May 6, 2013
University of Guelph
(Wheelchair Accessible Space)
Last night was Guelph’s Take Back the Night march, which I was happily involved in. It was a wonderful experience. The energy of the crowd, the positive vibes all around, the support from the streets – it was all a delight! What I want to really mention though is that Raise the Bar was officially announced last night. Hooray!
Before that – a side note. The performance poet Truth Is spoke and delivered some of the most compelling, brilliant poetry I have heard in a long time. I first heard Truth Is at the Angela Davis talk at the University of Guelph last year and my goodness, she was phenomenal! I occasionally teach poetry and one thing that I have found very useful in terms of teaching poetry is showing how it is a living tradition. People get bogged down in Donne, Whitman, Shakespeare. When I brought to them living performance poets who speak to the experience of today – Katie Makkai, dbi young, and others – suddenly the students saw that they could be a part of this world of words. I really have to learn more about Truth Is.
Anyhow, right, back to the Raise the Bar campaign!
Last night, Cindy McMann spoke and officially outed our little group. We are working to end the culture of sexual predation, harassment, and violence around us by starting in our back yards – downtown Guelph. The key to this is bystander intervention. We have to make sure that everyone recognizes that sexual violence of any sort is unacceptable.
So we are launching a two part campaign – education in downtown establishments and a public education blitz. Working with our community partners, we are putting together both wings of the campaign and we hope that we will have your support.
We haven’t quite started the website up yet and we are still building content for the public education blitz, but we are now official. We’re out there. We’re Raise the Bar… and you can help.
If you are interested in getting involved with Raise the Bar or you want to learn more about our initiative, please let me know. andrew.bretz AT gmail DOT com
I’m teaching a course on Comic Drama in the Winter Semester at WLU and so I’ve been thinking in the past few days about the nature of humour/comedy/genre/farce/absurdity, etc. Heck, I still don’t even have a reading list together, so if anyone has any suggestions, I would be more than happy to entertain them. Just drop me a line.
Begging for help with my course is not why I am writing this, however.
One of the ideas that I had regarding course delivery was to start off each class with a relevant joke or reading or something. Whether it be a knock knock joke when we are talking about structure, “Why did the chicken cross the road?” when we are talking about dated humour, or describing a situation like what I will get into below… I want to start off each class with an example, then move into the theory and the plays.
Yesterday, as I was basking in the post defense hangover, I watched as twitter blew up with discussion of a few interrelated stories.
There’s no real point in my going on at length about how and why these particular cases are seriously problematic. Indeed, Tosh looks like he is liable to lose support from his network and the twitter account of the man who created the Sarkeesian game has been mysteriously suspended. I join the condemnation of these acts, of course, but I’m wondering how I am going to insert them into my class on comic drama.
Tosh’s stance on “awful things in the world” is a position that I have heard time and again in recent months, especially following the whole debacle a few months back. Individuals claim that they can make jokes about anything they want, without consequences, because they have the seemingly God-given right to make those jokes. The smarter ones cite George Carlin for some kind of evidence that white, privileged men can make jokes about violence, race, money and it can be funny.
Thing is, they are stepping on a few questions of privilege and comedy without thinking about what they are doing. Are there jokes that are funny? Certainly. Humour seems to be largely a social construct, but it does seem to be the case that there is some kind of a concept of humour across cultures. This seems to be a part of the general human condition. There are also jokes that are simply not funny. Either they are not told well, they are offensive, or they lack structure (or something else), but there are certainly jokes that are not funny. Are there jokes that are so offensive that they are inherently unfunny? Here we step away from a philosophy of aesthetics and into ethics.
That is, a joke suborning rape (an immoral joke) can be told by someone as an illustration of rape culture without the expectation that anyone will find it funny (say, in a classroom), or that same joke can be told for immoral reasons (for example, to actually dehumanize and degrade another person). There are very few jokes that are structurally immoral, I think. Think, for instance, of what the philosopher Noel Carroll calls “moron jokes,” which are jokes that defame or degrade a social out-group. In Canada, Newfie jokes are the prime example of these. I’m not sure if these are structurally immoral in the sense that you can swap out the “moron” group of the joke. They are unpleasant, they are derisive, but they rely on an interchangability and basic humanity of the other in order for the joke to make any sense.
This is the basis of Plautine humour. Plautus, the Roman playwright, knew that though we claim we want to see edifying and cultural drama, we really go in large numbers to see people falling on their arse. More people would come to see Homer Simpson give a public talk than Professor Frink, both in the fictional Springfield and in the real world. Making fun of other people is not structurally immoral in the sense that, if done right, you recognize that you are liable to be the person who is the butt of the joke next. It puts all humanity in the same place: a buffoon incapable of doing the simplest of tasks.
The links below are just a smattering of what I have found in the past few moments. There’s a lot out there for you to learn more about this, if you are so inclined.
I’m going to take this opportunity to finally talk about an initiative that I have become a part of that is setting out to create spaces in the bars of downtown Guelph where sexual harassment and assault will hopefully become a thing of the past. We are setting out to Raise the Bar, because Bars Should Be Fun (hence the catchy name).
A number of things have conspired in the past few months to encourage me to move into the field of activism. For any of you who read this blog, you will know about the rape chants on Guelph transit that were repeated (and added to) in Facebook. There have been other incidents as well. The more I have publicly spoken out about the issue, the more people have come forward to talk to me about what has happened to them and the people that they love.
We are still in the formative phases right now of the project, but already we have begun partnering with a number of local groups and organizations. We have had unprecedented support from all sides. We are talking with the local hospital, the Women in Crisis Centre, the University of Guelph, the Central Student’s Association, The Crown Attorney’s Office and many others to make this happen.
I’m not going to go too far into the project details at the moment, as those are going to be worked out in the next little bit. The goal, however, is to reduce the incidence of sexual violence and harassment in the downtown of Guelph. If you support this goal, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me – we can certainly use all the help we can get.
As a part of the campaign, we have created an initial Facebook page. You might want to check it out. Share your stories and let’s help make Guelph a place where everyone can have fun!