Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Laughter Is Bourgeois

Humor and intersectionality; they go together like peanut butter and chocolate, that is, if peanut butter were oil and chocolate were water. I know, I know, it's bad form to snicker at a dissertation, where pompous windbaggery is the required house style, but there's just something especially, irresistibly, ironically amusing about an examination of subversive humor taking itself so seriously:

So, while there has been success in publicly speaking about the problems with using skin color or body type as a determinant for power in the past, this legal and discursive progress has occurred simultaneously with a systematically buried (Young 124) element of racism: the "constitution" (Gordon 2011, 20) of blacks by whites, through white people non-consciously being-whitely-in-the-world. That phrase requires some unpacking.

But, as Sullivan notes "white privilege is just as, if not more destructive than white supremacy, even if (or, perhaps, precisely because) it is not as spectacular....White privilege maintains itself largely by seeming normal, natural, and unobjectionable. It functions best by remaining invisible, that is, unconscious" (Sullivan 2006, 55). If this is the case, and privilege fosters psychological oppression, then even those who vocally object to racist and sexist practices can still play a role in sustaining systematic oppression. The ignorance is socially diffused and made all the more obscure by the fact that single instances of biased attitudes akin to those found in Yancey's elevator example, cannot sufficiently explain the harms of psychological oppression without invoking a broader view.

Environmental factors can include socializing tendencies that subtly influence norm-adherence or system-justifying behavior. For example, Young argues that the "historical accidents" that equate whiteness and maleness with abstract reasoning, and objectivity, among other favorable attributes  on the scale of normativity, continue to systematically infect the "mastering gaze" of the unmindful privileged who act as if their perspective is the universal point of view "from nowhere" (Young 127; Code 286).

Ironically, this non-serious attitude, in Morreall's sense, when applied to oppressor or oppressed in humor, can actually be seen as an adoption of seriousness in the existentialist sense. Rather than standing as a confrontation to a legitimate problem, the laughter from the oppressed acts merely as an exercise of fictionalizing and/or aestheticizing what would otherwise be viewed as a crippling state of affairs. Seen in this light, the humor acts not as a subversive tactic, but rather as a further mechanism of self-constraint, for the laughers are not really interested in changing anything, but merely experiencing the temporary relief that comes from tension-releasing laughter; they are revealing that they are content, even at ease with the way things are even though the play mode enables them to recognize the disparity between that reality and how things should be (see Morreall 1999 4-6).