*I was discussing the merits of Eddie Murphy’s status as a great comedian with someone’s whose opinion I generally respect but with whom I ultimately disagree with regarding Murphy. Their position was that his humor was based on cursing and because they found such language distasteful two endpoints are reached.
1. He’s not funny without the cursing; 2. They generally did not wish to listen to such language and therefore did not get the jokes where cursing was present. As I contemplated these conclusions two thoughts came to mind. Specifically, that it seems impossible to assess Murphy’s comedic ability if one frequently distracted by curses. But more universally, it is wrong to be dismissive of an individual or group simply because their method of communication is different from your own.
Hegemony is the dynamic between those with power in a certain situation exerting control and putting pressure on those who do not have power. Though comedy frequently is based in the experiences of those in lower socio-economic class situations, those in the middle and upper classes maintain the ability to endorse those experiences and make the comedian successful or dismiss those experiences and hinder the comedian’s success.
Lenny Bruce was a comedian of the 1950s and 1960s who, while revered in the community of standup comedians who share similar lower socio-economic backgrounds, was not endorsed by the middle class and did not experience great success. In fact Bruce’s mode of communication (cursing) was so grating to the middle class that he was arrested for obscenity. Contrarily Eddie Murphy, with the same cursing, enjoyed much more success having been endorsed by middle class observers repeatedly in his career.
Hegemonic dynamics in the case of comedians is relatively not important. Except for the specific comedians there are very few people affected. But these power relationships can also be found in politics. The conclusion that group A has nothing of value to say or to offer society because of their mode of speech (virtually every immigrant group in American history), or because of their socio-economic circumstance is a fallacy. Unfortunately we repeatedly see group A’s concerns overlooked and policy formulated that did not take them into account. The voting statues of southern states that were enacted after the Civil War that effectively disfranchised black and poor white citizens was due to the differences between the middle class and those of lower class status. The tense situation between Israel and refugee Palestinians is also due in part to decision makers on both sides refusing to consider alternative points of view because of their different backgrounds and conflicting worldviews.
In a debate about Eddie Murphy the stakes are low. I’d like that other person to enjoy his comedy as much as I do but ultimately it is of no consequence. But it is much more important that our leaders do not dismiss alternative perspectives, consider all information, and operate in an all-inclusive manner in order to produce the best possible results in government and ultimately the best possible country.
Trevor Brookins is a free lance writer in Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War and he maintains a blog called This Seems Familiar. You can reach him at [email protected]