Cracking Jokes: Studies of Sick Humor Cycles & Stereotypes Paperback – January 26, 2017
by Alan Dundes (Author), Marc Galanter (Foreword)
The 30th Anniversary Edition is a candid academic treatment of offensive and sick humor by the leading folklorist scholar on the topic of jokes and joke cycles. It features insightful, surprising, controversial and thought-provoking analyses of the jokes that have been told for years, within various cultures.
“No piece of folklore continues to be transmitted unless it means something—even if neither the speaker nor the audience can articulate what that meaning might be. In fact, it usually is essential that the joke’s meaning not be crystal clear. If people knew what they were communicating when they told jokes, the jokes would cease to be effective as socially sanctioned outlets for expressing taboo ideas and subjects.”
—Alan Dundes, in the preface to Cracking Jokes
Where there is anxiety, there will be jokes to express that anxiety. Jokes are legitimate folklore—like myths, proverbs, legends, superstitions and songs—and as such, they reflect what is on people’s minds. There has been no shortage of jokes or anxiety since the 1960s, and in this book, Dundes reminds us of the jokes we have been telling, and reveals the anxiety these jokes reflect.
His interpretations are not always popular. His investigation into antisemitic jokes in Germany in the 1980s, for example, met with widespread criticism. But it is a part of society that makes a difference and should not be shielded from academic scrutiny. Dundes likens his critics to those who attack the messenger when they do not like the news. All kinds of jokes exist. He reports on what exists and applies the best methods of investigative journalism to uncover the motive and true meaning behind the jokes.
As Marc Galanter writes in the new foreword, “A preeminent scholar of jokes, Dundes was an adventurous and prolific pioneer of the study of many realms of folklore. A tireless champion of the field, he was a major force in shifting the study of folklore from its rural and antiquarian tilt to encompass the prolific lore of modern life. … He regarded jokes not only as subject matter to be analyzed and understood in their own right, but as useful tools to uncover social and cultural patterns.” This book in particular is the culmination of these important yet understudied cultural devices. Dundes was “a deeply dedicated scholar who maintained a radiant faith that by understanding our susceptibility to the irrational we might empower ourselves to move beyond prejudice and act rationally and humanely.” The book, with the new foreword, is republished by the independent academic press Quid Pro Books.
About the Author
Alan Dundes was Professor of Anthropology and Folklore at the University of California, Berkeley. Dundes received a BA in English and Masters in Teaching from Yale and his doctorate in Folklore from Indiana University. Dundes was an intrepid analyst of popular culture. His teaching about Folkloristics at UC Berkeley for over 40 years inspired many to analyze the meaning of diverse cultural forms, and he was recognized by the campus award for excellence in teaching. He received numerous awards during his lifetime including the Pitre Prize for Lifetime Achievement in Folklore, a Guggenheim, and an NEH fellowship. A Freudian Folklorist, Dundes believed that the psychoanalytic approach to the analysis of jokes and other forms of folklore would enable society to address difficult problems by making the unconscious conscious.
Better at jokes, than explaining them
June 16, 2013
This is yet another sterile, wandering attempt to make observations and draw conclusions about types of jokes. The difference here is that very many of the jokes are quite amusing, and many are not widely circulated. (“We ate the last cannibal, yesterday.”) I.e., it’s a good book to learn some jokes for parties. One chapter, unfortunately, on Auschwitz, is grossly offensive. I’d recommend skipping it, as soon as you confirm this for yourself.