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Douglas Ayling

aestheticised reworkings of the raw materials of quotidian life. The second would be that

political jokes make it possible to speak the politically unspeakable. The mechanism at

work here is put succinctly by Deborah Tannen: jokes “are useful conversational devices

for saying things indirectly because they are deniable. The teller can always invoke the

defense, “I was only joking”” 23

. Thirdly – and sharing a kinship with Freudian

understandings of humour – political jokes may function as a safety-valve to release the

energy otherwise directed towards repression. Fourthly, political jokes may be thought of as

revolutionary acts told to mobilise dissent.

Fifthly, political jokes in repressive regimes could be regarded as fulfilling a need to

overcome the cognitive dissonance encountered in everyday life between ideology,

“pretense misrecognition”24 and empirical experience. Oring cites Alexei Yurchak’s claim

that this represents in essence a self-mocking humour which, “exposed the coexistence of

two incongruous spheres, official and parallel, and the subject’s simultaneous participation

in both”25. Such a hypothesis is also in keeping with Mary Douglas’ view of humour as

23 Tannen (1985), p.69; cited by Hank Johnston, ‘Talking the Walk: Speech Acts and Resistance in Authoritarian Regimes’ (2001), p.12; available in Repression and Mobilization: Smpc-Social Movements, Protest & Contention, chapter 5, ed. Christian Davenport, Hank Johnston, Carol Mueller (Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press, 2005), pp.108-138; also available at: Centre for International Development and Conflict Management website, <http://www.cidcm.umd.edu/mobandrep/papers/johnston.pdf>, retrieved: 1st January 2006, p.12

24 Alexei Yurchak’s term, cited here by Oring, which represents a form of doublethink – Oring mediates: “People recognised the falsity of the official ideology but had to pretend that they did not”. Oring (2004); available at: <http://www.looksmartfamilytree.com/p/articles/mi_qa3732/is_200407/ai_n14687876>


Alexei Yurchak, ‘The Cynical Reason of Late Socialism: Power, Pretense, and the Anekdot’, Public Culture, 9 (1997), p.180

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