Context, Lipstick, 9/11

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Just because I'm too responsible about language and narrative to stay quiet, I have to say something about context. And context is important - if you want examples of that, all you have to do is look to the world of comedy. Jokes work because there's a setup before the punchline. In order for people to laugh, there has to be groundwork laid so people understand what is going on - who is doing what. So. 

Knock knock.

Who's there?

Interrupting lawyer.

Interrupting lawyer wh--

--I object!

But not only does that joke function on the level of setup and punchline within the joke itself, it relies on a cultural context where we understand this about trial lawyers from all the films and TV show about trial lawyers - they object in court to improper lines of questioning, or sometimes just because it's Tuesday.

Now, if you watch the film The Aristocrats, about that particularly filthy joke, you realise that at the core of it is the story of Gilbert Gottfried. He had tried to tell a joke at the roast of Hugh Hefner on Comedy Central. More importantly, he was doing it not that long after 9/11 2001. The joke he had planned to tell was a joke about 9/11, but the crowd stopped him, shouting "too soon" - and it was that response that got him to tell The Aristocrats instead.

So if people want to talk about context, then we should talk about context. Yes, in the context of the speech, the remark about lipstick on a pig is at best unremarkable. He had probably used the line before. However, in the context where people laughed when he said, it, the audience in the room reacting, in the context of Sarah Palin's remarks only a week earlier and since about lipstick, the cultural context placed lipstick in that odd category of something that's funny now that wasn't funny last week.

So just as Lincoln's assassination demonstrates that comedy=tragedy+time, and that it's just started being funny again after it abruptly stopped for a while, the lipstick line was funny - and well beyond why it would have been anyway (oh those hilariously lipsticked pigs). If we're talking about context, it's clear that the line was intented to be an applause line in the speech, to be a subtle or not so subtle jab at the candidate for VP, given her recent remarks. Whether it was meant to mock the idea that she represents any real kind of change is probably open to interpretation. But in a cultural context where Shakespeare, our linguistic forefather writes so scathingly about makeup as pretence and shallowness and deception, the use of makeup in the context of a female politician does have sexist connotations.

Does that make Obama a sexist? Please. With the extent to which he's whipped? He might laugh about it secretly while watching 2.5 Men in a house full of women, but not in public, not consciously. Though that's insidious as well. Let's put it this way. African Americans rightly say that given the context of American history, there are words that are "their word", and in the context of anyone else using that word, it's offensive. And perhaps because of how our linguistic cliches are set up, amongst other things, sexism against women it also all too easy in the context - evidence Hillary Clinton.

Anyway, I propose a replacement phrase, suggested by 2.5 Men. You can toll a turd in powdered sugar, doesn't make it a jelly doughnut.

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This page contains a single entry by subtitles published on September 11, 2008 6:26 AM.

Palin Jerky was the previous entry in this blog.

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