B. van der Ent
- The seriousness of ethnic jokes
- Ethnic humor and social change in the Netherlands, 1995-2012
- Humor: International Journal of Humor Research
- Volume | Issue number
- 29 | 4
- Pages (from-to)
- Document type
- Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences (FMG)
- Amsterdam Institute for Social Science Research (AISSR)
How serious are ethnic jokes? This article investigates this question by looking at the relation between ethnic jokes and ethnic relations in the Netherlands. It analyzes two corpora covering the range of ethnic jokes collected using an (almost) identical survey among high school students in 1995 (N=248) and 2012 (N=312). Finding a complex pattern of overlapping and shifting scripts, we identify three main categories of jokes with different dynamics. The first and second category, jokes about national groups and regional minorities, and sick ethnic jokes, are both in decline. The third category, jokes about ethnic minorities, is prominent in both years, and the most important category in 2012. Jokes about minorities show considerable variation and a “lag” in their reflection of societal changes. They refer to the most prominent ethnic stereotypes and ethnic discourse, and reflect the Dutch ethnic hierarchy and changes in ethnic relations over time. We argue that a single theory or approach is not sufficient to explain all ethnic humor or to assess its seriousness – or lack thereof. We conclude by suggesting two criteria to assess the seriousness of ethnic humor: the relation between jokes and actual hostility and exclusion; and the harshness of a joke cycle.
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