“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.
Famous for coining the much-used (and often misunderstood or misused) phrase "the rule of optimism," this book is updated with an extensive Postscript from 1995 and a new, 2014 Preface that explains the uneven history of the optimism principle, in both the UK and US -- and in both social work practice and sociological scholarship.
The book's continuing relevance and utility have been exemplified in how it has influenced, and been cited by, many current writers on how extremist and politically astute groups recruit and infiltrate more benign organizations and make them tools of further expansion of power and action. The book is also considered excellent social science and history, analyzing an important moment in U.S. history when trade organizations, community groups, and the like became affected by Soviet encroachment and Marxist influence. Its insights, from one of the country's most recognized social scientists, have stood the test of time.
The new digital reprint edition from Quid Pro Books features an extensive and substantive 2014 Foreword by Martin Krygier, a senior professor of law and social theory at the law school of the University of New South Wales, in Australia, and adjunct professor at Australian National University.