Universal Comedy? No Thanks.

When I was reading the Sontag essay assigned this week, I was struck by her statements about the tendency for homosexuals to be attuned to camp sensibilities. While her writings are certainly a reflection of queer theory at the time, I began to find myself turned off to the message because of her reliance of the existence of a single queer experience. Beyond this though, I began to consider the differences in life experiences between different groups of people, especially the marginalized and those who have power. I follow a large number of people (namely Women of Color) on Twitter who dedicate their time to writing and advocating for the destruction of the many oppressive narratives and institutions that exist in this country. These people frequently engage in humor that is based in their experiences as members of marginalized communities, a humor that is positively received by others who identify similarly. This humor functions to unite people with similar experiences by explicitly confronting the issues they face together.

For example, I recently saw a thread from a Dominican Afro-Latina woman I follow (@bad_dominicana) in which she joked that her critiques of misogyny were not harmful because she has family members and friends that are men. She turned the familiar refrain of “I’m not racist! My best friend is *insert race*” on its head, at once critiquing misogyny and patriarchy while silencing the large number of men who respond to her tweets daily claiming that she is unfair or otherwise challenge her critical analysis of the world she lives in. Jokes like these, which are based in a marginalized writer’s own experiences and are meant to reach and resonate with people who have similar lived experiences, are nearly always met by opposition from those who actually hold power and claim that they are hurt by the content. There are obvious power differentials between the two parties that I feel limit the validity  of the arguments in response to the jokes. But reflecting on this phenomenon brings other questions to mind… How can comedy function as a tool for resistance in marginalized communities? I think it’s incredibly powerful that marginalized groups have a sort of in-group humor (for whatever theory of laughter applies), and I would argue that this humor does not, and perhaps should not, be accessible to others. In class discussion, we wondered why people don’t find many women funny. I think that many women are funny, but their humor just doesn’t resonate with people who don’t have the same experiences as them. I’m wondering why people want humor to be universal? Why can’t women or other marginalized groups have a humor that is their own? Don’t those in power have enough accessible forms of entertainment and comedy?

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