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The Rhetoric of Racist Humour

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The Rhetoric of Racist Humour: US, UK and Global Race Joking Hardcover – 21 Sep 2011
by Simon Weaver (Author)

In today’s multicultural and multireligious societies, humour and comedy often become the focus of controversy over alleged racist or offensive content, as shown, for instance, by the intense debate of Sacha Baron Cohen’s characters Ali G and Borat, and the Prophet Muhammad cartoons published in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten. Despite these intense debates, commentary on humour in the academy lacks a clear way of connecting the serious and the humorous, and a clear way of accounting for the serious impact of comic language. The absence of a developed ‘serious’ vocabulary with which to judge the humorous tends to encourage polarized debates, which fail to account for the paradoxes of humour. This book draws on the social theory of Zygmunt Baumann to examine the linguistic structure of humour, arguing that, as a form of language similar to metaphor, it is both unstable and unpredictable, and structurally prone to act rhetorically; that is, to be convincing. Deconstructing the dominant form of racism aimed at black people in the US, and that aimed at Asians in the UK, The Rhetoric of Racist Humour shows how racist humour expresses and supports racial stereotypes in the US and UK, while also exploring the forms of resistance presented by the humour of Black and Asian comedians to such stereotypes. An engaging exploration of modern, late modern and fluid or postmodern forms of humour, this book will be of interest to sociologists and scholars of cultural and media studies, as well as those working in the fields of race and ethnicity, humour and cultural theory.

Product details
Hardcover: 224 pages
Publisher: Routledge (21 Sept. 2011)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1409420116
ISBN-13: 978-1409420118
Product Dimensions: 15.6 x 1.4 x 23.4 cm
Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,591,492 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Review
‘Weaver’s study contributes valuably to the understanding of racist humour, distinctly improving upon familiar previous perspectives, whether ‘apologetic’ or simplistically critical. The result is a sustained and interesting treatment, in which a series of creative theoretical adaptations illuminate the analysis of particular comic episodes, genres and performers.’ Gregor McLennan, University of Bristol, UK ‘Simon Weaver attends closely to the discursive forms in which racist humour is expressed and through this develops an insightful critique of its rhetorical power. His book considerably expands the explanatory potential of humour studies, and will become a landmark study in this field.’ Michael Pickering, Loughborough University, UK ‘An important text for any discussion of race and humor, The Rhetoric of Racist Humour “examines the ways in which racist humour acts as racist rhetoric, has communicative impact, is persuasive, and can affect impressions of truth and ambivalence” in serious, non- humorous ways. The book builds upon the fundamental premise that “a discursive frame that does not follow the rules of the serious” can nevertheless have a significant impact on the serious discourse of racism… Weaver’s book is an important one for the burgeoning field of humor studies…’ E3W Review of Books ‘Simon Weaver has written an interesting and wide-ranging book on the subject of joking about groups which have been described in racial terms… Weaver’s great strength lies in his ability to see that many uses of humour that touch on race are multi-layered and that racial images are played with in ways that are utterly inconsistent, contradictory and rapidly shifting, as if the comedian were shaking a kaleidoscope. It enables Weaver to provide a subtle analysis of the ‘Liquid Racism and the Ambiguity of Ali G’, and also the acts of such outstanding British comedians as Shazia Mirza and Omid Djalili. Weaver’s work is a big advance on earlier simplistic evaluations of such comedy.’ Ethnic and Racial Studies ‘Weaver draws extensively on theory, literature, and many specific examples of relevant themes for various types of racist humor. This book fills a gap in the literature by discussing racist humor as an active part of the process of ‘othering’ and ambiguity between racial groups, instead of as simply a result of these processes… Graduate students and scholars studying the sociology of humor, as well as those interested in related topics in popular culture and communications, will find this book informative.’ Contemporary Sociology ‘The Rhetoric of Racist Humour is the fruitful outcome of Simon Weaver’s doctoral thesis in sociology, completed at the University of Bristol. The winner of the British Sociological Association’s (BSA) “Sage Prize for Innovation and/or Excellence 2011”, Weaver uses case studies to investigate “the ways in which racist humour acts as racist rhetoric, has a communicative impact, is persuasive, and can affect impressions of truth and ambivalence”… the book provides a worthy analysis of the history and different forms of racism… In its serious criticism of racist discourse, be it subtle or direct, this book is also a major contribution not only to humour studies, but sociolinguistics and sociology in general. For as long as we need to say “it’s just a joke”, this book provides space for serious reasoning around what may seem funny, for humour has its side effects and can sting to injury. Although we as readers might not always agree with Weaver’s suggested interpretations of the jokes analysed, this book opens many paths for research, especially concerning humour that blurs the distinction between “us” and “them” in “reverse discourse” comedies.’ Sociological Research online ‘Simon Weaver’s book, The Rhetoric of Racist Humour, is a great contribution to both humour studies and contemporary sociological approaches to race and ethnic issues. Drawing on Zygmunt Bauman’s notion of ambivalence, the work unpacks the rhetorical devices of racist humour. In regard to the detailed and well-documented presentation of humour theories, the linguistic approach of the book is an innovative one. The author does not reduce humour to an act of relief or alienation. Instead the book develops an unstable and unpredictable conception of jokes and humoristic devices…’ American Journal of Sociology ‘Weaver shows how racist humour expresses and supports racial stereotypes in the UK and the USA. He also sheds light on the forms of resistance presented by the humour of Black and Asian comedians. No doubt, this book will be of interest to sociologists as well as those working in the fields of ethnicity and humour.’ Discourse & Society ‘Simon Weaver’s The Rhetoric of Racist Humour is a remarkable contribution to the ’emergent field’ of ‘critical humour studies’… I am positive that Weaver’s stimulating book will be of value not only to people interested/involved in humour and/or race/ethnicity studies but to anyone concerned with social justice.’ Cultural Sociology.

About the Author
Simon Weaver is Research Associate in the Department of Health Sciences at the University of Leicester, UK

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