Monday, October 02, 2006


Wherein from my favorite book of the year

The quote below was typed months ago. Kept running across events and news stories that would have worked well for a couple lines of introduction babble. Never did it. Then there was the dinner when the friend of friend's started talking about Shirley Q. Liquor. This FoF, your basic middle-aged college administrator, proceded to repeat -- along with dialect -- a handful of Shirley Q. Liquor routines. Funny. And disturbing.

This following quote isn't necessarily the central theme of John Strausbaugh's Black Like You: Blackface, Whiteface, Insult & Imitation in American Popular Culture, but it is important to keep in mind as the book explores the cultural explorations, interminglings, and hatreds as America has grown. It's also just a fascinating collection of historical ephemera
Yet American humor has always been very rough-and-tumble. What strikes Americans as funny exists on a sliding scale from vulgar insult (blonde jokes, faggot jokes, Polack jokes) to what's most often judged hate speech today (nigger jokes, kike jokes). Ethnic identity humor plays a huge role in American culture. It's part of the toughening-up process that leads to mutual tolerance (if not mutual admiration) in America's mongrel culture. Theoretically, we are all fair game. Everybody has a right to be ignunt in America. There's a reason why insult is protected free speech in America, and not susceptible to libel litigation the way it is in the UK. In America, insult is not actionable. We are expected to be able to "give as good as we get," to "dish it out and take it."

One of the functions of humor is to serve as a forum where we Americans can say things about one another that we cannot say in polite conversation. In comic performance and jokes we say how we really feel about one another in ways we never do in public and with a straight face. In that sense, Shirley Q. Liquor's blackface mask is the ultimate in not-a-straight-face. It allows White people to laugh about Black people in public, in ways they normally would do only in private. By penetrating the surface of polite, politically correct discourse, Shirley Q. Liquor forces her audience to acknowledge feelings, attitudes and opinions that they have been well trained to hide and repress. One of the signal failures of politically correct social programming has been the notion that if Americans could be trained to speak and act as if they don't have any of these opinion or attitudes, these attitudes and opinions will disappear. Comedians like Shirley Q. Liquor, Dave Chapelle, Chris Rock, Carlos Mencia, and once upon a time Andrew Dice Clay, Richard Pryor and Lenny Bruce, have challenged this failed experiment in social engineering.


Ok, just listened to a bunch of Shirley Q. Liquor. I can cross that off my list of things to do. Didn't find it offensive, just unfunny. I think the friend of friends had better timing.


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