funny. Not serious. Just a joke. Ha ha.I see no humor in any of it.But if someone somewhere is laughing, the racism and stereotyping must be harmless. Isn't that obvious?If you laugh easily, you'll laugh even if it's stereotypical, even racist. I mean, I laugh when I see Police Academy, and the humor there is rather mean. The question isn't if you laugh, it's if it's making you slightly uncomfortable even as you laugh.Which confirms my point that there's no connection between whether something makes you laugh and whether it's racist or stereotypical. Hence the "it's supposed to be funny" defense fails.Not really, Rob. If it's parody you can legally get away with virtually anything that you'd be sued for if it wasn't parody.Yes, really. I'm talking about whether something is psychologically harmful and morally wrong, not whether it's legal.

    I'm sure the Dudesons episode is perfectly legal, but that doesn't mean people should make excuses for it. It's stereotypical and offensive even if it's legal and "funny" (to those who laugh at racism, that is).

    If you haven't got the message yet, I'll spell it out: There's no difference between The Dudesons, Polish jokes, minstrel shows, and the other items on the list. They're all 1) stereotypical, 2) offensive to many people, and 3) allegedly funny. The alleged funniness does nothing to change the items' stereotypical or offensive nature.

    For more on the subject, see Dudesons Too "Stoopid" to Matter and Okay to Stereotype in "Satires"? For more on the subject in general, see The Harm of Native Stereotyping:  Facts and Evidence.

    Below:  Comical images of minorities. Laugh it up, people...these portrayals are supposed to be funny!

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