Democracy: An American Comedy
(Panel Session at the 21th AISNA Conference, Trento, ITALY, 26-29 October 2011)
Comedy and democracy are inextricably connected, as American writers have always known: one need only consider Ambrose Bierce’s cutting definition of politics as “a strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles,” or Mark Twain’s famous suggestion to redecorate the American flag “with the white stripes painted black and the stars replaced by the skull and crossbones.” Nowadays a number of contemporary novelists perpetuate the comic tradition, ridiculing current politics and politicians while challenging what they perceive as a twisted form of American democracy.
Likewise, the popularity of cartoons and sitcoms like "The Simpsons" and "That’s my Bush!," as well as the huge attendance to rallies organized by comedians to mock the political process, or the enthusiastic audience of satiric TV shows like "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" and "The Colbert Report," demonstrate the broad appeal of political satire in the present-day United States. What is perhaps more disturbing is that young Americans increasingly declare that they get their news mainly from such shows, while, as a consequence, journalists and politicians look at them with growing interest and serious concern.
Though critics dismiss political comedy because it trivializes serious issues and fuels public cynicism, supporters argue that, being such a powerful tool for criticism, satire is the basis of any democracy, because it fosters interest in political issues among otherwise apathetic audience, while helping people to understand the world around them.
This panel seeks to examine the relationship between democracy and every aspect of American humor as the sites of complex negotiations of cultures, industries, disciplines, genres, aesthetics, and tastes.
Possible areas of investigation include, but are not restricted to:
The effect of humor on US elections and politics;
Political comedy/satire/humor/farce in modern, postmodern and contemporary literature;
Political comedy/satire/humor/farce in music, film, TV series, cartoons and TV shows;
War, terrorism and gallows humor in post-9/11 America; Politics and humor in comics and graphic novels;
Vaudeville and stand-up comedy;
culture-specific—or transnational and transcultural—forms of political humor and comedy;
The historical relationship between gender, humor and politics;
Satire and social reform;
Political caricatures and vignettes;
Jokes, irreverence, and the question of “political correctness”;
The historical impact of comedians and social commentators (Lenny Bruce, Will Rogers, etc.) on US politics;
Translation/Adaptation of political humor.
Please send abstracts (300 words) and a short CV to firstname.lastname@example.org and
email@example.com by May 8, 2011.
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