Sunday, November 28, 2010


I grew up in a village of mixed ethnic backgrounds. There were Russians, Poles, Italians, Irish, Scots, English, Greek and others. As kids we joked about the various groups. Pat and Mike jokes were the rage at one time. Italian jokes were very popular. Polish jokes did not occur until later, perhaps because most of us were either of Polish decent or Slavic which was very close. Black jokes were sometimes rather cruel, but so were Pat and Mike and Polish jokes. Maybe it was the way they were told that made them more offensive.

Jewish jokes and Black jokes were never told except in a very derogative manner. And they were told in a way that suggested that the jokes were probably true. The Pat and Mike jokes were jokes of sheer stupidity and so no one really believed that a people could be so dumb. So of course were the Polish jokes as were the Italian jokes and the Greek jokes. The advent of the pizza pie and the spaghetti sauce were probably the end of the Italian jokes. Spaghetti sauce became almost a mystical ritual. Women passed recipes around and sauce was simmered beginning after breakfast and continuing until dinner time. The sauce became almost a solidified mass, but no one would suggest that it was too thick. That would be gross. Polish stuffed cabbage and perogi and Irish stew and corned beef became part of the culture. These items are now acceptable restaurant fare. The jokes went away.

But some cultures did not assimilate. They are, or pretended to be, offended by jokes except when they themselves tell the jokes, jokes that have a different ring. Jews stayed in their ghettos, and the blacks congregated in their own ghettos. The jokes never went away. They just stayed on the back burner. They are told to non Jewish or non Black people. Sadly, recently a joke about black food habits told in jest at a PGA event led to the person telling the joke losing his contract with a chain store. It is difficult to find a black restaurant, or for that matter a Jewish restaurant outside the ghettos. The ethnic groups that fought jokes never did assimilate into the American dream as the Irish, Poles, Italians, Greeks and others did.

Now we have religious groups who not only do not accept joke telling but resort to violence. Jokes take the edge off cultural differences. It is a way of making light of our pomposity or silliness or considering ourselv pomposity or silliness or considering ourselves as special. Sad, but it is hard to evaluate the impact the joke has had as a means of assimilating a culture.

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