Humor as a Form of Cultural Expression Essay

Humor as a Form of Cultural Expression Essay

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Humor as a Form of Cultural Expression


How can one look at a culture and understand its origins, its values, its accomplishments and failures? Through art, poetry, or other literary, or scientific advances? Maybe even in its political standpoints? All of these methods are acceptable. There is one I did not mention in the above list however. It can be considered trivial by some, but I think it is also important. Perhaps we can understand a culture by its humor.

Even on the surface the jokes of a country generally reflect its habitat, attitude, and its people. In the US for instance, most jokes you hear on late-night television would probably be political ones, bashing this political figure or the next. Why is this so? Perhaps because Americans have strong feelings about the politics in their country, and have the right of free speech. Because of the former the jokes come about, and because of the latter they are aired on national television. As for reflecting the environment, another popular collection of American jokes usually starts with the words “A guy walks into a bar ...” Just by looking at this “prefix” we can see that many Americans spend a lot of time in bars. Thus we see the usual “environment” of all important occurrences in the daily life of an American. In the USSR, most jokes would take place in a store or marketplace, because that is where people spent most of their time -- waiting in lines.

A joke is as much of a national expression as folk stories, tales and legends. Except those three talk about past times, and the joke is current. I originally come from the former Soviet Union, and there the joke was an even more popular media than television, art or books. It was not censored by the government, whi...


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...es in both cultures. For example : “In the meat department of a supermarket, a customer is asking : ‘Don’t you have any fish?’ The reply is : ‘No. We don’t have any meat. They don’t have fish in aisle 7’.” This type of joke would not travel very far in the US because not many people would understand it. It was much more effective when there actually was no fish or meat in the stores at the time I heard it. You wouldn’t have this problem in the US (unless there was some terrible war or another such calamity). This joke never came about in the US. It (hopefully) never will. What’s more, it doesn’t catch on, because it takes special conditions to understand this type of sarcasm.

They are funny. At times also sad. But jokes have to get credit for the benefit, and insight they can provide. We cannot overlook them. But on the other hand, don’t take it too seriously.

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