“No piece of folklore continues to be transmitted unless it means something—even if neither the speaker nor the audience can articulate what that meaning might be. In fact, it usually is essential that the joke’s meaning not be crystal clear. If people knew what they were communicating when they told jokes, the jokes would cease to be effective as socially sanctioned outlets for expressing taboo ideas and subjects.”
—Alan Dundes, in the Preface to CRACKING JOKES
Where there is anxiety, there will be jokes to express that anxiety. Jokes are legitimate folklore—like myths, proverbs, legends, superstitions and songs—and as such, they reflect what is on people’s minds. There has been no shortage of jokes or anxiety since the 1960s, and in this book, Alan Dundes reminds us of the jokes we have been telling, and reveals the anxiety these jokes reflect.
His interpretations are not always popular. His investigation into antisemitic jokes in Germany in the 1980s, for example, met with widespread criticism. But it is a part of society that makes a difference and should not be shielded from academic scrutiny. Dundes likens his critics to those who attack the messenger when they do not like the news. All kinds of jokes exist. He reports on what exists and applies the best methods of investigative journalism to uncover the motive and true meaning behind the jokes.
As Marc Galanter writes in the new Foreword, “A preeminent scholar of jokes, Dundes was an adventurous and prolific pioneer of the study of many realms of folklore. A tireless champion of the field, he was a major force in shifting the study of folklore from its rural and antiquarian tilt to encompass the prolific lore of modern life.… He regarded jokes not only as subject matter to be analyzed and understood in their own right, but as useful tools to uncover social and cultural patterns.” This book in particular is the culmination of these important yet understudied cultural devices. Dundes was “a deeply dedicated scholar who maintained a radiant faith that by understanding our susceptibility to the irrational we might empower ourselves to move beyond prejudice and act rationally and humanely.” The book, with the new Foreword, is republished by the independent academic press Quid Pro Books, and is finally available in digital formats. Quality ebook design includes linked notes, active contents, and legible paragraph structure for the jokes themselves.
Alan Dundes was an acclaimed professor of anthropology and folklore at the University of California, Berkeley.
Dundes begins with a comprehensive survey of the history of psychological studies of folklore in the United Slates. He then presents a striking analysis of the spectrum of behavior associated with male competitive events ranging from traditional games -- such as soccer and American football -- to warfare. He argues that all of these activities can be seen as forms of macho battle to determine which individual or team feminizes his or its opponents.
This is followed by a study of the saga of William Tell, one of the most celebrated legends in the world. A novel treatment of the biblical flood myth in terms of male pregnancy is the penultimate essay, while the concluding article proposes an ingeniously imaginative interpretation of the underpinnings of anti-Semitism.