“It’s Just a Joke, Bro”

Owen Billo

You’ve probably seen someone say the title of this post before. You’ve probably thought about how “”jokes”” can still carry political messages (political cartoons are a thing after all). Maybe you’ve even applied the term “post-irony” to it. This is the underlying theme I noticed in the readings this week.

The Doerr article makes this point the most clearly in discussing the ‘black sheep’ political ads. The ads are creating a moral panic over an issue that doesn’t really exist, and are doing so using subtly racist dogwhistles. However, they can get away with this by playing up the cartoon aspect and using a logo with a cute sun rising over a field. If anybody sees through this facade, the ad’s creators can simply deploy “it’s just a joke” and a series of rehearsed “”free speech”” soundbites.

This series of rhetoric is also present with Charlie Hebdo as shown in the Neffati article. Under Philippe Val, Hebdo published comics portraying muslims as dark, barbarian invaders aiming to colonize Europe. When this was criticized, Val simply labelled his critics as anti-semites. Val’s reaction exemplifies the next stage of this rhetoric: the victim complex.

Present in both Hebdo and the online circles discussed in the Strick article are islamophobes comparing themselves to Holocaust victims. Obviously, none of these people are anywhere near as oppressed as Jews were, but as Strick points out they still (falsely) claim to be victims of a genocide – the “great replacement” conspiracy theory. The great replacement conspiracy theory was already present in Hebdo, but it takes much longer to write and debate these ideas in magazines than it does online, so these online discourses accelerate the conspiracy theory.

Relevant documentary, if you have the time. There is a good discussion to be had about this on whether it’s post-irony or meta-irony (terminology explained in the video)

One Reply to ““It’s Just a Joke, Bro””

  1. Hello Owen,

    I really enjoyed your post as it tackles other aspects of the diffusion of far-right politics, particularly that which is often forgotten about: the reaction to reaction. Your identification of statements like ‘it’s just a joke bro’ etc as rhetoric in its own right and related to this larger far-right rhetoric is particularly thought-provoking. I think that this rhetoric has a functional purpose in far-right dissemination which is perhaps just as important as the initial posts. As you note, there is an element of the ‘victim complex’ in this rhetoric. This, for example, ultimately maintains the characterization of ‘whiteness/free speech/culture/etc under threat’ that, as Strick notes is at the heart of these disseminations. Overall, I think that approaching phrases like ‘it’s just a joke’ as part of rhetoric is a really vulnerable way to engage with far-right internet and popular culture.

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