All posts filed under: comedy

A Defense of Offensive Jokes

In a paper published in 1940, anthropologist Alfred Radcliffe-Brown theorized something that he called the “joking relationship”: a relationship “between two persons in which one is by custom permitted, and in some instances required, to tease or make fun of the other, who in turn is required to take no offense.” As anthropology in the early 20th century was primarily a comparative social science, Radcliffe-Brown noted the existence of this relationship in a variety of cultures around the world, from the Dogon people in Mali to the North American Ojibwe. Even though Radcliffe-Brown’s article is 80 years old, and describes relationships in non-Western societies, it still has much to tell us about why we engage in offensive humour, and how we can perhaps do it better. Rather than the simple justification that “jokes are meant to be funny and edgy, get over it,” Radcliffe-Brown treats the joking relationship as one of many relationships that tie people together. In other words, he analyses the joking relationship like an anthropologist. Like the early anthropologist Marcel Mauss understood …