Saturday, March 28, 2009

what do you call an Irish double-glazing salesman?

Here are two jokes. I'd like you to give me your opinion on them. First, joke number 1:
Q: What do you call an Indian cloakroom attendant?
A: Mahatma Coat
You can probably see where this is going. Now, joke number 2:
Q: What do you call a Scottish cloakroom attendant?
A: Angus McCoatup
Now, what I'd like you to do is to explain which of those jokes is racist. Take your time. Your options are:

a) joke 1
b) joke 2
c) both
d) neither

Of course this isn't something I've just plucked out of the air; joke 1 (with a small variation which I'll come to in a minute) is the one that recently got David Jason into trouble after he told it on Christian O'Connell's radio show.

Generally deconstructing humour to see how it works is a pretty pointless exercise. It's very much like deconstructing your cat to see how it works - you might learn something useful, but that particular cat will never be quite the same again. However, I think it's worth pursuing a bit here, at least to the extent of observing that both of the jokes above work in exactly the same way, i.e. by making a fairly facile pun out of what an outsider might deem to be a typical name for someone from the country in question.

Back to the pop quiz above - clearly c) and d) are logically consistent positions to hold. I suspect b) is an opinion that would be held by very few except the odd rabid Scottish nationalist. If you're going to go for a) you've got three options open to you as I see it, and they are:
  • argue that David Jason's mis-telling of the joke by using the word "Pakistani" instead of "Indian" (Mahatma being a Sanskrit word denoting a figure of great veneration and respect, like, most famously, Gandhi) is indicative of an unthinking racism of the "they all look the same to me" variety - the implication therefore being that the version as written above would not be considered racist
  • argue that the apparent misuse of "Mahatma" as a given name rather than a title is indicative of racism - the implication being that everyone who refers to "Mahatma Gandhi" in that way is guilty of the same thing, however respectful the context
  • argue that although the two jokes are identically structured, the background context of abuse, colonial occupation and repression of Asian countries by Westerners makes it unacceptable to apply it in this way; again, McGlashan might disagree
My preference is for option d), and for everyone to just chill out a bit.

For further deconstruction of quasi-humorous material as presented by David Jason, here's Stewart Lee (from the excellent new series Stewart Lee's Comedy Vehicle) with a lengthy rant on the subject of the Del Boy falling through the bar clip from Only Fools And Horses.

And if you haven't already heard the joke referenced in the title of this blog post, the punchline is: Paddy O'Doors. Yes, you've rumbled me - I am a racist. You bog-trotting shamrock-munching toothless ginger kneecapping terrorist bastards.

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