Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Criticism Through Humor

Once again, Sociology gives me a chance to look at our society and culture from a different perspective. However, this time I will base my sociological analysis on Maz Jobrani’s comedy show that took place at the W hotel this Saturday.
In class, we discussed cultural criminology as a way to explore the ways in which “otherness” is socially constructed in films. We also learnt that the presence of outgroups create solidarity amongst ingroups such as Middle Easterners. This is where the main stereotype of Arabs and Muslims are introduced. They have been stereotyped as the “other” throughput history and still are by today. By doing so, the stereotypes of Middle Easterners have played a huge role on forming the public sense of whom and what is the “other” to the West.

Cinematic stereotype images of Arabs are a response to political and social events. However, it is also present within the notion of humor and comics. Throughout history, comics have been a reflection of social, political and cultural attitudes we have within our communities. Through humor, the viewing audience gets to accept racial stereotypes. This is because humor rarely offends the audience, as it is addressed in an informal, inoffensive, funny and harmless way.

Maz Jobrani is an Iranian-American stand-up comedian, whom bases most of his racial and satirical comics on the Arabs, Asians and Persians in the Middle East. For instance, at one point, on the behalf of all Iranians, he thanked one of the Pakistani audiences for how Pakistan’s problems have taken over the news industry and changed the focus of the news from Iran to Pakistan. At another point of the show, Jobrani criticized England’s colonial power in the Middle East. This was when he said, “you can’t let them in, and they’ll take over. They did it to India. Hello, we own it now.” Again, we get to see how Jobrani tackles political and social stereotypes by using humor. By doing so, he allows the audience to acknowledge the situations and stereotypes of the certain group of race, and laugh at the way they are understood by the majority. This could possibly be where the concept of counter culture comes in. By counter culture, I mean the group of people whose values and norms are at odds with the social mainstream.

Most stereotypes are a direct reflection to political events, such as 9/11 and the political state the Middle East is in at the moment. We could possibly say that stereotypes in the entertainment sector are all part of cultural fear. By cultural fear, I mean the exaggerated threats made through the media and the public’s mind that are designed to achieve political goals. I feel like nearly everything in sociology goes back to Karl Marx’s famous quote, “the ruling ideas of any epoch are the ideas of the ruling class because they control the mental means of production.” In other words, the elite use mass media and social events to maintain this social stratification. In this case, white people have been the elite amongst other races.

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