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Anthropology Of Humor Assignment 1

2332 words - 10 pages

Bryce Dale
A Survey of Jewish and African American Humor

Ethnic humor is a widely used social mechanism that can help ethnic groups, whether brought together by religion or skin color, come to terms with their identity as well as negotiate shifting relationships with other groups of varying backgrounds. Multifaceted in nature, ethnic humor can be used both internally to ridicule members of one’s own society as well as externally, ridiculing oppressing parties. Either way, ethnic humor allows for oppressed societies to advance in the face of adversity. The two most prevalent cases of this are in the Black and Jewish communities. I will go on to explain the similarities, such as ...view middle of the document...

He passed away, to no one’s regret, and was buried in the City of David, but not in the tombs of the kings.” This shows that if closely examined, one can find lighter touches in the Bible, such as this instance where a king sneaks in his own opinion. Similarly to the West African roots of Negro humor, the Bible is also filled with allegories that could be seen as humorous to some such as in 2 Kings when a group of children call an elderly man a “baldhead,” causing him to call a curse down on them making 2 female bears appear and maul the 42 children. With the roots of Jewish humor aside, the central issue the argument surrounds is the self-mockery associated with more modern Jewish humor. Freud, Grotjahn, and Reik see Jews as one entity that makes fun of itself, which is based on the Jewish psyche that oscillates between masochistic tendencies spawned from the willful acceptance of God’s punishment accompanied by hesitant acceptance of being God’s chosen people. The classic perception of the self-mockery in Jewish humor is explained by Martin Grotjahn as, “Aggression turned against oneself seems to be the essential feature of the truly Jewish joke. It’s as if the Jew tells his enemies ‘You don’t need to attack us. We can do that ourselves- and even better.’” Where this self-mockery originated and why is yet another issue that is brought up often. Freud has a theory saying that the Jews genetically passed down psychological conditions since biblical times. This theory is often dismissed because it does not draw the distinction between the roots of Jewish humor (namely, Isreali humor) and the more modern definition of Jewish humor. Reik believes Jewish humor originated in the 19th and 20th centuries as Jews moved to Europe and later America. Supporting this theory, Edmund Bergler states, “The seclusion, poverty, absence of opportunity and bitterness of life in the ghetto certainly favored psychic masochism; so did the persecution and bias encountered outside the ghetto.” This quote from Bergler would mean that Jewish humor originated and was used only among its own members of the community. Other sociologists believe that Jewish humor was used more externally as Jews tried to assimilate into normal European and American culture, helping with the “psychological ambiguity of life in a marginal social position,” as Rosenberg and Shapiro would say. If the integral part of Jewish humor is masochistic self ridicule, it seems that it served its main purpose in 19th century Europe of helping Jews cope with the rough realities of being on the outskirts of society, as well as moving forward to becoming a new part of European society.
Ben-Amos, however rejects the theory of self-deprecating humor altogether. He claims one must look at the Jewish community as any other society rather than one single entity subject to scrutiny. Within the society are numerous positions held- everything from a rabbi, to tradesmen, to a housewife. In Ben-Amos’s theory, the...

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