Thursday, April 7, 2011

Listen to a story bout a man named Jeb

I heard this popular joke recently. I'm not that great at re-telling jokes, but I'm going to try.

Two guys walk into a bar. No, make that a church. Two guys walk into a church. Hmm...Let's say they walked up to a little white country church.  Sitting out-front in the back of a rusty old pickup is a man with a great big sign that reads:


The two men look at each other, smile, and walk into the church. Did I mention it was an early spring day. The crocuses have just re-discovered sunlight. Snow threatens to fall from the wind-ravaged sky, but lacks the fortitude to stick.

The two fellows saunter up past the pews, past the alter, to a cozy little fire just under a huge full-sized cross nailed to the wall. They pull up a couple folding aluminum lawn chairs, and a beer cooler. One of the men turns to the other and says:

“Terry, it's cold in here. Throw another one of them Co-Rans on the fire wouncha?”

“Gee them Co-Rans burn perty Billy-Bob! Lets film one with your I-phone and post it on YouTube.”


OK... So it's not that funny. It was not that funny when I heard it first either. I've done my best to embellish it with sacrilegious imagery (a cooler of beer in the church. I hope you pictured PBR), and stereotypical southern-redneck details (Folding aluminum lawn chairs, and rusty pickup trucks). Even with the liberal use of culturally insensitive humor it is difficult to make burning Qur'ans in a church very funny.

I might be able to put some real humor into the joke by having the guy with the sign storm into the church and do something stupid. I tread on thin ice using the sign guy for humor because this joke is actually a perverted re-telling of actual events. The guy in the bed of the rusty pickup truck could personify the Islamic over-reaction that has resulted in several bloody beatings, and a few deaths.

It is difficult to tease humor out of the rusty-pickup-guy. I could try and parallel the actual news events and have him burst into the church with a blazing AK-47. Then a mortally wounded Billy-Bob could say to a milky-eyed Terry: “I thought he was supposed to bring the marshmallows”. This is sociopathic, not humorous.

I suppose one could make Qur'an-burning funny by posting on Youtube the burning of a book with the word “Co-Ran” written on the cover in crayon. Then, once the furor erupted, you could post a longer clip revealing that the book was actually a cookbook filled with pork recipes (Something like “The Magic of Bacon”). This would be funny, but even its humor would be extinguished by the level of violence surrounding this latest Qur'an-burning. I often quote: “Its all fun and games till someone looses an eye”, and there must be a old-testament-like-scriptural quote some-place that relates to book burning and states: “A sharp stick for an eye”.

Kosher Bacon

Despite my use of cultural stereotypes that target a specific gun-toting segment of the US population I am not worried. Some might say that is because southern rednecks don't get all spun up about bad humor attacking them. Perhaps it is because there is a level of educated reasoning that prevents the use of extreme violence in trivial cases. Perhaps there is a level of modern civility that obviates even considering violence. Perhaps most violent southern rednecks simply cannot read.

So lets have Jebidiah come in from holding the sign in his pickup with a bag of marshmallows.

“Gosh It's cold out there” says Jeb. “Ive been holding that sign adverteesin' the Co-Ran burnin' for two hours and only you-uns showed yit. The first two boxes of Co-Rans have burned down to coals, so lets roast some marshmallows and weenies on them before we burn the last box”.

Humour can be crafted from illiteracy. The evolutionary disadvantages of an incredibly shallow gene pool can also be the stuff of jokes. Really bad English can also be good, but figuring out how to type it out can present a challenge.

The ability of modern fundamentalist Islamic groups to turn bad humor into human tragedy is shocking. The reaction to the book burning has not been a performance of disgust it has been a disgusting performance. The reaction is so out-of scale with the offense that it appears more like a collective insanity than an expression of damaged cultural sensitivity. The story has become one of scale and self-control instead of book burning.

The reaction is not limited to distant Muslim countries. Here in the US the films of the demonstrations and violence are being shown over-and-over to justify counter-responses. Laws will be drafted, like the one that passed in Oklahoma, to forbid the use of Sharia law in specific jurisdictions (in order to create the illusion that Sharia law has ever been considered in US courtrooms). Meetings of groups that might include head-scarved women will be picketed by suburban demonstrators demanding that the women “go home” because of their dress. Across the nation people will be denied access to jobs, housing, and public amenities due to the “Muslim-like” tone of their skin or accent.

The question: “Wasn't the reaction of the Islamic people violent and wrong” will be asked often. Just because the answer is a resounding YES does not mean that this is the best question to guide our reaction. I think a better question is: “Can we out-stupid fundamentalist Islam?”. I think we can.

Sunday finds Jeb, Billy-Bob, and Terry sitting in a back pew of their church. Standing before his flock is pastor Glenn. Pastor Glenn got an education in the city. Pastor Glenn is upset this Sunday; he is sobbing softly while speaking to his flock.

“This week it happned agin.” he sobs “The three new boxes of Hymnals were burnt right here on the pulpit. It was the violent Muslins agin. They left a sign saying that they hate us, and hate our Love For Jesus.”

Jeb cannot contain himself. He leaps out of his pew.

“Weel shew dem Muslins Pastor Glenn! Weel have us anuthur Co-Ran burnin! Thet'll shew-um!”

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