Experiencing the concert – kallisti: Queen of the Ether

People are sometimes interested in words that do not have single meaning: Kallisti is a Greek word that has its rich mythical origin imprinted in “the apple of discord”. Ether, for most individuals, represents the endless sky and universe; for organic chemist, it is a group of substance that was named for its anesthetic properties, creating alternative states of consciousness. Out of curiosity, I went to hear the concert, kallisti: Queen of the Ether, to explore how the performers synthesize mystery into their performance. I found out this concert was indeed filled with riddles. Its exclusive use of female singers reshaped my perception of them in the field of singing. Its experimental style also gave me insight into appreciating distinct music forms.

CPMC Concert

This concert took place in Conrad Prebys Concert Hall. The room was filled with irregular firm wood walls, creating unique effect to resonate the sounds. The platform was big enough to contain an orchestra of one hundred people. Near the front row, the platform also spans out to expand our vision, making the concert like a cinema. It is also noteworthy to mention that the comfortable seats were made of dark red color, hardly interfering with my focus on the performance.

One of the most interesting aspect of this concert is its lack of instrumental accompaniment. Except for the percussion that only appeared in third song, other things were merely the female voices. This setting makes the concert like a pure A Capella show. Though a bit disappointed at first, because I myself was fond of songs that have beautiful melodies played by instruments, I was progressively intrigued by the great virtuosity. I realized that the singers’ musical skills were the spotlight of the concert, and instrumentation would only hinder me to appreciate their skills.

Indeed, each performance had its characteristic virtuosity. The first song, Vive faville, seemed to toy with quietness. It featured four sopranos that has their own low-volume weird voices such as wind-blowing, chit-chatting, and pure singing. They often sung by themselves, with occasional unifying harmony and complete silence. The second piece, Sequenza III, was sung by an omnipotent solo singer. Besides her display of unstable emotions, from mummering and sighing to laughing and yelling, she also synchronized actions into her singing, thereby depicting a vivid person who was easily influenced by different events. The third performance, Puksanger/Lockrop, seemed like two country women, standing in both sides of a mountain, having a worldly conversation. There, the male percussionist helps to set up the grand scene. The fourth song, Vishentens lov, sounded like a group of scholars trying to answer philosophical questions. The fifth, Six Songs for Sirens, was set in a more celebratory tone. Afterwards, the encore Do Not Fear the Darkness lightened up the atmosphere, comforting me with the softening lyric, which is its title.

kallisti brochure

The program provided a pamphlet that was helpful for understanding the music. Even if it does not translate all the lyrics into English, I could confidently anticipate how the songs go down. The director of this concert, Susan Narucki, also aided my perception by telling stories. She also acted as the conductor when she was singing, which I thought helped her better direct the group.

From above experience, I learned that female voice, when played along, could go beyond the stereotype, and show many skills that I did not know before. Besides its commonly believed smooth nature, the voice could mimic an object perfectly, change its volume variably, shout out words recklessly, and do something usually done by men. The concert, by showcasing music pieces that can be described as different art forms, also broadened my vision of music. Not all beautiful music requires instrumental accompaniment or at least acoustics. In fact, as can be traced back to Hildegard’s work, only using female voices could be strong enough to vibrate people’s feelings.

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Political Humor and Its Reverberations

People are divided on whether political humor benefits the public, noting either that comedy helps us to see the truth, or that it makes us cynical. Culture specialist Iain Ellis observes that while politicians fabricate positive self-images, comedy unveils politicians’ flaws, thus encouraging the public to engage in political issues. But Ph.D. student Ramon Lopez points out that political satire, such as Jon Stewart’s the Daily Show, uses the straw man method to simplify politicians’ views. Columnist Stephen Marche furthers that, besides using the straw man approach, satire “delights in tearing down institutions” (Marche 165). Through highlighting politicians’ bad qualities, comedy escalates people’s distrust toward the government. However, while most satire manifests this adverse effect by attacking politicians, some political comedy creatively makes fun of people’s hilarious reaction to politicians’ flaws. This type of humor, identified by philosopher Simon Critchley, “liberates the will and the desire” (Cricthley 126) of audiences, showing them their own mistakes. Through challenging audiences’ perceptions about political satire, such humor, despite calling attention to politicians’ flaws, also encourages the public to reflect on their own behaviors. For instance, Aziz Ansari’s SNL routine counters discrimination by joking about people who are too excited about Trump’s racism, and Samantha Bee’s Full-Frontal ridicules women who march only because they like the knitted hats, inspiring women to reflect on their marching. Even if these routines use straw men to make their points, true political humor not only unmasks politicians’ flaws, but also unveils the public’s flaws, thereby fortifying the public to pursue political change.

Political humor, as its name suggests, delves into civic affairs. It seeks to investigate and reveal the concealed truth of politicians through joking about them. While the realm of politics always entails complicated relationships, American culture specialist Iain Ellis discerns a network among politicians, media, and the public. He recognizes that politicians connive with mainstream media to make themselves appear likeable (Ellis 154). By showcasing their appealing qualities, politicians achieve a comical profile that the public can endorse. On the other hand, Ellis claims that political comedy seeks to discover the hidden flaws behind politicians’ endeavors to craft perfect self-images. As comedy “unmasks, parades, and ridicules those efforts,” (Ellis 154) a different, and often ugly face of politicians is revealed. Through this revelation, political comedy offers the public information that politicians and mainstream media sometimes overlook. “In representing the interests of the common man, in speaking truth to power, these comic vigilantes provide us with an important – and otherwise absent and/or neglected – political service” (Ellis 155). Political humor, targeting politicians, bravely discloses their flaws. By serving audiences with a mix of laughter and truth, political comedy attracts the public, arming them with information to powerfully respond to politicians’ flaws.

However, despite its role in empowering the public with respect to politicians, political satire often uses the straw man method, which weakens and attacks opponents’ points to shape its arguments. Indeed, political humor gives the public fascinating jokes to illustrate politicians’ stupidity, and the straw man method is an inevitable part of its joking. But Ph.D. student of political theory Ramon Lopez notes that “Comedic straw men … degrade the opposition not only by twisting and misrepresenting their arguments, but also by ridiculing them” (Lopez 159). By using the straw man, political humor can oversimplify politicians’ refined ideas. Even one of America’s most popular comedians Jon Stewart possesses this problem. In his Daily Show “Chaos in Bulls**t Mountain,” Stewart argues that Mitt Romney, a 2012 presidential candidate, does not care for the economic realities of poor people. In a segment of his show, Stewart ridicules a tape in which Romney complains the poor’s distrust toward his policies (Stewart 03:17-03:44). However, Stewart only plays a tiny slice of the tape (Stewart 03:45-03:48) showing nothing of Romney’s complete thoughts but his complaint. While Romney’s rant is questionable, he should have reasoning for his complaint, and that arbitrary cut of the tape blocks the audiences’ access to that reasoning. As a result, comedy such as the Daily Show fails to give the public the comprehensive thought system behind politicians’ flaws.

Furthermore, most political satire like Jon Stewart’s leads the public to distrust government by simply denying politicians. Columnist Stephen Marche claims that “Satire was a mirror in which viewers discovered everybody’s face but their own; its pleasure is the pleasure of othering” (Marche 165). Such satire creates narcissism among audiences, and those listeners, while delighted to see the awful sides of others, cannot reflect on themselves. Accompanied with the straw man method, political satire will pose dramatic damage to the public. “Chaos in Bulls**t Mountain” proves this idea further. Besides his unethical representation of Romney’s flaws, Jon Stewart also criticizes entitlement policy for being ineffective. However, this criticism does not encourage the public to contemplate how that policy can be improved. While in Crossfire interview, Stewart claims that he “holds [his idea] to be much more important … as a citizen” (Crossfire 06:56-07:00), he deeply affects the public by the disparaging words he imposes on political acts. Through claiming its absurdity, Stewart drains people’s belief toward government.

While most satire, such as the Daily Show, damages politics by simply deriding politicians, some political comedy benefits the public by also pointing out the public’s mistakes. This comedy, or true comedy, does more than just revealing politicians’ flaws. As philosopher Simon Critchley notes, “a true joke … has to do more than release tension … it has to change the situation” (Critchley 125), true political comedy changes the situation by broadcasting the public’s irrational reactions toward politicians’ flaws. This humor lets the public reexamine themselves, correcting their mistaken behaviors through its pungent comic bits. Aziz Ansari’s SNL stand-up is a prime example of true humor. In this show, Ansari speaks against president Trump’s racism, but he specifically pokes fun at people who only voted for Trump to enable their racism. His contemptuous parody of racists – who seem to feel that “we don’t have to pretend like we’re not racist anymore!” (Ansari 02:40-02:50) – subverts racists’ privilege. Accounted for by Critchley’s incongruity theory, humor, by surprising audiences, can not only change their thoughts, but also their actions. While audiences expect Ansari to explicitly mock Trump, Ansari’s sudden assault on public expectation provokes profound introspection. “The incongruities of humor both speak out of a massive congruence between joke structure and social structure, and speak against those structures by showing that they have no necessity” (Critchley 126). By mocking racists’ flaws, Ansari effectively attacks discrimination, motivating the public to contemplate their reactions to Trump’s presidency. Thus, in eviscerating the public’s inappropriate responses to politicians’ problems, true comedy can hold a mirror up to the public, thereby engaging them to adjust their behaviors.

Taking everything into consideration, true political humor’s ability to change how the public understands themselves circumvents the straw man fallacy. Indeed, Ansari’s SNL show portrays racists as brainless people, ridiculing them without looking for why they developed such racism. But since Ansari encourages the public to reflect on themselves by challenging their views about racism, the straw man here is quite benign. Samantha Bee, in her show Full-Frontal, has a worse straw man problem than Ansari, as she shows multiple shortened clips to support her arguments. Bee points out that Trump is frustrated by the women’s march after his inauguration. Then, as she plays cut version of Kellyanne Conway’s comment on the march, Bee oversimplifies Conway’s discourse. By ridiculing her remark that Trump is “uplifting and unifying” (Bee 02:03-02:09), Bee depicts Trump as “uplifting” a woman’s skirt. While this joke has obvious straw man fallacy, she also deals with white women’s flaws during the march, joking that, “All you have to do to get white women to show up to a protest is to give them a craft” (Bee 01:35-01:40). By poking fun at these women, Bee engages the public in legitimately fighting for their rights rather than treating the march as a trendy event. As a result, though the straw man poses a pitfall for true political comedy such as Full Frontal, it can be neutralized by the humor’s power to inspire public reflection.

The above arguments about political humor apply to American culture, but we may consider whether they can also be addressed throughout the world. Serbia’s “laughtivism” (McGraw & Warner 148) seems to disagree with the point that exclusively deriding politicians harms the public. This movement thoroughly aimed at the long-disliked president, terminating Serbia’s autocracy followed by his resignation. On the other hand, during the Egyptian uprising, Bassem Youssef’s show proves that mocking politicians can be effective in the short term. But he did not promote the public to reflect on themselves, only inciting their distrust toward the president. As people were satisfied with their new leader, the show was shut down. What if Youssef sparked public introspection? This is the question worth thinking about when we try to answer if political comedy benefits the public from other parts of the world by mirroring their behaviors.

Works Cited

“Aziz Ansari Stand-Up Monologue – SNL.” YouTube, uploaded by Saturday Night Live, 22 Jan. 2017, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Whde50AacZs.
“Chaos on Bulls**t Mountain – The Entitlement Society.” Comedy Central, uploaded by The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, 19 Sept. 2012, http://www.cc.com/video-playlists/vwstqp/the-daily-show-with-jon-stewart-bullshit-mountain/ymemxt.
Critchley, Simon. “Did You Hear the One About the Philosopher Writing a Book on Humour?” Think, vol. 1, no. 2, Autumn 2002, pp. 103-112, doi.org/10.1017/S147717560000035X. Rpt. in The Essential Guide to Analytical Writing with Humor Readings. UC San Diego Bookstore, 2017, pp. 122-131.
Ellis, Iain. “Political Humor and Its Diss Contents.” Pop Matters, 14 Oct. 2012, www. popmatters.com/column/163983-political-humor-and-its-diss-contents/P1/. Rpt. in The Essential Guide to Analytical Writing with Humor Readings. UC San Diego Bookstore, 2017, pp. 150-155.
Lopez, Ramon. “Why Jon Stewart is Bad for America.” The Federalist, 5 Dec. 2014, www. thefederalist.com/2014/12/05/why-jon-stewart-is-bad-for-america/. Rpt. in The Essential Guide to Analytical Writing with Humor Readings. UC San Diego Bookstore, 2017, pp. 156-162.
Marche, Stephen. “The Left Has a Post-Truth Problem, Too. It’s Called Comedy.” LA Times, 6 Jan. 2017, http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-marche-left-fake-news-problem-comedy-20170106-story.html. Rpt. in The Essential Guide to Analytical Writing with Humor Readings. UC San Diego Bookstore, 2017, pp. 164-165.
McGraw, Peter and Joel Warner. “Humor Code Entry 6: Can Comedy Bring About Real Political Change?” Slate, 30 Mar. 2014, http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/culturebox/features/2014/the_humor_code/daily_show_colbert_report_can_political_comedy_affect_real_political_change.html. Rpt. in The Essential Guide to Analytical Writing with Humor Readings. UC San Diego Bookstore, 2017, pp. 146-148.
“Who March the World? Girls.” YouTube, uploaded by Full Frontal With Samantha Bee, 25 Jan. 2017, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8pEcvteQo9g.

 

Acknowledgement

Most courtesy of AWP program director and my instructor Dr. Karen Gocsik, who gave me wholesome feedback to guide me through revising the drafts, preventing me from pitfalls of making arguments. I appreciate curriculum coordinator Sarah Baker for correcting minor citation errors and affirming the final draft during community office hour. I am grateful for my mentor Sarah Ardell for checking the weakest paragraph in meeting sessions. I also thank my groupmates Oscar and Shuli for enriching me through common reader response and group conference. These peers facilitate me a lot in organizing the argument points.

How Does Humor Fight Against Stereotypes?

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© Kate Copeland

Humor is able to make people laugh. But when used strategically, it can also eliminate stereotypes. Journalist Mary O’Hara, supported by experts from different fields, notices humor’s immense power to actively counterbalance bigotry (O’Hara 106). She postulates that humor can bring new ideas to society and correct mistaken stereotypes. However, psychologist Gil Greengross disagrees with O’Hara, proposing that whether comedy can eliminate stereotypes depends largely on the context of audiences (Greengross 144). While philosopher Simon Critchley admits that shared context is important, he concurs with O’Hara by applying incongruity theory, which states that humor changes people’s view through surprising them. He uses this theory to explain how humor reverses the audiences’ perception of stereotypes. Finally, while comedian Negin Farsad employs Critchley’s positions to shift people’s views about Muslims, she adds a more interesting interpretation of her pursuit. “What makes comedy so effective is that if you’re making them laugh along the way, they’re going to listen to the deeper cut stuff” (Farsad 13). Denying Greengross, she confirms O’Hara that humor can earn people’s trust, and eventually defeat stereotypes.

As social affairs journalist Mary O’Hara observes, humor can counter malicious stereotypes by conveying new ideas (O’Hara 105). To certify this observation, she offers a collection of comedians and scholars. For example, social activist and comedian Josie Long believes “Satire is to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted” (O’Hara 106). This belief signifies that through satire, humor can balance the feelings of all the individuals, including those who are labeled with stereotypes. O’Hara investigates further by visiting experienced comedian Stephen K Amos, who claims, “One of the singular properties of certain comedy ‘when done well’ is the freedom to explore ideas in an unconventional or counterintuitive way, to subvert society’s norms” (O’Hara 107). Based on Amos’ discourse, O’Hara asserts that comedy can provide new insights into social ailments – stereotypes – and cures them. She uses Amo’s action to validate John Fugelsang’s claim, “Humor can be a social corrective” (O’Hara 108). This sentence further proves O’Hara’s note that humor can bring different perspectives that help correct the mistaken stereotypes.

Though psychologist Gil Greengross agrees with O’Hara that comedy can bring unique information, he claims that humor does not change all the audiences’ biased views if they perceive these jokes differently. “The same joke can be funny or not, but can also be racist or not racist depending on who tells it and to whom” (Greengross 144). He implies that when people lack shared ideals with the comedians, the subsequent humor may fail to counter stereotypes. Drawing from experimental results, Greengross also concludes that comedy may not provoke audiences to hold against racists, who impose stereotypes on minority groups. “When we consider groups that most people discriminate against, and feel they are justified in doing so, disparaging humor towards that group does not foster discriminatory acts against them” (Greengross 143). He clarifies that humor can only show stereotypes rather than resisting them.

Philosopher Simon Critchley concurs with Greengross that shared context is essential for a joke to effect change. “There has to be a congruence between joke structure and social structure” (Critchley 123). However, he disagrees with the point that jokes do not effectively attack stereotypes. Based on the premise that a common identity is established, Critchley uses incongruity theory to explain how humor alter people’s perception about stereotypes. This theory states that the discrepancy between reality and the audience’s expectation generates laughter. Through making audiences laugh, Critchley asserts, “The incongruities of humor both speak out of a massive congruence between joke structure and social structure, and speak against those structures by showing that they have no necessity” (Critchley 126). He suggests that when a comedian jokes about stereotypes, the audience is informed and expects a joke that mirrors their stereotypical view. He then declares that as the comedian unveils the joke in an unconventional style, people’s expectation is popped, and they will break into laughter. “By laughing at power, we expose its contingency, we realize that what appeared to be fixed and oppressive is in fact the emperor’s new clothes” (Critchley 126). Critchley implies this moment as a shift in people’s view about stereotypes. When comedians lead audiences to this moment, these stereotypes, set up by the powerful, will seem to be ridiculous.

Comedian Negin Farsad’s jokes fit well with Critchley’s incongruity theory. She also refutes Greengross’ conception, demonstrating that joke tellers can accommodate people, dissolve the social barrier, and finally change people’s views toward stereotypes through surprising them. Viewing comedy as “a platform for advancing social justice” (O’Hara 106), Farsad bravely sets off on a grand mission to alleviate a stereotype regarding her own identity: Muslims do not denounce terrorism. To fight against this stereotype, Farsad, in her movie, The Muslims are Coming!, holds a comedy performance in Birmingham. At the beginning, she brings the audiences delicious foods. As people are attracted to the delicacies, Farsad identifies with these audiences, mockingly appreciating their tastes for foods (Farsad 17). When she brings people closer to her, she shifts the topic toward correcting the Muslim stereotype through the “name that religion” game. As she mentions a quotation that involves violence, people will expect it to come from the Quran. However, Farsad reveals that it comes from the Bible (Farsad 18). The audience, out of surprise, breaks into laughter. They come to realize that not all terrible things come from Islam. In this way, Farsad succeeds in reducing audiences’ stereotypes about Muslims.

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While Critchley and Farsad agree that humor can fight against stereotypes, Farsad has a more specific interpretation. “Comedy … makes you laugh. And when you’re laughing, you enter into a state of openness. And in that moment of openness … comedian can stick in a whole bunch of information” (Farsad 14). This explanation well serves as the philosophy for Farsad’s pursuit of justice: As she breaks audiences into laughter, they are more open to listen to the positive messages that Muslims are as good as anyone. Her method for eliminating stereotypes also verifies O’Hara’s quote from Sophie Quirk: “If you’re getting people together and talking about views that in the broader social context are quite marginal, and we’re all laughing together at those, then you’re kind of affirming them” (O’Hara 107). Therefore, Farsad ensures that when she identify with audiences, she can eventually disintegrate stereotypes.

To sum up, a meaningful humor is not just about making people laugh; it should have profound social effect. The conversation about humor’s ability to fight against stereotypes goes favorably. O’Hara, with her stakeholders’ support, concludes that humor can correct mistaken stereotypes by delivering ingenious thoughts. Greengross flips the conversation, noticing that common social identity is necessary for a joke teller to change people’s mind. Critchley mediates the controversy between O’Hara and Greengross, proposing incongruity theory to explain how humor alters people’s views about stereotypes based on shared context. While Farsad tells a joke that supports Critchley’s theory and counters Greengross’ points, she also confirms O’Hara’s belief in comedy’s social functions. Still, though we have understood that humor can fight against stereotypes, we should consider if humor can effect real political change in the same manner.

 

 

Works Cited

Critchley, Simon. “Did You Hear the One About the Philosopher Writing a Book on Humour?”

Think, vol. 1, no. 2, Autumn 2002, pp. 103-112, doi.org/10.1017/S147717560000035X.Rpt. in The Essential Guide to Analytical Writing with Humor Readings. UC San Diego Bookstore, 2017, pp. 122-131

Farsad, Negin. “Can Humor Fight Prejudice?” TED Radio Hour from NPR, 24 Mar. 2017,www.npr.org/2017/03/24/520942852/negin-farsad-can-humor-fight-prejudice.

Greengross, Gil. “Does Racist Humor Promote Racism?” Psychology Today, 18 July 2011, http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/humor-sapiens/201107/does-racist-humor-promote-racism. Rpt. in The Essential Guide to Analytical Writing with Humor Readings. UC San Diego Bookstore, 2017, pp. 142-144.

O’Hara, Mary. “A Serious Business: What Can Comedy Do?” Mosaic, 23 Aug. 2016,www.mosaicscience.com/story/comedy-humour-jokes-political-satire-taboo. Rpt. in The Essential Guide to Analytical Writing with Humor Readings. UC San Diego Bookstore,2017, pp. 104-111.

 

Acknowledgement

I greatly acknowledge the AWP program director and my instructor Dr. Karen Gocsik. She gave me comprehensive feedback in revising my first draft and second draft throughout the course, especially facilitating clear representation of the course readings. I am grateful for the curriculum coordinator Sarah Baker, who viewed my third draft, corrected citation errors and advised better synthetic strategy during the community office hour. I appreciate my mentor Sarah Ardell for raising suggestions about grammar and style in meeting sessions. I also thank my groupmates Flory and Shuli for enriching me through common reader response and group conference. The response helps me a lot when polishing the final paper.

Aside

Assessment of Group Work

To what degree does switching groupmates at the beginning of AWP 2B benefit the class in general? At this time, I can confidently answer this question. In this term, I participated in a freshly new group consisting of Oscar, Shuli, and me. While I, along with Shuli, was heartbroken for Flory’s departure, I found out that working in the new group still facilitated my growth as a writer, offering me more diverse perspectives about writing and the humor conversation.

Our group worked well in this quarter. As the last quarter’s tradition, we regularly met in Geisel Library to brainstorm our ideas. Because everyone strove for excellence in writing, no one was relaxed during the group meetings; we all shared our thoughts and disclosed each other’s mistakes. We also did our groupwork in a timely manner, providing feedback through discussion board before deadlines. Because we developed good relationships, we groupmates were also willing to help each other. As a result, the revised essays we produced were more outstanding than other groups.

However, some pitfalls were present in our group. Because of our lack of comprehension of English writing convention, we seldom discuss about grammar and style problem, which could have been resolved if we regularly consult reliable sources so that everyone in our group was able to give constructive feedback regarding grammar and style. Also, during group meeting, we were sometimes distracted by things outside of our class. If we focused only on AWP instead of extracurriculars, then our group meeting could be more efficient.

Besides these pitfalls, I contributed to this group a lot. In terms of writing, I took a particularly good stand about critical reading, use of evidence, and ethical citation. Based on my relatively accurate capture of different writers’ ideas, I could correct my groupmates’ pitfalls in demonstrating the reading materials. In addition, I helped them with using these articles as evidence for their arguments. By accurately presenting and using these articles, their essays seemed to be more sounding, too. Although Oscar and Shuli did not have serious citation problems throughout, I still reminded them of ethical citation when reading their papers, suggesting some places where they could cite better, like italicizing TV show and adding parentheses to an episode. Despite writing, I also provided technical supports such as reserving study rooms and drawing the conversation map.

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Other groupmates’ contributions are also unneglectable, and they helped me a lot in writing. Shuli is self-aware, often looking for help when she is unsure about her writing. She did not have perfect first strike, but her revision and reflection were thoughtful. She was also observant, being able to raise interesting questions and advance clear and claims. I learned from her that patiently working in weak spots could really pay off, and being vigilant with the conversation could season my papers, further engaging the readers. Oscar might not be very good at writing, but he tried hard to revise his works. Though sometimes having difficulty with the course, he dared to speaks out his voice, bravely asking for our help. Besides his direct request to look at his formal control, I also regularly spotted grammatical issues in his papers. By scrutinizing these grammar and style problems, I could reflect myself to ensure I did not have these mistakes, either.

Additionally, thanks to former groupmate Flory, I further developed my mindset of thinking during this quarter. Indeed, besides working with the current group, I also communicated with her to exchange our ideas. From her paper I saw that she can transfer her complicated thought system into a concise essay that engages me. Other classmates who worked with me or not were also appreciated. They demonstrated their diverse thinking in the subject matter.

Colbert’s humor – different outcomes

In his show Fallback Position, comedian Stephen Colbert interviews congresswoman Zoe Lofgren about “take our job, please” campaign. During the interview, Colbert employs great parody to argue for migrant farmers’ right. By imitating a conservative, he unveils people’s ridiculous flaws about these farmers, mirroring Lofgren’s authority. The jokes he applies fit incongruity theory: “The discrepancy between what people expect and what actually happen in the joke makes people laugh” (Critchley 122). By creating incongruence between Lofgren and himself, Colbert enables Lofgren to demonstrate that conservatives themselves cannot take the difficult jobs of migrant farmers. Though Colbert sensibly uses parody to defend migrant farmers in TV show, he fails to convince congressmen using the same strategy. Common ground theory, which states that people laugh if the joke teller shares mutual understanding with them, explains why Colbert flounders. He can easily persuade the public because they enjoy his entertaining satire. But in Capitol Hill congress, Colbert does not argue the same way other politicians do, confusing the congressmen about his real positions. His jokes also offend congressmen, who eventually reject his positions. Therefore, while political comedy is popular in TV because comedians share more common ground with the public, it fails to be powerful in political situations for their lack of mutual understanding with politicians.

Stephen Colbert effectively uses parody to encourage the public to support migrant farm workers’ right. He imitates a conservative to challenge migrant farm workers’ “take our job, please” campaign, which contends that immigrants are not stealing jobs from Americans. Suspicious about its motivation, Colbert investigates the campaign in an interview with “notorious Mexican hugger” Zoe Lofgren (The Colbert Report 01:28). In the interview, he frames a sharp contrast between Lofgren and his conservative self. While Lofgren disserts credible reasons to support migrant farm workers, Colbert’s parody reveals hilarious straw man fallacy. For example, as Colbert asks Lofgren why Americans do not want to be migrant farmers, Lofgren responds that this job is too tough. While Lofgren has robust reasoning, Colbert oversimplifies and attacks Lofgren’s point, questioning if she disparages Americans. Ph.D. student of political theory Ramon Lopez claims, “straw men … degrade the opposition not only by twisting and misrepresenting their arguments, but also by ridiculing them” (Lopez 159). Although Lofgren clarifies that “I’m never saying Americans are pussies” (The Colbert Report 02:16), Colbert escalates his straw man through cherry-picking Lofgren’s discourse: “Americans are pussies,” relentlessly attacking her argument. Hence, through presenting such conservative flaw, Colbert reflects Lofgren’s credibility, thereby convincing audiences to care about immigrant farm workers.

Colbert’s jokes during the interview can also be explained by philosopher Simon Critchley’s incongruity theory, which states that the difference between audiences’ expectation and the jokes’ reality creates laughter. Critchley claims that such jokes “bring about a change of situation, a transient but significant shift in the way we view reality” (Critchley 126). In the interview, Colbert posits that migrant workers should first make terror babies (The Colbert Report 03:30), showing that conservatives are too worried about immigrants’ control over the country. However, this conservative point is so susceptible that Lofgren can easily reject it by claiming its absurdity. As audiences, too, discern this casual argument, they break into laughter, realizing that immigrant farmers are not as threatening as Colbert thinks.

Though Colbert successfully uses parody to convince audiences in his TV show, he fails to manage his humor in Capitol Hill congress. Commonly, people who testify will directly state their points. Colbert holds that Americans should respect migrant workers, but he does not explicitly express his idea in the congress. “I don’t want a tomato picked by a Mexican. I want it picked by an American, then sliced by a Guatemalan, and served by a Venezuelan in a spa, where a Chilean gives me a Brazilian.” (C-SPAN 1:21). This sentence has so many nuances that it obfuscates Colbert’s true standing.

Common ground theory also speaks for Colbert’s failure in persuading politicians. This theory states that audiences can better get the jokes when they share more mutual understanding with the comedians. Indeed, Colbert manifests his common identity with the public; they enjoy his throw-in comic bits. But the congressmen address arguments more seriously, so they cannot easily understand Colbert’s jokes. Without mutual understanding, Colbert will not be supported. He will even be opposed because he targets politicians, “I trust that following my testimony, both sides will work together on this issue in the best interest of America, as you always do” (C-SPAN 5:06). Clearly, ending his testimony with this satire will not delight politicians to accept his points. As ABC News claims, “The hearing was on the use of illegal farmworkers to do work most Americans won’t do. He chided congress for not dealing with the issue” (ABC News 1:05). When congressmen are directly attacked, they will return the fire.

A good comedian ought to be flexible about his way of arguing. Colbert changes the public’s mind, but he does not change politicians’ thoughts about the illegal immigrants. How should a successful comedian testify in congress?

 

Works Cited

Colbert Humors, Annoys Congressmen.” YouTube, uploaded by ABC News, 24 Sept. 2010,www.youtube.com/watch?v=UTDCgOvVOx8.

Critchley, Simon. “Did You Hear the One About the Philosopher Writing a Book on Humour?”Think, vol. 1, no. 2, Autumn 2002, pp. 103-112, doi.org/10.1017/S147717560000035X.Rpt. in The Essential Guide to Analytical Writing with Humor Readings. UC SanDiego Bookstore, 2017, pp. 122-131.

“C-SPAN: Stephen Colbert Opening Statement.” YouTube, uploaded by C-SPAN, 24 Sept. 2010,www.youtube.com/watch?v=k1T75jBYeCs.

“Fallback Position – Migrant Worker Pt. 1.” Comedy Central, uploaded by The Colbert Report,22 Sept. 2010, http://www.cc.com/video-clips/xr7q4y/the-colbert-report-fallback-position—migrant-worker-pt–1.

Lopez, Ramon. “Why Jon Stewart is Bad for America.” The Federalist, 5 Dec. 2014, http://www.thefederalist.com/2014/12/05/why-jon-stewart-is-bad-for-america/. Rpt. in The Essential Guide to Analytical Writing with Humor Readings. UC San Diego Bookstore, 2017, pp. 156-162.

Hodgepodge of humor conversation: Lopez, Marche, Ellis and McGraw & Warner

Overall Graphic designer

Lopez argues against Jon Steward to illustrate that political humor creates cynicism and apathy toward government, and comedians such as Steward do not clearly address political issues, but simply making fun of it. Marche, on the other hand, claims that political satire, though popular among social media, is not powerful enough to create desired changes, because it simply entertains the public.

The conversation is about to what extent does political satire change the society. Ellis, the guest of honor, generalizes from the various perspectives about political humor and points out that humor has become an inseparable part of our political life, and whether it has positive and negative effect on the population is worth debating. McGraw & Warner, the defenders for political comedy, posits that comedy is able to deliver the truth and engage people with additional insights. Lopez, in contrast, disagrees with McGraw & Warner by saying that political humor cherry-picks argument to make politicians and news systems appear silly without considering their positive sides. Marche flips the argument, positing that satire can only amuse people, but cannot change their thoughts.

I think comedy can bring positive change toward the politics, because it can address problems that others avoid talking about, and offer the audience different perspectives to view the reality. Besides, the audience are bored of news reports, and they need stimulating political satire to access information. “In representing the interests of the common man, in speaking truth to power, these comic vigilantes provide us with an important – and otherwise absent and/or neglected – political service” (Ellis 155). Comedians, in this way, can engage the audience into contemplating about political issues, and change their perceptions by joking.

 

Works Cited

Ellis, Iain. “Political Humor and Its Diss Contents.” Pop Matters, 14 Oct. 2012,www.popmatters.com/column/163983-political-humor-and-its-diss-contents/P1/. Rpt. in The Essential Guide to Analytical Writing with Humor Readings. UC San Diego Bookstore, 2017, pp. 150-155.

Lopez, Ramon. “Why Jon Stewart is Bad for America.” The Federalist, 5 Dec. 2014, http://www.thefederalist.com/2014/12/05/why-jon-stewart-is-bad-for-america/. Rpt. in The Essential Guide to Analytical Writing with Humor Readings. UC San Diego Bookstore, 2017, pp. 156-162.

Marche, Stephen. “The Left Has a Post-Truth Problem, Too. It’s Called Comedy.” LA Times, 6 Jan. 2017, http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-marche-left-fake-news-problem-comedy-20170106-story.html. Rpt. in The Essential Guide to Analytical Writing with Humor Readings. UC San Diego Bookstore, 2017, pp. 164-165.

McGraw, Peter and Joel Warner. “Entry 6: Can Comedy Bring About Real Political Change?”Slate, 30 Mar. 2014, http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/culturebox/features/2014/the_humor_code/daily_show_colbert_report_can_political_comedy_affect_real_political_change.html. Rpt. in The Essential Guide to Analytical Writing with Humor Readings. UC San Diego Bookstore, 2017, pp. 146-148.

Analysis of the conversation in McGraw’s and Ellis’s articles

McGraw Graphic OrganizerEllis Graphic OrganizerPeter McGraw and Joel Warner, in the article The Humor Code, Entry 6: Can Comedy Bring About Real Political Change?, assert that humor, when used strategically, can greatly improve the society by engaging the public to politics. Iain Ellis, on the other hand, claims that political humor is basically an interplay among politicians, media, and the public. The public have gained great power in shaping the politics, and politicians need to play with humor to promote their positive self-images in different media.

I am interested McGraw’s point that humor can effect real political change. I agree with McGraw because he address some key premises for humor to change the society. He uses Popovic, an example which shows political humor works under optimal condition. Popovic’s jokes fit well with McGraw’s benign violation theory, which states that laughter arises when a joke makes something threatening appears funny, thus alleviating the fear of the audience. “People were afraid, and humor was useful in breaking that fear” (McGraw 148). By joking, Popovic embarrasses the president, and weakens his political power. Still, I wonder if satire that occurs in small country turns out to be more effective because it can spread out quickly over the nation. In this case, the counterargument somewhat makes sense in it addresses that joking in USSR is not effective enough to make big political change.

Works Cited

Ellis, Iain. “Political Humor and Its Diss Contents.” Pop Matters, 14 Oct. 2012, http://www.popmatters.com/column/163983-political-humor-and-its-diss-contents/P1/. Rpt. in The Essential Guide to Analytical Writing with Humor Readings. UC San Diego Bookstore, 2017, pp. 150-155.

McGraw, Peter and Joel Warner.Entry 6: Can Comedy Bring About Real Political Change?” Slate, 30 Mar. 2014, http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/culturebox/features/2014/the_humor_code/daily_show_colbert_report_can_political_comedy_affect_real_political_change.html. Rpt. in The Essential Guide to Analytical Writing with Humor Readings. UC San Diego Bookstore, 2017, pp. 146-148.

Response to Critchley’s and McGraw’s articles

In the essay Did You Hear the One about the Philosopher Writing a Book on Humor?, Simon Critchley draws evidence from experts in humor to claim that laughter arises when joke tellers surprise the audiences by giving a twist to the jokes. But besides the laughter, the jokes can change the way people think through a different viewpoint about the things inside a joke. This leads to incongruity theory, which states humor can shift people’s perception from unexpected incidences. In the first time I read this essay, I mixed relief theory with incongruity theory because they both determine that humor can make people laugh by popping tensions. Now I know that incongruity theory addresses that humor is not merely about relieving tension; it can suddenly change the way people think through this surprise. Also, I come to understand for incongruity to function effectively, a common background is required, though common background theory mainly stresses that the extent to which people have shared identities with the joke tellers can affect people’s reactions to the jokes. I reannotated this sentence, “The incongruities of humor both speak out of a massive congruence between joke structure and social structure, and speak against those structures by showing that they have no necessity” (Critchley126). Before the annotation, I think this is the gist for incongruity theory, but it actually shows a specific ideal situation in which incongruity theory well explains humor’s function in changing the society. Peter McGraw also contributes his answer to this issue, but in a different perspective.

Peter McGraw, on his article The Humor Code, Entry 1: What Exactly Makes Something Funny?, asserts that things are funny when joke tellers bring up something that’s threatening at a first glance, and then get the audiences laugh by making it appear safe. This assertion furnishes benign violation theory. McGraw draws from various experimental data to support benign violation theory, and he also uses counterargument to show why other theories fail to generalize humor’s ability to make people laugh. In the reannotated sentence, “Why do we laugh and derive amusement from so many different things, from puns to pratfalls? Why are some things funny to some people and not to others? How is that while a successful joke can cause pleasure, a gag gone awry can cause serious harm?” (McGraw132), I realized that these motivating questions, in addition to leading to benign violation theory, are really worth thinking about throughout the AWP class.

From the questions above, I see that the major debate between Critchley and McGraw is about which theory better explains what makes things funny. In short words, Critchley thinks that humor makes the silly serious, while McGraw views the opposite way. But going deeper into the simple sentence, I should be careful about the way jokes are told. A joke may address something that seems fixed and unnecessary to talk about, but when it makes the audience rethink about the ostensibly “silly” issue, incongruity theory comes into play. On the other hand, a joke may mention something that is seriously malicious, but as it flips the dark side, making this thing acceptable, benign violation theory seems perfect for explaining this joke. Nevertheless, both Critchley and McGraw agree that people with different backgrounds will react differently to certain jokes. This agreement makes me contemplate the role common ground theory plays in humor.

 

Works Cited

Critchley, Simon. “Did You Hear the One About the Philosopher Writing a Book on Humour?”Think, vol. 1, no. 2, Autumn 2002, pp. 103-112, doi.org/10.1017/S147717560000035X.Rpt. in The Essential Guide to Analytical Writing with Humor Readings. UC San Diego Bookstore, 2017, pp. 122-131.

McGraw, Peter and Joel Warner. “Entry 1: What, Exactly, Makes Something Funny?” Slate, 23Mar. 2014, http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/culturebox/features/2014/the_humor_code/what_makes_something_funny_a_bold_new_attempt_at_a_unified_theory_of_comedy.html. Rpt. in The Essential Guide to Analytical Writing with Humor Readings. UC San Diego Bookstore, 2017, pp. 132-135.

Self-assessment of my two portfolio essays

In last quarter, I have completed two candidates for my portfolio: Summary & Synthesis essay and Analysis essay. While the Summary & Synthesis talks about in what way humor fight against stereotypes, my Analysis essay evaluates how Aziz Ansari’s comedy criticizes racism and encourage minorities to fight for their rights. The Summary & Synthesis essay demonstrates good grasp about the cited materials, but the Analysis essay fails to do so. Although Analysis paper shows fewer grammar and style mistakes, it should be made stronger if the comedy is better understood, and some evidence is further unpacked. Summary & Synthesis essay, on the other hand, can be polished if I achieve higher understanding of the materials.

Indeed, the Summary and Synthesis essay presents a vivid conversation of different writers based on the controlling idea about how humor upends stereotypes. It has a clear introduction, which helps readers grasping the “talks” among these authors. The evidence used are clearly geared toward the main question, and they respond to each other in an appropriate way. However, the conversation I created does not fully encompass the claims that I should, and the essay lacks some greater context to make the readers feel curious. So, I need to explore more things that give insights into my Summary & Synthesis essay, and even incorporate these things to make the essay more exclusive. Nevertheless, the essay in whole is well organized, and I comply with academic integrity by giving credits to those who contribute to my essay.

Analysis paper keeps demonstrating good organization and ethic citations, and the grammar and style is a bit improved in this essay. Unfortunately, several major misunderstandings about the comedy puts down the quality. Though I illustrate decent conception about humor theories in my Summary & Synthesis essay, this conception is waned during my writing of Analysis paper. Also, the introduction has zigzag arguments that leave readers puzzled, partly because I barely have background knowledge about the materials. To avoid these pitfalls, I need to come back to the reading materials and get a better sense of their main ideas. Watching some real-life comedy shows is also helpful for understanding how comedians make their arguments.

In this winter break, I have revised the two essays to some degree. While for Summary & Synthesis paper, I focused on fixing language mistakes, I deepened my understanding of the sources cited in my Analysis essay: I came to know that Chris Brown has both good and bad sides, and some people ignore his flows and still enjoy his music. Ansari does not praise George Bush. Instead, he criticizes that president is incompetent in changing the society… These examples warn me that I should first understand the sources before citing them. Besides, in this term, I look forward to learning more backgrounds and arguments about humor. Should I feel confident about these, I can work hard on polishing my portfolio essays to make them exceptional in terms of language and organization.

Aside

Reflection of group work

In this term, my group members Flory and Shuli collaborate well to accomplish tasks. They also help me to become a better writer because they can, as readers of my essays, discover the mistakes that I often neglect. I am still impressed by the many times we met in the group study room in Geisel Library to brainstorm ideas and craft our group works. Among the group works, drawing the conversation map is the first and the memorable one. In that meeting, we discussed our understanding of the course readings, and established a conversation among these articles. Shuli summarized the main arguments of each passage, and Flory and I made connections of different writers. After looking at Flory’s arranged notes of what we said, I put the contents into a conversation map.

Besides this first attempt to finish a group work, we do group project in a similar fashion. We would read the materials and discuss how to present them. Then, we make sure our presentation is sounding by practicing it. We will point out some mistakes if we notice a groupmate’s speech is not convincing. In this way, our group works well because everyone is engaged in the group project and has gripped his or her stances.

For essay revision, we normally give advice to each other through group discussion board. After looking at someone’s paper, we can point out its strengths and weaknesses and give suggestions to revise the essay. We reply to each other’s comment to ensure everyone has provided understandable and helpful feedback. If a groupmate does not give feedback timely, we will notice him or her through WeChat, an app that can display instant messages. This work mode is efficient since we all believe we are responsible for each other’s wellness in writing.

Of course, in the field of writing, I particularly contribute to the group about essays’ citation and organization. I am confident about these two aspects: I always cite ethically, and I regularly scrutinize my essay organization to ensure the transition is well-done. As a result, I can readily give advice to my groupmates’ mistakes about citation and organization. I also provide some technical supports: reserving group study rooms in library, making PowerPoint and video clips for the group presentations.

Still, I am concerned about misreading. Because of lack of common ground, we cannot necessarily comprehend some materials covered in the readings. When this comes to revision work, we may give incorrect suggestions for each other’s papers. For me, this will, indeed, be confusing because sometimes I think my groupmates’ advice on my analysis may be misleading. On the other hand, my groupmates will not trust me if my suggestions are not helpful. To resolve this issue, we may go back to the readings and discuss the part’s meanings, google the misunderstood part, or ask our instructor Dr. Gocsik for clarification.

Overall, I am honorable to be grouped with Flory and Shuli. They are thoughtful and see things in different perspectives. I am looking forward to complete more difficult tasks with them in the next term.