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Seriously Funny

Mexican Political Jokes as Social Resistance

Samuel Schmidt, Translated by Adam Schmidt

Publication Year: 2014

Political jokes exist around the world and across many types of political systems. But what purposes do they serve? Do they have an impact on politics—or on politicians? Surprisingly, scholars have paid scant attention to these significant questions. And, until the publication of this book, no one had ever systematically studied political humor in Mexico. When the first edition of this work was published in Mexico, it caused a stir. Elected officials, it turned out, had grudgingly accepted that they and their politics could be the target of jokes uttered in public, and even on television, but they were incensed that a leading academic had collected political jokes into a book and analyzed their function in a country that had experienced nearly a century of one-party rule.
Now available in English for the first time, Seriously Funny is a groundbreaking work. Its goal is to examine the ways in which political humor—including nicknames, anagrams, poems, and parodies of religious prayers, in addition to jokes—has developed and operated in one country over more than four centuries. Although political humor thrives in Mexico, it is often cleverly encoded so that it doesn’t appear to be critical of government policies or officials. But, writes Samuel Schmidt, that is precisely its purpose: to question the actions and assumptions of the party in power. Schmidt argues persuasively that political jokes are acts of minor rebellion: their objective is not to overthrow a government but to correct its mistakes.

Published by: University of Arizona Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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Prologue to the Second Spanish Edition

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pp. ix-2

When I promoted Humor en serio (Aguilar Nuevo Siglo, 1996), a true surprise was generated throughout Mexico. It seemed like an act of great audacity: someone had dared to do the unexpected. In a radio interview, I told a joke about the sitting president, and in certain levels of government, a raucous scandal was generated. Someone had shown the audacity to...

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pp. 3-14

A few days after the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) announced Luís Donaldo Colosio (1994) as its presidential candidate, a joke appeared in a Mexico City newspaper alluding to Colosio’s triumph over Manuel Camacho, mayor of the Federal District. A couple of weeks later, a new joke synthesized the opinion about the carrying-out of the Salinas government...

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1. Political Jokes in a Theoretical Context

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pp. 15-61

It’s common to read that books about humor lack the seriousness required to qualify them as a subject to be examined. It is a pity if a reader judges a scholar1 as spending his time on light or little-respected subjects. When this occurs, it has much to do with the social discourse on laughter. Morreall (1983:88) recounts that the dominant message throughout his educational...

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2. What Does the Mexican Laugh At?

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pp. 62-89

In general, Mexico’s humoristic culture transgresses norms, traditional values, and established symbols. Mexicans, like all people of course, laugh and make fun of taboos and moral restrictions, but there is much literature on Mexicans’ humor in particular; some say their psyche is saturated with humor even in the most desperate of circumstances. Homero...

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3. The Role of Political Jokes in Mexico

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pp. 90-120

If one analyzes the different forms of political humor in Mexico, one finds that jokes and cartoons are predominant. In June 2004, in Mexico City, the Consulta Mitofsky found that 38.6 percent of those surveyed remembered having heard a political joke in the recent past, and 38.5 percent of the jokes they heard were about Fox. Jokes are created and adjusted...

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4. Political Jokes against Mexican Presidents

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pp. 121-175

Political jokes concentrate on symbols of power, and in Mexico, the most powerful symbol is the president: he finds himself on top of the pyramid of power, symbolizing and personifying the secrets and mysteries of power, and commonly known as omnipotent. Conspiracies are born from power circles around him, and it is he who dispenses favors and political and...

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5. Zedillo, Fox, and Calderón: Alternate Political Parties in Power under a Neoliberal Model

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pp. 176-226

With the passage of time, political jokes have consistently become more pointed and sharp, with each new presidential term and each new president, as they seem to satisfy Mexican society’s demands less and less.
Ernesto Zedillo has few physical features that the joke can exploit. He is young, good looking, so modest in his dress that he can bore one to...

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pp. 227-230

This book ends with the dozen years of PAN administrations—or whatever it is that they did. Even before the second Spanish edition was published, I was already being asked if I would deal with jokes about López Obrador (AMLO), maybe because people took for granted that he would win in 2006 and they assumed that he would have to be tested, which is what...

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pp. 231-240

The study of political jokes implies an effort into “reading” politics with different eyes, since the latter has not only become an underground game but also the view of Rashomon (a film by Kurosawa whose title means “The Gate”), in which political truth is made known, depending on whom you listen to and where you are located; the joke is one more of these...

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pp. 241-242

First, I must thank all those whose ingenuity creates jokes for the benefit of humanity and who keep jokes alive by the magic of telling them.
Since I became interested in political humor as a subject for research, many people—including my colleagues—have gone to the trouble and pleasure of telling me jokes. This is not an altruistic act, because an...


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pp. 243-262


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pp. 263-272


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pp. 273-280

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About the Author

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p. 281-281

Samuel Schmidt has taught at different universities in the United States and Mexico. He is the associate director of the journal Araucaria, and the director of the weekly El Reto. He received his PhD in political science from the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México in 1973 and did postdoctoral work in history at the University of California, Los Angeles, in...

E-ISBN-13: 9780816598816
E-ISBN-10: 0816598819
Print-ISBN-13: 9780816530779
Print-ISBN-10: 0816530777

Page Count: 295
Publication Year: 2014