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April 27, 2006
Do We Laugh So We Don't Kill?
Sometime I like to take a break from telling you all what to think to tell you why you think that (Short Answer: Because I told you too). Now, some unwary liberals have stumbled onto conservative humor on some t-shirts from ThoseShirts.com and were quite shocked and appalled by what they saw. Digby feared that our humor meant we mean his ilk real harm, while maha says that this just follows a long line of violent conservative humor rooted in hostility.
She also says there is no such liberal equivalent.
Yeah, yeah; calm down. It's just like the "there's no liberal media" types who basically have King Kong trashing their living room but claim not to be able to see a monkey. But doesn't such obtuseness bring up some hostile feeling in you? Maybe there is a point about right-wing hostility in humor, as, if you look at it, there are a lot of factors out there that can be pushing conservatives like me to a very hostile disposition which I could possibly be reflecting in my humor.
CONTRIBUTING FACTORS TO RIGHT-WING HOSTILITY
* We were able to steal two Presidential election, but unable to rig Presidential approval polls.
* Confusion resulting from that we hate women and minorities, yet love Condoleezza Rice's warmongering and the punditry of Michelle Malkin.
* Our neo-nazi tendencies push us to anti-Semitism, but we're also working on Zionist conspiracies to fight wars solely to benefit Israel.
* Walker: Texas Ranger was canceled years ago.
* Illegal immigrants are stealing our jobs (personally, I have tons of bills to pay for my college education in electrical engineering, so how can I compete with Pedro hanging out by the Radio Shack who will design custom Power-On Reset circuits for $2.00 an hour?).
* We got Halliburton the illegal wars it wanted, but it's yet to deliver on the cheap oil.
All of that combined can lead to quite a bit of hostility, and, subconsciously, that could seep into our humor, our jokes revealing our violent intentions. How can we tell, though?
Obviously, Digby and maha lack any sort of science background to definitively detect latent hostility hiding in humor. Luckily, you have me, and there is no one more scientifical than Frank J.
Now, I contacted the humor department at Carnegie Mellon University (it's an actual university; Google it), and they happen to have specific studies on hostility in humor. It is essential to note that humor is hostile by nature. While it feels good to laugh at something, it feels horrible to be laughed at. Studies have shown that being laughed at activates the same centers of the brain as when one is threatened with a gun (That particular study was done by having some people connected to a brain monitor and then having the entire staff come in the room and laugh at the people for how dumb they looked with all that equipment attached to them. The other test case had people connected to the brain monitor and told they were going to view a series of pictures, but instead Samuel L. Jackson runs into a room, points a gun at the subject, and recites a stylized version of Ezekiel 25:17. The control case had people connected to the brain monitor and just forgotten about until they got angry and left.).
To measure hostility in humor, the Franken Scale is used. It's a linear scale for signifying the amount of latent hostility in a joke and ranges from 1 (no hostility) to 10 ("My name is Ted Rall."). Before we use the Franken Scale on the right-wing humor in question, let's use it on some simple examples so you can familiarize yourself with it. First, let's start with a joke common among many children:
Q. Why did the chicken cross the road?
The intent of this joke is to cause the person told to over think what is a simple matter by misdirection through the superfluous mention of a chicken. The humor, thus, is at the expense of the listener to the joke (when measuring hostility, it's important to be sure where the hostility in the joke is directed). Basically, the message of the joke is that you are so stupid you don't know the basic concept of why one crosses a road. That's a somewhat hostile commentary on one's intelligence, but it doesn't directly mean the teller of the joke intends violence in addition to contempt. Thus, this scores a 3 on the Franken scale.
Now, let's look at another common childhood joke:
Now this joke is directed at Vice President Cheney. While it does involve a shotgun blast, that itself is not a marker of hostility (we're concerned if the teller is actually contemplating violence himself, not just talking about it). What the joke is saying is that VP Cheney is so unstable that he'll blast you in the face with a shotgun at the drop of a hat. Someone that unstable would obviously need to be locked away if not shot himself, thus this implies a fair amount of hostility at our VP and gets a 5 on the Franken Scale.
For the next joke, let's use a variation of the first that my father came up with:
Q. Why did the chicken cross the road?
Of course, the joke here is at the expense of the filthy, vermin raccoons you always see dead at the side of the road after they became a temporary speed bump. The humor expresses glee at their ignominious demise, but, since it's directed at raccoons, this doesn't count as real hostility and thus this joke rates a 1 on the Franken Scale.
As one last example, let's look at another common childhood joke:
Q. What's black and white and red all over?
Again, this joke is at the expense of who is listening to it. The humor comes from misdirection, getting the listener to think of the color "red" instead of the verb "read." Thus, the message is, "I can control your thinking, you simple piece of @#$%. I can mind-@#$% you in ways you can't even imagine!" Still, it's really just a pun, and would rank a 2 on the Franken Scale except that it's Hitler's favorite joke which bumps it up to a 7.
There is only one joke here using a common phrase ("some assembly required") to whimsically advocate lynching journalists. Now, on the surface, this is very hostile, but, is it latently hostile - does the one making this remark really wish to kill? Well, since it is a joke, that means the idea of actually killing journalists is so extreme it's funny. What is more likely that the joker only dislikes journalist enough to harm them in a lesser way (perhaps a punch to the groin) and then engages in hyperbole to get a laugh. This is clearly a 4 on the Franken Scale.
Now let's look at the other shirt that was designed by me, the Know Thy Enemy: Liberals shirt that is unfortunately out of print:
Before we get to the individual items, let's look at the hostility of the shirt as a whole. It states that liberals are "enemies" which could be hostile unless the items show that to be completely in jest. Also, the humor items are very non-hostilely bullet-pointed so everyone knows where each joke begins and ends. A problem with many liberals is not understanding what is a joke, which especially happens with things like my editorials where not every statement is meant to be humorous. The bulleted joke system is much more accommodating and non-hostile in nature.
On to the bulleted jokes:
* The main diet of the liberal is tofu and granola. This makes them puny and easy to throw.
Throwing someone is an extreme dominance behavior. The message sent when you throw someone is, "I'm big enough to throw you." Next time your dog acts up, try throwing him. He will be much more compliant now that you've asserted such dominance.
Asserting dominance is not hostility, though. In fact, it's quite the opposite. One asserts dominance so that one may control a person and move him in a safer direction. So, while throwing by itself is quite hostile, the act of throwing is a caring gesture in this context. This joke thus ranks a 4 on the Franken Scale.
* Liberals will try to entice you with their twisted logic. Counter with a bitch slap.
Now, it's important to note the words used. A slap, even if it's a bitch-slap, suggests slight pain without harm. Here, it is implied to be a corrective measure. While inflicting pain is hostile, wanting to correct someone is caring. This ranks a 2 on the Franken Scale.
* Hanging a picture of Ronald Reagan over your door will keep liberals from entering.
This one is important, so pay attention. While nothing in the joke itself is of a hostile nature (I'd hardly consider hammering in a nail to hang a picture 'hostile'), the latent hostility underlying this joke is extreme. Ronald Reagan was a great man who ended the Cold War. Anyone who would be scared of Reagan would have to be a terrible fiend - hideous and almost inhuman. This sort of joke would clearly justifies killing liberals by painting them as such wretches, and thus it is a 9 on the Franken Scale.
* Liberals are against nuclear weapons but have yet to suggest a soy-based substitute that can obliterate cities.
This joke simply implies that liberals are too stupid to understand the importance of nuclear weapons. Implying stupidity always means a bit of hostility, so this gets a 3 on the Franken Scale.
* If you see a fuel-efficient car, it's probably being driven by a liberal. Run it off the road with your SUV.
Again, ignore the conspicuously stated act of violence (running a car off the road) and look what lies beneath. Saying someone drives a fuel-efficient car is a direct swipe at a person's manhood. That's demeaning, but no real hostility or violence comes along with that. The act of driving the car off the road in this context is again a corrective measure and limits the hostility. This is a 2 on the Franken Scale.
* Liberals are constantly inflaming the culture war. They seem to forget which side has all the guns.
A joke about someone's forgetfulness is as bland as they come, and saying someone is forgetful by no stretch implies a person should be harmed. This is clearly a 1 on the Franken Scale.
* The most dangerous predator of liberals is the real world. They hide from it in college campuses.
This, admittedly, is simply and observation and not a joke. Thus, the Franken Scale doesn't even apply.
* Inspired by rhyming slogans and giant puppets, liberals sometimes congregate into groups known as "protests." The purpose of these is unknown.
Here it is implied that liberals engage in strange, foreign behavior. This is extremely hostile in nature as it's perfectly legal and reasonable to shoot foreigners. This is a 7 on the Franken Scale.
* Liberals are always whining about tolerance, but when I punch them for that, they get moody. Hey, be tolerant!
This joke uses a "punch" instead of a "slap" as in the earlier joke, and a punch implies pain with some minor injury. Still, the punch is desired to correct whiny behavior, so the joke again shows caring towards liberals. On the other hand, it ends with an exclamation point, and those are hostile. This gets a 3 on the Franken Scale.
So, at least looking at these shirts, right-wing humor can involve some hostility. Perhaps, in the future, I and others should use more analysis using the Franken Scale to make sure our jokes do not incite violence.
For our next exercise, I'll need someone to find some humor from a liberal blog to analyze. The humor item should be a bulleted or numbered list for two reasons:
1. As stated before, bullets or numbers tell me where each joke begins and ends so I don't have to figure that out for myself.
Until the next lecture: Be honorable, ronin.
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