28 August 2011

Discrimination: Is It Really Funny?

I was poking around on the harddrive looking for a particular file last night when I stumbled across the below: a post I wrote nearly TWO YEARS ago that somehow never made it to the blog. It was a direct response to something that happened on a live TV show, but it's still just as relevant and thought-provoking. So this week, you get a long, thinky post :) It's a little vague in places, but nonetheless asks some interesting questions. Enjoy.

Australians will poke fun at anything and everything, and claim it is their right to do so. There are very few icons of our own that one could mock and be slandered for it; we value our sense of laid-back humour and our ability to mock one and all. But are we guilty, because of this, of perpetuating negative stereotypes when we laugh at jokes that are fundamentally based on discrimination and said stereotyping?

Where, for example, does one draw the line? Is a blonde telling a blonde joke less discriminatory than a brunette telling it? Are we allowed to laugh? Are we allowed to laugh if a brunette tells it, but the blondes in the room laugh? And given that casual mockery is such an essential part of Australian culture, do we have to ask questions like, to what extent is a culture allowed their own character, insomuch as that character may hurt and offend others? And ultimately, is mocking based on racial or sexist discrimination any less harmful in the long run than, for example, the oppression of women in some eastern nations?

And most importantly: does this mean we’re not allowed a sense of humour? I dispute that: I believe that humour is an essential quality of being human, of life. But on the other hand, I refuse to find things such as Australia’s Funniest Home Videos funny; I find nothing amusing about people hurting themselves over and over in obvious, predictable and painful ways. Is it a matter then of choosing what we find funny?

It’s no wonder we live in a post-post modern age; moral relativity and globalisation are utterly incompatible. We simply cannot argue that what is right for me is right for me, and what is right for you is right for you, in an age where even the very concept of nationalism is up for grabs. Western nations will permit non-western nations to have power and influence only to the degree that they conform to our ideals and values; there is an absolute, and it’s ours. Granted, nationalism (global recognition that a country conforms to certain standards and thus has the right to autonomy) has always been a case of good for the goose but not for the gander, but in an increasingly global society there can be little doubt that nations are no longer truly free to choose their own identity; if they are to have any sway in the political community they must conform to certain standards of “justice”, “equality” and “democracy”.

But in the end, who’s to say that our judgement stick is the best? By no means am I suggesting that I am anti-democratic, or anti-anti-discrimination; but the point remains: we are guilty of forcing our will upon the rest of the world, whether they want it or not. It is for the good of the majority – on the whole.

So what are we going to do about it? It starts with being able to admit that we are part of the problem; with being able to admit that we are part of a society that perpetuates stereotypes; with being able to re-examine our own habits and beliefs, and being willing to accept that we were wrong – and that we can change.

I acknowledge that I have been naive. And I resolve to monitor more closely what I find amusing, and why, and to think about the broader implications that that may have not only in my own life, but in the life of others, even be they far, far away from me.

The world will change one person at a time. What will you do to change it?

1 comment:

Mirja said...

Ok, so, this is probably going to be a bit of a ramble (just warning you).

Last week in my IR and Security classes, we were talking about imposing 'Western' ideologies and values upon nations 'who need them to be imposed for the greater good'. So, this is, in a basic form, what colonial tactics in Asia were, particularly by Portugal and the Netherlands (not so much the British, they got 'colonies by accident' by getting involved in local conflicts that they then one, which ended up in them getting land).

We were talking about this in the colonial context in Security, but it was also relevant during periods such as that which the Vietnam War was in (which we were talking about it IR). Vietnam is one of the 'classic cases' of a country (America) attempting to impose their values upon another (Vietnam), though the Vietnam War was obviously a whole heap more than that (America trying to contain communism, stop the 'domino effect' etc). Fundamentally though, I would say the actions were quite colonial in nature.

Then (back to Security now) we questioned if this colonial state of mind is still around today. I gave the Libya example, we want them to be democratic, so we support those in country who also want democracy. While this isn't as openly 'colonial' as colonialism first was, I would say that the state of mind is similar and that the West throwing themselves behind the thought of democracy in Libya is colonial in nature (in that we are wanting the nation to become a Western style democracy). One of my class mates gave the example of Iraq...same sort of basic theory stands there.

Now, back to IR. In the modern age of IR (and security) theories, the USA has global hegemony (though, there is debate about China challenging that). Post Cold War, various IR theories stated that the USA was deserving of this hegemony. One theory suggested that the USA quash all challenges to their hegemony militarily, another suggested they do so by 'imposing their values upon nations which challenge world order' (which I would say, is fairly colonial in nature).

Then, the other day, I was watching Q and A while tweeting with my friends about it. We had a discussion about if imposing a democracy on the Middle East is the best way of getting them a stable government, and if a democracy is, in fact, the best form of government for the Middle East. My answer is no to both, but that was not the case with my friends. I think my view on the issue has something to do with growing up in a country governed by a military regime, likewise, their view is based upon growing up in a democracy.

So, basically, what I'm saying is that perhaps 'imposing our Western values' upon other nations of the world isn't the best thing to do. Simply because, well, people don't like being told what to do and because we don't understand all of what goes on in a county. I give you another historical example, the Indian Revolt (against the British). This had be brewing for a while, but came to a head when rumours went around that the canisters holding gun powered were greased with pig fat (according to the Muslims) or cow fat (according to the Hindus). In fact, they were greased with bees wax. This became the flash point from which the revolt kind of started; the British appeared not to be culturally sensitive. The British thought they understood what was going on in the country enough to get locals to fight for them loyally, they didn't and they felt the consequences. Lack of cultural understanding is bad, and trying to impose values etc upon a culture that isn't understood is worse.

This doesn't really have anything to do with the humour side of things, but your post made me think of that huge rant.

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