Does Humor On The Internet Mold Political Thinking? (ScienceDaily):
Jokes are not merely a source of popular enjoyment and creativity; they also provide insights into how societies work and what people think. Humor is so powerful it can help shape geopolitical views worldwide, according to Professor Darren Purcell and his team from the University of Oklahoma in the US.
Their study of humor including the analysis of two Achmed the Dead Terrorist skits, has recently been published online in Springer’s GeoJournal.
The authors use ‘disposition theory’ – a framework that allows them to understand who will regard which content as funny, and how derisive humor can be seen as amusing – to examine particular types of humor in texts which reflect society’s concerns, developments and relationships, and by extension, the geopolitical implications of these texts. With an emphasis on social context, the theory suggests that the appreciation of humor is dependent, in part, on whether one holds a positive or negative attitude, or disposition, toward the object of humor.
Purcell and colleagues analyze two stand-up comedy routines performed by American ventriloquist Jeff Dunham. The skits center on the character of Achmed the Dead Terrorist, an unsuccessful suicide bomber. The humor plays on anti-Arab/Muslim sentiment. Dunham uses his audiences’ disposition towards terrorists to get laughs, while at the same time challenging his audience members to look at their own views of terrorism, Islam, and American efforts in Iraq.
They conclude that “the diffusion of humor with geopolitical content to a global viewing audience, via personal networks spanning multiple scales, forces us to consider the role of individuals (via forwarding and dissemination) as producers and reproducers of geopolitical codes and active participants in constructing enemies and threats, even in the guise of a two-foot tall puppet.”
Here are two YouTube videos about Achmed the Dead Terrorist: Jeff Dunham – Achmed the Dead Terrorist and Achmed The Dead Terrorist Carols. Ironically, in the first video, Jeff Dunham says, “I don’t want racist jokes in my act.” Dunham also makes Achmed say that he is not Muslim because he is made in China, as if it is obvious that Chinese Muslims do not exist. Finding that “joke” funny requires ignorance in multiple domains of knowledge.
The ScienceDaily article claims that Dunham is “challenging his audience members to look at their own views of terrorism, Islam, and American efforts in Iraq”, but none of the two videos I linked above demonstrate this at all.