Why men are the target of humorists


Yesterday was father’s day, one of those bogus celebrations that are meant to pressure people to buy useless stuff by implying that they do not appreciate their fathers if they do not. It is also an occasion to pontificate on the nature of fatherhood. David Mitchell takes aim at those who criticize humor writers for their depiction of characters such as Homer Simpson and say that people like him are poor role models of fathers. In the process, Mitchdell makes an important larger point.

But when Freegard says, “The type of jokes aimed at dads would be banned if they were aimed at women, ethnic minorities or religious groups”, she has got a point – just not the one she thinks she’s got. Men and fathers are so favoured in our society, the world is weighted so much to their advantage, that comedy writers can safely make them the perpetual butt of jokes. The fact that Homer Simpson is the funniest, most prominent and most popular character in that show says far more about continued male dominance of money and power in the west than his fecklessness or misfortunes say about the undervaluing of paternal effort.

Comedy is a misère bid – to be the biggest loser is to win. If a time comes when incompetent or hapless women are humorously depicted as often as their male equivalents, then the distorting fairground mirror of comedy might at last be reflecting a just world.

That’s about right. It is surprising how many people do not appreciate the role that power and privilege play in the selection of humor targets.

Comments

  1. Reginald Selkirk says

    But when Freegard says, “The type of jokes aimed at dads would be banned if they were aimed at women, ethnic minorities or religious groups”, she has got a point

    Not really. Consider Married with Children. it made as much fun of the mother and daughter as of the father and son. And it was never banned. To suggest that MwC was a “reflection of a just world” seems to me to give it too much credit.

  2. Pierce R. Butler says

    … when incompetent or hapless women are humorously depicted as often as their male equivalents…

    So the golden age of egalitarian television came (and went) with I Love Lucy?

  3. wtfwhatever says

    The word in Mitchell’s key paragraph is “safely”.

    But when Freegard says, “The type of jokes aimed at dads would be banned if they were aimed at women, ethnic minorities or religious groups”, she has got a point – just not the one she thinks she’s got. Men and fathers are so favoured in our society, the world is weighted so much to their advantage, that comedy writers can safely make them the perpetual butt of jokes. The fact that Homer Simpson is the funniest, most prominent and most popular character in that show says far more about continued male dominance of money and power in the west than his fecklessness or misfortunes say about the undervaluing of paternal effort.

    You really need to ask yourself why Mitchell needed to add that word, and what an unsafe joke might be. Also ask if some of the best comedies haven’t been those that tread on the unsafe side. Or if a critical role for comedies to play is precisely to tread on the unsafe side. Who is comedy propping up by playing only the safe jokes?

    The fact that Homer Simpson is the funniest, most prominent and most popular character in that show says far more about continued male dominance of money and power in the west than his fecklessness or misfortunes say about the undervaluing of paternal effort.

    This is a great sounding statement, but I would like to see Mitchell support it with evidence from the Simpsons. When I think to the great Simpson’s episodes, or any Simpson episode, I just cannot understand what Mitchell is trying to say.

    26 years ago, in shorts for the Tracey Ullman show, in the context of the 1980s, Homer was born, a feckless, misfortunate reflection of the American father, compared to Marge, compared to Mr. Burns, all in all a powerless male and a male with little money and little power aside from the ability to strangle his son.

    And we all laughed at him because his antics were appallingly stupid and because in many ways we could identify with him.

    26 years later the show is still funny, but it’s not the funniest nor the best show on the tube. That Homer is still the funniest character says more about the strict structures the show was created with. He was the protagonist then. He is the protagonist now.

    It’s one reason South Park is largely considered a funnier, and more popular show — a show that treats all of its adults with an equal (ly unfair) comedic hand.

  4. Mano Singham says

    I think the key words in Mitchell’s piece is ‘as often’. Sure we can find some cases like Peg Bundy but they reason we recall them so easily is because they are so rare. I think that funny commercials are the best reflector of the mirror that Mitchell talks about.

  5. brucegee1962 says

    Is this similar to the “Alice” phenomenon in Dilbert? Female violence against men (Alice’s fist of death) is funny, but male violence against women is not funny. This is also true in comics like “Something Positive.” Again, I think it says more about the power groups being better targets for comedy than it is about reverse sexism or something similar.

  6. wtfwhatever says

    “Comedy is a misère bid – to be the biggest loser is to win. If a time comes when incompetent or hapless women are humorously depicted as often as their male equivalents, then the distorting fairground mirror of comedy might at last be reflecting a just world.”

    And how will that occur?

    We know that feminist groups go crazy over humor that targets women or mothers, and Mitchell doesn’t complain about that. Mitchell does complain when a mum’s group speaks out against humor that targets men or fathers, and Mitchell does speak out against that.

    Right now we see women far in the majority at colleges, and we see women taking the lead in salary in many fields, and women doing wonderfully well becoming the majority of doctors and succeeding in law.

    We see men falling behind, being the vast majority of those killed in our wars, not getting educated, being told they are the problem in school and at home.

    And yet you seem to think that Homer and Bill Gates are roughly equivalent.

    So in this environment, how does Mitchell’s comedic world ever get to depicting hapless women at all, much less in equal proportions to men?

    The answer is not to be found in the Simpson’s, still mired in the 80s, much as I admire the writers and actors and love the show. Maybe it’s South Park, but sadly it doesn’t seem that it will be in That Mitchell and Webb Look, either, until the writers there start taking on the unsafe comedy.

  7. Rob Grigjanis says

    We know that feminist groups go crazy over humor that targets women or mothers

    Yeah, and white folk can’t make n*gger jokes. It’s so unfair. What happened to stoicism as a male virtue? It seems to have been replaced by whining.

    we see women taking the lead in salary in many fields

    Do you have a citation for that? Which fields?

  8. CaitieCat says

    You know, womanly ones. Prostitution, stripping, midwifery. Women are totally paid more than men in ALL those professions. I’m sure there are plenty more. Pedi/mani person, dressmaker, you know…women-jobs.

    So that whole thing about paying people the same for the same work…just a big old Commie herring.

    Yep. Shame the world went and got fair all of a sudden. And when they passed that legislation legally enslaving white men and only white men? Wow, that was awesome for us. Don’t forget the “Making Sure Men Never Get To Express An Opinion Ever Act”, either, that was pretty important. Seeing all those guys going to jail for their “honest opinions” was amazing. But what did they expect, when all of a sudden it was impossible for men to be 90%+ of the people in the US Senate, and 70%+ in the House of Representatives. And then there was that string of women Presidents, that was pretty cool too.

    Meanwhile, back in this plane of reality…

  9. CaitieCat says

    Be aware this is the only response you’ll ever get, and go fuck yourself, that’s why.

    But really. A new and amazing phenomenon: a person who claims to be a “Twoo Skeptic”, who also happens to claim he has *wooo* PSYCHIC POWERS (as real skeptics always do, right, cause being psychic is totally a scientific thing, I bet James Randi’d be proud to call you a follower), and can tell you what you’re thinking! A new level of amazing powers in the harrassers and misogynists!

    Honestly, though? Your show sucks. Kreskin had WAY more panache, and he had that cool hair-flip thing where he’d push his hair off his ever-geeky forehead, to expose his Big Brain Powers. All you have are boring tu quoque and baseless, evidence-free accusations.

    May the FSM bless and keep you – far away from us.

    Is it me, or has the quality of troll we get gone WAY down lately? Used to be you’d get something halfway approaching coherence from a good one, but now we just get three-year-olds shearing shit on their screens.

  10. says

    I think it matter a great deal who is being laughed at. I think a great example is the Irish. Here in the US, the stereotype of the drunken Irish husbands getting beaten on by their wives or finding loopholes in every law to avoid working are usually met with laughter. Very few Irish are offended, since it’s seen as a “we laugh because we love you” sort of good humor. Go to any St. Patrick’s Day parade to see how deeply offended the Irish are at the thought of being drunks and bad dancers.

    But take these same cultural ribbings back 100 years, and it’s not funny at all. It’s deeply offensive. Back then, these jokes weren’t meant to cheer the Irish, and they were not lighthearted. They were meant to be funny, though. Most people telling the jokes, I’m certain, didn’t see any real harm in it.

    Jokes that denigrate women, minorities, LGBTQ, or the disabled are not funny because the attitudes expressed in the jokes are thought to be true by too many people. While I can tell my wife a joke about women and she’d know I don’t actually believe it, it’s not going to give her a belly laugh. It’s going to remind her of the very real times she’s encountered sexism.

    That white men can tell such off color jokes and think it’s “all in good fun” shows how privileged we are. We are so immune to sexism and racism that we can’t even imagine being the target. It’s okay to bash on white guys, not because we have power, but because we’re the only group not reminded of painful memories by such jokes.

  11. says

    Read the WHOLE article, dumbass:

    “While these particular women earn more than their male peers, women on the whole haven’t reached equal status in any particular job or education level. For instance, women with a bachelor’s degree had median earnings of $39,571 between 2006 and 2008, compared with $59,079 for men at the same education level, according to the Census.

    At every education level, from high-school dropouts to Ph.D.s, women continue to earn less than their male peers.

    Also, women tend to see wages stagnate or fall after they have children.”

  12. Mano Singham says

    I looked at the link but what that article says is that women who are more educated than men earn more than those men, which is not surprising. But the situation changes when you compare people with equal education. As the article says:

    While these particular women earn more than their male peers, women on the whole haven’t reached equal status in any particular job or education level. For instance, women with a bachelor’s degree had median earnings of $39,571 between 2006 and 2008, compared with $59,079 for men at the same education level, according to the Census.

    At every education level, from high-school dropouts to Ph.D.s, women continue to earn less than their male peers.

    Also, women tend to see wages stagnate or fall after they have children.

  13. Rob Grigjanis says

    I don’t read tumblr, but I see Mano and Donovan beat me to the obvious. “A million other articles”? Gosh, how many millions does it take to trump reality?

  14. wtfwhatever says

    Mano, you write

    “what that article says is that women who are more educated than men earn more than those men”

    Yes, that is why I wrote:

    “Right now we see women far in the majority at colleges, and we see women taking the lead in salary in many fields, and women doing wonderfully well becoming the majority of doctors and succeeding in law”

    Now women are in the majority in college, and women that are more educated than men earn more than those men….

    So put 1 + 1 together and what do you get?

    Women are starting to take the lead in salaries in many fields.

    On the other hand Professor Singham, and with all due respect, when you write:

    “But the situation changes when you compare people with equal education.”

    based on the article stating:

    “For instance, women with a bachelor’s degree had median earnings of $39,571 between 2006 and 2008, compared with $59,079 for men at the same education level, according to the Census.”

    What it really reveals, and again meaning no disrespect, is that you don’t even have the basic understanding of the pay gap, including understanding the part of the pay gap that feminists and rational people actually agree on, which is that the $40,000 to $60,000 comparison doesn’t reflect that men go into high paying STEM fields at a much larger rate than women that damage their salaries with degrees in women’s studies and other low paying fields.

    Women are starting to become doctors, but many get vague liberal arts “do you want fries with that” degrees.

    http://www.kenyoncollegian.com/news/kenyon-admissions-process-favors-men-1.2619476?pagereq=2
    But many classes at Kenyon are surprisingly gender imbalanced. The statistics are particularly skewed in the majors men and women choose to pursue.

    In April, The Daily Beast website published a list of the most useless undergraduate degrees. They found the 20 degrees that feed to careers with the lowest median starting and mid-career salaries and the worst projected number of jobs in the next decade.

    Of Kenyon’s five most popular majors, two made the list: psychology and English. At Kenyon, more than twice as many women pursue those majors than men.

    In July, The Huffington Post published a list of the best-paying college majors. Of Kenyon’s top five, only economics landed a spot. In 2009, 24 Kenyon men graduated with an economics degree. Only 11 women did the same

    Mano, I am not saying anything odd that is not known and discussed. Seriously, and with no disrespect, your critique demonstrates an ignorance that is easily remedied. Where have you been for the past couple of years?

  15. Mano Singham says

    Samantha Wyatt looks at your claim that the gender gap is caused by women choosing lower paying professions and points to studies that find that even after controlling for those variables (and more), the wage gap still remains.

  16. DeepThought says

    Men and fathers are so favoured in our society, the world is weighted so much to their advantage, that comedy writers can safely make them the perpetual butt of jokes…

    That’s about right. It is surprising how many people do not appreciate the role that power and privilege play in the selection of humor targets.

    You’ve missed the point by lightyears. Men are favored in our society in many ways, true, but they are not favored precisely as fathers, which is why I take offense at these types of jokes. There are many stereotypes favoring men, true, but this isn’t one of them. It’s presumed, almost without question, by virtually everyone, that men are at best essentially not as competent as women in childrearing, and at worst incompetent or even dangerous.

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