I have no objection to jokes about sex, no matter how crude (The Aristocrats counts as a high moment in my life). When comedians joke about race, I'm not really too uptight. When most standup comedians make jokes about race, it's not at the expense of a minority but at the expense of racism itself (most of these jokes revel in the racist stereotypes to such an explicit extent that an intelligent listener knows that it is the racist stereotypes that are being mocked). I tend to stay away from misogynist jokes--they're too easy, too prevalent, and too damaging. Even then I'm likely to merely roll my eyes in frustration.
But there's one type of joke that I can't abide: jokes about class. I HATE jokes that mock somebody of a lower class. Such jokes are disturbing whether made by members of a dominant or ruling class. They're also distasteful when members of the middle class engage in them. When a middle class person makes a joke about a lower class person, he/she is allowing himself/herself to be coopted into the values of the ruling class. The insidious nature of ideological superstructure is that members of the oppressed class internalize the values of the ruling class, i.e., when a member of the proletariat believes the bourgeoisie principle that hard work equals success. And when different factions of the middle class engage in class mockery, they are shifting away from examination of the economical and political power structure that allows another group (in our case, probably corporations) to rule over them.
Which brings me to this little jab by Holy Cross alum Bill Simmons in today's Basketball blog:
"some OSU fans apparently misconstrued the point of yesterday's ... mini-column..... I don't blame them for missing the point; after all, Ohio State is a state school. So allow me to teach them a little lesson in reading comprehension."
State schools are considered (mainly by people who attend private schools) to be inferior. But why? Many of the people who attend a public school do so BECAUSE THEY CANNOT AFFORD TUITION AT A PRIVATE SCHOOL. So a joke mocking the intelligence of a state school student or alum might seem like a mere mockery of intelligence. But it's a mockery of class.
In this case, the state school student whose family doesn't have enough money to afford private school is being made fun of by somebody who was able to attend private school.
Of course, this goes further. Most high schools are funded in part by the property taxes of their communities, meaning rich communities can send their kids to better-funded schools than poor communities. But I won't even dive into that here. Even if a student comes from a good high school and is highly intelligent, he/she may struggle just to afford that public school, much less think about private school tuition. Sure, there are scholarships and grants that benefit the most intelligent and the most needy. But there are plenty of very intelligent students who attend state schools for financial reasons. And it should be noted, too, that many state schools provide an excellent education. A random citizen that attends or attended a state school should not be assumed to be less intelligent than a random citizen that attends or attended a private school. The idea that private schools are superior to public schools is another aspect of the ideological superstructure; such an idea allows those with money and power to keep their money and power. Because the rich can send their children to private schools without difficulty, the idea that their children are also getting a superior education (or are superiorly intelligent) allows them to maintain the myth that their family is successful because of a meritocricy, not a self-perpetuating system that allows the powerful to stay powerful (for if private schools are more prestigious, the private school graduates can get better jobs; the mere BELIEF that private school education is superior to public school education makes the private school education more valuable currency in the job market).
When a private school alum makes fun of a state school alum's education, what I hear is not "You're stupid" but "You're poor." So while I'm frequently disgusted by Bill Simmons' sexism, misogyny, and female stereotyping, I feel here he's gone in another reprehensible direction. By insulting the value of a state school education, he is engaging in class stereotyping--the kind of class stereotyping that maintains society's structure of power.