See below for list of all quotes used in weekly modules, for use in Final Project [see Main Page].
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Week 1: Incongruity
“Philosophers have long debated the nature, purpose, and meaning of humor, and although no single theory has been universally accepted, three general theories of humor are broadly recognized today. The first centers on the notion of superiority, or what English philosopher Thomas Hobbes described as “our sudden glory when we realize that in some way we are superior to someone else.”*…The second theory, not commonly associated with Sigmund Freud, characterizes humor as a method for releasing internal tension that can bring pleasure and relief to a joke teller and an audience…The third theory, advanced by Immanuel Kant, and later Arthur Schopenhauer, ties humor to the concept of incongruity: humor occurs when a sense of anticipation is created, and then confounded by something unexpected.” (Garrett 2012, 53)
*See quote in Morreall 1987, 19
Week 2: Race and Ethnicity
“Ethnicities are to be understood in terms of the construction, maintenance, and negotiation of boundaries, and not on the “putative” social essences which fill the gaps between them. Ethnic boundaries define and maintain social identities, which can only exist in a context of opposition and relativities.” (Stokes 1994, 6)
“Race focuses on identities based on perceptions about skin color. These distinctions are socially constructed categories used in most cases to establish hierarchical structures and to discriminate against or exclude certain groups of people from certain social, political, religious, and other settings.”(Stone 2008, 158)
Week 3: Feminism
“…dominant ideologies [commonly held views/beliefs] of gender are such that, in popular culture as a whole, that which is perceived as ‘masculine’ enjoys widespread hegemony [dominance] over that which is described and produced as ‘feminine.’” Jarman-Ivens (2007, 3)
“Within African American music history, her [Missy Elliot’s] primary antecedents are bawdy blues belters like Bessie Smith, Big Mama Thornton, Ruth Brown, and Etta James. These women were as sexual and shocking (in their days) as modern rappers, but they applied an uproarious humor to their outrages that accentuated rather than diminished their identities as empowered and self-sustaining women.” (Ellis 2008, 240)
Week 4: Postmodernism
“The old rock modernism that had set a distinct and distinguishable alternative rock culture against the mainstream was challenged as the eighties began to unfold…These postmodern upstarts [e.g. Madonna, Prince, Cyndi Lauper] were savvy stars playing both sides of the fence; their punk-inspired spirits drove them to expose the the processes of pop productions and marketing while they laughed coyly on their way to the bank.” (Ellis 2008, 168)
“Alongside technological advances, the launch of MTV in 1981 similarly revolutionized rock music as it shifted the emphasis of rock humor from lyrical expression to visual theatrics…when MTV emerged at the dawn of the eighties, Devo were there to provide a bridge from punk to the new image-drive genres of new wave and pop. “Whip It” become a breakout success in 1980, its bizarre video imagery bringing mystique and credibility to MTV.” (Ellis 2008, 169)
“Out postmodern era has created an eternal past-as-present where all existing styles, forms, and expressions are accessible at the touch of a button for consumption, appropriation, or inspiration.” (Ellis 2008, 301)
“…subversive rock humor is here to stay because it’s three elemental components – subversion, rock music, and humor – all relate to the same common human need and desire: freedom. John Morreall* argues that you can never control a person who has humor, you can never brainwash or indoctrinate a person who has humor, and you can never create an institutional pawn out a person who has humor.” (Ellis 2008, 302)
*Morreall, John. 1983. Taking laughter seriously. Albany: State University of New York.
Week 5: Rockism and Funk
“A rockist isn’t just someone who loves rock ‘n’ roll, who goes on and on about Bruce Springsteen, who champions ragged-voiced singer-songwriters no one has ever heard of. A rockist is someone who reduces rock ‘n’ roll to a caricature, then uses that caricature as a weapon. Rockism means idolizing the authentic old legend (or underground hero) while mocking the latest pop star; lionizing punk while barely tolerating disco; loving the live show and hating the music video; extolling the growling performer while hating the lip-syncher.” (Sannah 2004)
“…the problem remains that most people do not realize that a significant musical movement occurred during the 1970s, generated primarily by outcast musicians from the black underclass in America. The music of the funk spoke directly to those people, while others simply danced to it. The fact that The Funk is a non-logical concept with an assortment of coded meanings and slang terms did not help to clarify the situation. Yet today’s rap music movement and its music have nonetheless shown a phenomenal affection for funk music and its message. This is because the music music is from the same class of people – dispossessed blacks with a bizarre combination of poverty, hope, bitterness, and humanity. The Funk rests at the core of hard hitting urban dance music of today, and is the missing link for a long lost generation of funky people to find their place in history.” (Vincent 1996, 30)
Week 6: [Counter-]Counterculture
“If escapism and self-indulgence were the primary characteristics of much of the psychedelic humor coming from both sides of the Atlantic [meaning in the US and UK] during the mid- to late 1960s, there were other contemporaries less enamored with these journeys into withdrawal and (inevitably) apathy. Oppositional forces – led by Frank Zappa and Lou Reed from the West and East coasts of the United States, respectively – set about creating a counter-counterculture. With their feet firmly grounded (rather than with their heads airily in the clouds), these artists brought a cold, hard stare to the realities of 1960s America.” (Ellis 2008, 96)
“The bubblegum genre that popped up in 1968 was – in many respects – a counter-reaction to a rock culture that had been following the lead of the Beatles in seeking sounds of increasing complexity and that of Bob Dylan in constructing lyrics of philosophical and/or abstract purposes.” (Ellis 2008, 96)
Week 7: Camp
“Little Richard trampled on social expectations of masculinity and laughed at concepts of gendered decorum. With a six-inch pompadour, heavy mascara, baggy blouse, and billowing cape, Richard presented a shocking image of what we now recognize as “camp,” but at the time was just perceived as bizarre. For Richard, his look was a form of revenge, a type of trickster humor; it symbolically subsumed all of the abuse leveled at homosexual men [although many claim Richard was actually bisexual], then mocked such assaults by exaggerating the features ascribed to them.” (Ellis 2008, 33)
Week 8: Canon
“Many scholars across the sciences and the humanities have taken humor seriously, seeking to answer the central questions about human belief and behavior as well as to discover what humor reveals about human psychology, social interaction, creative expression, playfulness, and pleasure. Such research is quite rare in the field of musicology, however, and is confined mainly to a handful of studies centered on canonical figures, including Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven, whose credentials as serious artists are already firmly established…[this] can be explained in part because musical scholarship has historically championed aesthetic coherence and unity – music that makes sense – whereas musical humorists often poke fun at aesthetic conventions and embrace irreverence.” (Garrett 2012, 51)
Week 9: Subversion
“Invariably underestimated and underappreciated, humor is often conflated with the light and the trivial. Yet, many strains of humor carry serious purposes, with their intent to subvert various institutional status quos. Whether Oscar Wilde or Dorthy Parker, the Marx Brothers or Richard Pryor, Chuck Berry or Missy Elliot, people in Western civilization have often expressed their discontents and desires through subversive humor. Such humor wields both a carrot and a stick, magnetically drawing interested audiences while simultaneously educating them with hard, raw truths.” (Ellis 2008, 1)
“Subversives – like revolutionaries – are defined by their intents, not by their achievements. To be a subversive is to desire to subvert; through undermining, attention is called to circumstances, caution is proclaimed, admonishment is administered. Subversives recognize wrongs, though they may not have much to offer in the way of alternative ‘rights.’” (Ellis 2008, 9)
Bibliography of Sources
Ellis, Iain. 2008. Rebels Wit Attitude: Subversive Rock Humorists. Berkeley, CA: Soft Skull Press.
Garrett, Charles Hiroshi. 2012. “The Humor of Jazz.” In Jazz/not jazz: The music and its boundaries, eds. David Andrew Ake, Charles Hiroshi Garrett, and Daniel Goldmark, 49-69. Berkeley: University of California Press.
George, Nelson. 1988. The death of rhythm & blues. New York: Pantheon Books.
Jarman-Ivens, Freya. 2007. Oh boy!: Masculinities and popular music. New York: Routledge.
Morreall, John. 1987. The Philosophy of laughter and humor. Albany: State University of New York Press.
Sanneh, Kelefa. 2004. “The Rap Against Rockism”. New York Times. October 31, 2004.
Stokes, Martin. 1994. Ethnicity, identity, and music: The musical construction of place. Oxford, UK: Berg.
Stone, Ruth M. 2008. Theory for ethnomusicology. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.
Vincent, Rickey. 1996. Funk: The music, the people, and the rhythm of the one. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin.