Joking aside

November 22, 2002

Laurie Taylor is wrong in his review of The Mirth of Nations to suggest that I was driven by ideology to refute the connection between ethnic joking and hostility and conflict (Books, THES , November 8).

It was more a wish to overturn the dominant view in humour scholarship that there is a strong connection. I held this view in the 1980s but have since repudiated it.

Neither did I lecture about jokes in Ireland, Newfoundland and Poland to the people who were the butts of these jokes out of an almost masochistic commitment to duty.

I did it for pleasure, as well as out of professional duty - both mine and theirs. It extended into the evening with further joke-telling.

For most people ethnic jokes about groups without esteem are not seen as demeaning them. But this could happen if they were to be used in a particular context and told in a particular tone.

The Jewish joke about the crucifix that Taylor cites may well be offensive if told the wrong way, but it is not offensive for or about Jews. It would be offensive not because it demeans a group but because it impinges on the particular religious sensibility of Christians, who are an esteemed and powerful group.

Christie Davies
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