The "Polish Joke" is a type of humor in which the teller and the hearer build their own solidarity in a sense of superiority over an ethnic group supposedly composed of rubes and dopes.
How many Polacks does it take to screw in a light bulb?Ba-dump-bump.
Three. One to hold the bulb in place and two to turn the ladder.
In different places, different ethnic groups are the butt. In Brazil, it's continental Portuguese:
Someone said to a Portuguese man, "Manoel, your house in Niteroi is on fire, and your children will burn!" He ran to the ferry and jumped across the water just as it was leaving. Then he slapped his head and said, "My name's not Manoel, I don't live in Niteroi, and I don't have any children!"Ba-dump-bump.
In Canada, a "Newfie left" is a right turn. The Polacks of Canada are the Newfoundlanders. Etc., etc. and so forth:
There were two teams of telephone pole installers. A team of Americans and a team of Newfies. Their supervisor went up to them and said, “I’m sorry to say this, but we’ve had budget cuts and one team has to go. For the next three days we’re going to have a contest. The team that installs the most poles stays and the other one goes.” At the end of the first day both teams went to their supervisor and reported their numbers. The American team put in 20 and the Newfies, 15. At the end of the second day the Americans had put in 45 and the Newfies had only put in 30. On the third and final day the Americans put in 50 poles and the Newfies got 35 in. Their supervisor went up to them and said, “Well I’m sorry to be the one to do this but the American team got more poles in so you Newfies have to go.” The Newfies looked very upset and cheated and one of them said, “No fair, they were only putting their poles in half way!”
To my mind, Baron Cohen and the critics have it exactly backwards. I try to be polite in private and candid in public, but that's not terribly fashionable. The critics are claiming to be outraged that the Americans in the film who were exposed to Borat's anti-Semitism and anti-Gypsyism in private didn't denounce him to his face. Instead, they tended to be polite and tried to change the subject. In contrast, almost none of critics have mentioned Baron Cohen's extremely public anti-Slavism. Complete apathy reigns over Baron Cohen's revival of traditional goyishe kop attitudes toward Slavs. As Lenin said, the ultimate question remains "Who? Whom?." And everybody wants to be on the side of the Who, not the Whom.I've seen "Da Ali G Show," which includes Borat as a character. I like it when he sends up people like Noam Chomsky. Originally I wanted to see the flick, but exposing the supposed stupidity of people who are just trying to be polite strikes me as cruelty, even if I can't help being amused by it.
Which brings me to the early episodes of "American Idol," a national craze and one in our house. The producers revel in mocking self-important, lower-class fools who think they can sing and make spectacles of themselves. One strange-looking hopeful was compared to a "bush baby," a kind of primitive primate. It's a kind of musical "Jerry Springer Show," without the sex and nudity. I must confess I find the early episodes funny.
Rod Dreher, whom I like but whose middle name is either Namby or Pamby, finds AI appalling, notably the apparent cruelty with which Simon Cowell delivers his usually negative verdicts:
I'd heard that this Simon person is especially cruel, but it shocked me how harsh he was with that young woman. She begged for another opportunity to sing, but after the second one, they sent her away with a fusillade of insulting remarks. Offstage, she sobbed, which you knew was coming. She graspingly tried to salvage her dignity by saying that she was "sick," and that that had affected her voice. But she was, of course, completely untalented. She didn't realize that. She does now, most likely.Dreher goes on to repent of some of the things he wrote in his past as a critic.
I did something I never would have done 10 years ago: I turned off the TV. The schlubby young woman was a fool, but it was unbearable watching her torn down like that.
Dreher's combox is filled with a debate on this discussion. Some commend Simon for telling the truth to the hopelessly untalented, and some lament his cruelty. An audition is an event in which most participants lose, and only a few win. That's life in show business, and if you can't stand that heat, buy your food ready-made at McDonald's. If someone is hopelessly untalented and would do better to study refrigerator repair than waste more money on singing lessons, it's only fair to tell them so. To be sure, they aren't going to like it, and by now should have known what to expect. On the other hand, an honest message can be delivered without exposing the recipient to the superior tittering of the entire nation. Such attitudes degrade the viewer as much as the butt of the joke.
And yet, sinner that I am, I find it all amusing.
If I had to do it over, I'd eschew the TV entirely, something my family wouldn't tolerate. Without a TV, I could really feel superior. And if I lived in Poland, I could attend movies for the blind.