I decided to start out this last travelogue with the question: “What is humor?”. Well, there are a lot of definitions out there, but I think the most important quality is that it is socially constructed – things are funny because the people around us think their funny. Maintaining social humor helps build rapport and community.
To start out, a very non-digital media example:
This summer I read a classic ethnography called Guests of the Sheik by Elizabeth Warnock Fernea. It was published in the mid ’60s, long before inexpensive, near-instantaneous, global, transcultural communication was made possible by the Internet. Fernea traveled to Iraq in the late ’50s as a young newly-wed to join her husband, an anthropologist. The book details her struggle trying to learn the language, culture, and etiquette of women living in a rural Iraqi village. Fernea’s diligent attempts to become a member of the community don’t go very well for her at first. After many months, she begins to grasp enough of the language and culture to learn that the women, while seemingly polite, have been making fun of her the whole time – right to her face! And it isn’t until she is able to crack her own jokes on the women that they begin to accept her, and begin to consider her a whole person. Read More