The Fellowship of Joking

Besides regaling Chronicles readers with dismaying reports on “the strange death of moral Britain” (the title of the immediate predecessor to the present book), Christie Davies continues his professional pursuits, chief among which is the study of humor.  Jokes and Targets is his fifth book concerned with the subject.  It focuses on six joke cycles, as Davies styles bodies of thematically similar jokes in order to conjure the way such jokes are related or circulated in particular places during particular periods of time.  “The key question to ask,” he claims, “is why this particular set of jokes is in circulation at this particular time in this particular society rather than some other possible set.”

Four of the six cycles are plucked from “the largest sets of jokes that exist.”  They are jokes about stupidity and craftiness, sex jokes, Jewish jokes, and Soviet political jokes.  The other two sets, blonde jokes and lawyer jokes, arose in the United States in the latter decades of the 20th century, Davies says.  Obviously, the sets overlap.  Blonde jokes are often both sex jokes and stupidity jokes, and Jewish jokes and lawyer jokes can be craftiness jokes, too.  Furthermore, the sex jokes Davies considers are subsets of the (unfortunately, one often feels) vast store of such stuff.  Hence, the...

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