Humour & social protest

"Humour is a most intriguing aspect of social life. It can be used in various ways, by a great variety of actors, to convey meanings and intentions, overt and covert, in cartoons and jokes, in puns and satires, in music and songs,in theatre and performances. As humour always contains at least some malice(possibly concealed), it can be extremely useful as a conflict device. In social and political conflict, ridiculing has often proved to be an effective means with which to damage the position of an adversary. Besides this primary, offensive function, humour has been instrumental in mobilizing sympathizers and support and helped to release tension during prolonged struggle. Within social movements humour was an important factor in distinguishing between "them and us", helping to define the boundaries of the movement and its following, as well as constructing an internal hierarchy. The form and content of typical insider jokes circulating in social movements helped to exclude those who "didn't get the joke" from the movement itself or from its core membership. Derogatory jokes about women(or men), youth (or the elderly), peasants (or city folk), Jews, gentiles,blacks and whites were used to develop and circumscribe a distinct milieuand subculture. Within social movements, some militants and leaders became highly popular thanks to their sense of humour and theatrical talents, using the speaker's platform for a politicized form of stand-up comedy, and using this popularity as a basis for their career. Yet humour is by no means a simple revolutionary tool. Some movements considered their cause too grave to allow any laughs. Furthermore, some jokes typically further resignation and acquiescence, above all in self-deprecating humour. Humour may also serve well to preserve the status quo and the power of the ruling majority,by furthering stereotypes of the oppressed for example.

"Supplement International Review of Social History 14 (2007)