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Gender, Feminism, and Comedy

How does humor function toward and against feminist ends? Why adjudicate such a question and how might we do so? When does comedy reinscribe corrosive social boundaries and when does it undo them? Why study comedy in the face of serious social problems? This course examines comedy as a cultural object ripe for analysis and as one effective mode of social relations. Through the lens of humor, we take up central feminist questions of interpretation, identity, free expression, symbolic and sexual violence, emancipation, and community building. Scholarly readings in the course will furnish social scientific and humanistic perspectives that both critique humor as a form of social control and celebrate it as what Luce Irigaray called “the first form of liberation from secular oppression.”  Throughout the course, we will compare the persuasive power of academic arguments about comedy to that of actual comic performances and commentaries, scrutinizing both for their capacity to reinscribe or partially dismantle social boundaries of gender, race, class, and sexuality. Course participants must engage rigorously with its themes, texts, and theoretical arguments.  At the same time, we will also attend to and honor the affective bonds and releases that humor can engender, exploring within our seminar group what happens to social relations when the seriousness of meaning gets replaced, sublimated, or transformed by comedy.