Volume 52 supplement 15 (2007)


Humor and Social Protest

Edited by Marjolein 't Hart and Dennis Bos

Marjolein 't Hart Humour and Social Protest, an introduction
In the introduction to this volume, the author explains why social historians should study the relationship between humour and social protest in the past. The following questions are of interest: under what conditions did laughter serve the cause of the protesters; how did humour strengthen social protest; and to what degree has humour been an effective tool for contentious social movements. Recent developments in the field of social movement theory regarding framing, collective identity, and emotions are combined with insights from humourology. A short account of the individual contributions follow: they range from the Zapatistas in Mexico to Vietnamese garment workers, from sixteenth century Augsburg to Madrid and Stockholm in the 1990s. The findings point above all to the power of humour in the framing of political protest. Humour was used in quite different political opportunity structures, from quite open democratic societies to harsh repressive regimes. Often, humour furthered the development of a collective identity of a social movement, whereas in several cases humour acted as a powerful communication tool, serving as a true "weapon of the weak".

Thomas Olesen The Funny Side of Globalization: Humor and Humanity in Zapatista Framing
This article argues that the literature on social movements and globalization has not paid sufficient attention to the way in which political actors who act globally try to overcome the social, cultural, and political distances that separate them. It introduces the concept of global framing to give focus to the discursive processes central to such "distance bridging". In particular, it emphasizes how symbols and emotions are crucial in the framing of distance. Empirically, it discusses how the considerable global resonance created by the Zapatistas in Mexico is facilitated by a framing strategy, carried out mainly by the movement's spokesman, Subcomandante Marcos, in which humour, imperfection, and symbols play a decisive role.

Michael Cohen "Cartooning Capitalism". Radical Cartooning and the Making of American Popular Radicalism in the Early Twentieth Century
During the first two decades of the twentieth century, a mass culture of popular radicalism - consisting of various socialist, industrial unionists, anarchists, Progressive, feminist, black radicals and other movements - arose to challenge the legitimacy of corporate capitalism in the United States. This article considers the role of radical cartoonists in propagandizing for, and forging unity within, this culture of popular radicalism. By articulating a common set of anti-capitalist values and providing a recognizable series of icons and enemies, radical cartoonists worked to generate a class politics of laugher that was at once entertaining and didactic. Through a discussion of the works of Art Young for the Masses, Ryan Walker's cartoons for the socialist newspaper the Appeal to Reason, and the proletarian humor of Joe Hill and the IWW, this article argues that radical cartooning did not merely provide comic relief for the movements, but was an active force in framing socialist ideology and goals in a revolutionary age.

Nicola Pizzolato Revolution in a Comic Strip: Gasparazzo and the Identity of the Southern Migrants in Turin, 1969-1975
Between 1969 and 1975, in Turin, a social movement with migrants from southern Italy as its protagonists addressed the issues of working conditions in the automobile plants, and housing and living standards in the city's overcrowded working-class neighbourhoods. Southern migrants, from different regions and speaking sometimes mutually incomprehensible dialects, forged a collective identity as Meridionali - "southerners" - and claimed recognition as fully fledged citizens of Turin's industrial society. This identity-building was captured in the making through the satirical cartoons featuring Gasparazzo, the character of a southern worker at FIAT who struggled daily with the alienation of work, the arrogance of supervisors, the repression enforced by the police, and, back in the south, the backwardness of the social system. Although the publication of Gasparazzo ended abruptly in 1972 the qualities of the cartoon character continued to resonate in succeeding years. As militancy waned and the social movement started to crumble, Gasparazzo came to symbolize the nostalgic model of a working-class hero rather than any actual southerner in the plant.

Christian Kuhn Urban Laughter as a "Counter-Public" Sphere in Augsburg: The Case of the City Mayor Jakob Herbrot (1490/95-1564)
Social movement scholarship has recently focused on "popular" media of protest; reading and singing provided a forceful communicative structure in semi-literate urban society, especially in Augsburg, the largest city of Reformation Germany. The case of Jakob Herbrot (1490/95-1564) combines the antagonisms of political, social, and religious movements; a rich Calvinist, he climbed the social ladder from a lowly regarded profession to the highest office of the imperial city in a precarious time of confessional armed conflict. Herbrot's conduct triggered a life-long series of accusations, polemics, satires, humorous ballads, and songs, material that allows a reassessment of the early modern discourse of Öffentlichkeit, as well as of urban laughter in the "public sphere" before its modern elevation to the central doctrine of bourgeois society. The sources suggest that humour was of essential importance to the public in the early modern city, a counter-public in the sense of an independent political arbiter.

Sammy Basu "A Little Discourse Pro & Con": Levelling Laughter and Its Puritan Criticism
The mid-seventeenth century English social movement known as the Levellers was perhaps the first liberal democratic social movement. Among their communicative strategies, to garner supporters while challenging the authorities, humor figured prominently. In this article, the nature of this levelling laughter is highlighted and juxtaposed against Puritan injunctions to mourning and objections against humor. Regarding the latter, four such objections are distinguished and elucidated: 'damnable heresies', 'strange opinions', 'fearful divisions', and 'loosenesse of life and manners'. Finally, it is suggested that the Puritan repudiation of the Levellers highlights the need for social movements of democratic dissent against various aspects of the given status quo to use incongruous and relief humor to prompt reflection without relying too heavily on boorishly flouting social prohibitions for the sake of the pleasures of superiority and release. It also suggests that humor will do better in a culture already tolerant of pluralism, comfortable with a measure of non-literal ambiguity, and committed to democratic deliberation.

Simon Teune Humour as a Guerrilla Tactic. The West German Student Movement's Mockery of the Establishment
A small group within the German student movement of the 1960s expressed its critique of society in humorous protests that condensed the urge for a non-materialist, individualistic, and libertarian change. In the early phase of an emerging cycle of protest, Spassguerilla [fun guerrilla] contributed to shaping the face of the student movement, despite differences with the more traditional groups within that movement. In happenings, pamphlets, and judicial trials, humorous activists derided conventional ways of thinking and living. A responsive environment played a decisive role in shaping the image of the insurgents, thus reinforcing the impact of their actions and drawing in sympathizers.

Lisiunia A. Romanienko Antagonism, Absurdity, and the Avant-garde: Dismantling Soviet Oppression through the Use of Theatrical Devices by Poland's 'Orange' Solidarity Movement
Since the birth of Solidarity twenty-five years ago, scholars have examined this unique Polish apparatus of defiance from nearly every institutional perspective known to the social sciences. Yet very little attention has been given to the role of human agency that gave rise to this powerful force of national resistance. Even less attention has been devoted to the influence of human emotion, and laughter in particular, in mobilizing this unprecedented scale of subversive activities against the Soviet empire. By deploying discursive devices offered through avant-garde performance, Solidarity's regional art student faction known as the 'Orange Alternative' helped to dismantle Soviet aggression by unifying Poles under the rubric of culturally-specific, nostalgic humor. Low state capacity, recognition claims for optimizing human potential, and other microdynamics of oppositional consciousness are some of the factors discussed that enabled humor to strengthen the movement and prevent exogenous special interests from altering its' objectives.

Patrick Gun Cuninghame "A Laughter That Will Bury You All": Irony as Protest and Language as Struggle in the Italian 1977 Movement
Perhaps the most innovative aspect of the Italian "1977 Movement" in its conflict with the grey, humourless political system was its use of irony to ridicule its opponents. Irony was central to the identity of the movement and its cultural and political break with the institutional Old and vanguardist New Lefts. Its use, particularly by the "Metropolitan Indians", the transversalists and other "creatives", marked a social revolt by mainly marginalized young people, who invented a new political counter-culture based on linguistic experimentation in circumstances far from the optimism of 1968. The paper, based directly on primary sources from the movement and on interviews with former participants, reassesses a movement usually characterized as "violent" by Italianist social history. It concludes that the movement's "ironic praxis" contributed to a fundamental change in Italian society in the late seventies and has influenced the political style of contemporary alterglobalist and anti-capitalist movements.

Anna Lundberg Queering Laughter in the Stockholm Pride Parade
This article analyses the Stockholm Pride parade as an effective contemporary political stage, built on laughter and festivity. Taking its political point of departure in what is seen as being highly private and intimate, sexuality and the sexed body, the parade turns upside down one of the most central ideas of modernity: the dichotomy of public and private. Combining the theory of carnival laughter with queer theory, the article illustrates the way in which humour and politics work together in this contemporary blend of politics and popular culture.

Kirsti Salmi-Niklander Bitter Memories and Broken Soap Bubbles: Irony , Parody and Satire in the Oral-Literary Tradition of Finnish Working-Class Youth at the Beginning of the Twentieth Century
This article discusses irony, parody, and satire in the oral-literary tradition of Finnish working-class youth during the first decades of the twentieth century. The most important research material is Valistaja [The Enlightener, 1914-1925], a handwritten newspaper produced by young working-class people in the industrial town of Karkkila in southern Finland. This research material provides examples of different kinds of parody: ideological parody is directed against both political opponents and the texts representing their ideology; generic parody involves playing with linguistic norms and generic conventions. Parody and satire provided means for exposing the cruelty and cowardice of the anti-Bolshevik Whites, the hypocrisy of the Church, and the conservatism of the older generation of workers. The ironic expressions reflect the experiences and tensions among groups of young people in Karkkila.

Nghiem Lien Huong Jokes in a Garment Workshop in Hanoi: How does Humor Foster the Perception of Community in Social Movements?
This article will demonstrate how jokes are used to foster the perception of community among workers on the shop floor of a garment workshop in Hanoi, Vietnam. Although jokes cannot be considered as overt resistance on the part of workers, by containing an element of collective reality and desire a sense of collectivity among the workers is heightened. The article will analyse two jokes in their embedded contexts to highlight the importance of humour in the workers' struggle against management.

Nathan Wise Fighting a Different Enemy: Social Protests against Authority in the Australian Imperial Force During the First World War
During the First World War the rank and file of the Australian Imperial Force utilised humour in their social protests against both their officers and the military regimen. This paper looks at the expression of this humour through a variety of mediums and explores the value of humour in providing an outlet through which these men could vent their anger at the military system. It further seeks to highlight how the adoption of humour in social protests became a secure part of the Australian soldiers 'working' identity and how this was sustained throughout the war by the masculine image of the soldier. Further to this, the paper examines the decline in the use of humour in social protest amongst war veterans in the post-war era and its replacement by a more sombre attitude towards protests.

Cristina Flesher Fominaya The Role of Humor in the Process of Collective Identity Formation in Autonomous Social Movement Groups in Contemporary Madrid
This article draws on ethnographic research to analyse the role of humour in the process of collective identity formation within autonomous anti-capitalist groups in Madrid. Autonomous groups embrace the principles of horizontality, openness, diversity, participatory democracy, self-organization, and direct action, so defining themselves in contradistinction to more "vertical" movement organizations of the institutional left. The process of collective identity formation involves both generating a sense of internal cohesion, and projecting an alternative identity. Autonomous groups in Madrid face a double challenge, for they must integrate ideologically heterogeneous activists, and they must define themselves as being alternatives to the much more consolidated groups of the institutional left. I shall analyse the different ways in which humour is used to address both those challenges: to sustain groups over time, to defuse tensions and try to resolve conflict, for myth-making, and to integrate marginal group members. I will also discuss the role humour plays in charismatic leadership and its use in the projection of an alternative political identity in direct actions. Finally, I will discuss the contested nature of humour as a political tool in the context of the Madrid network.

Krista Cowman "Doing something silly". The Uses of Humour by the Women's Social and Political Union, 1903 - 1914
Investigations into uses of humour associated with the militant suffrage campaign of the Women's Social and Political Union have been largely concerned with the satirising of suffragettes. The uses that suffragettes themselves made of humour as a considered political tactic have been less considered. This paper explores three ways in which suffragettes turned humour to their advantage during their campaign: by deliberately adopting "silly" behaviours as a counterpoint to over-formal and male dominated Edwardian politics; by quick-witted retorts to hecklers who sought to disrupt suffragette meetings and finally as a means of venting private political dissent and alleviating some of the stresses of hectic political campaigning. The exploration of humour within the WSPU's work reveals some of the links between humour and social protest in the early 20th century, and considers the extent to which its use in public political behaviour might be gendered.

Patrick Merziger Humour in Nazi Germany: Resistance and Propaganda? The Popular Desire for an All Embracing Laughter
Two directions in the historiography of humour can be diagnosed: on the one hand humour is understood as a form of resistance, on the other hand it is taken as a means of political agitation. This dichotomy has been applied especially to describe humour in National Socialism and in other totalitarian regimes. This article argues that both forms were marginal in National Socialism. The prevalence of the "whispered jokes", allegedly the form of resistance, has been exaggerated. The satire, allegedly the official and dominant form of humour, was not well-received by the National Socialistic public. This article will reconstruct the rise of a third form, the "German Humour", and discuss the reasons for its success by looking at why satire failed.

Christie Davies Humour and Protest: Jokes under Communism
The largest corpus of jokes we have ridiculing both rulers and a political system comes from the former Soviet Union and the then communist countries of Eastern Europe. These forbidden jokes were important to those who told them at some risk to themselves. They can be construed as a form of protest but the relationship between jokes and protest is not a simple one. The number of jokes told was greater and the telling more open in the later years of the regimes, than in the earlier years of terror and extreme hardship. The number of jokes is a product of the extensiveness of political control not its intensity. Such jokes probably have no effect either in undermining a regime or in acting as a stabilising safety valve. However, they were a quiet protest, an indication that the political system lacked stability and could collapse quickly.