In Search of…

In light of recent events in Afghanastan in particular and throughout the Muslim world in general, I thought we might revisit a post from several weeks back regarding Albert Brooks’s In Search of Comedy in the Muslim World. I’m worried that against the background of protests over cartoons published in the Danish press, the natural response to Brooks’s film will be “see? there is no sense of humor in the Muslim world.”

My fear is that recent events will be used to either misconstrue and misunderstand Islam (even more), or to misconstrue and misunderstand comedy (as always hostile, antagonistic) and define it strictly from a sociological point of view (the social function of humor is to indentify, differentiate, control).

Until I see this film, I won’t be able to comment on whether or not it steers away from the familiar, reassuring, narrow and normative interpretations that circulate in our culture, but I hope it can provide us with a wonderful opportunity to address our notion of comedy, of shtick (Michael?), and our culture’s limited and limiting ways of understanding Islam (and c’mon, there’s something inherently stupid in the premise of Brooks’s film. In this case, I’m inclined to think as Truffaut did when he condemned Stanley Kramer’s The Defiant Ones. Truffaut said only a man who didn’t think blacks and whites could get along would make such a film. So at the root of Brooks’s film is the assumption that, no, muslims don’t have a sense of humor).

Has anyone seen the film?

5 thoughts on “In Search of…”

  1. I feel bad–this post all alone with no responses. but I can’t say much—though I hope to see the brooks film when I’m in new york the next time, I have no idea what to expect. given brooks, though, I might expect it to have a further dimension–that of “look at the schlub who’s looking of humor in the moslem world.” His movies of seeking usually turn on the protagonist’s self-deceptions.
    that said, this whole issue of Islam poses a particular problem–does the cultural theorist(ahem, oy! with the writing and the thinking and the claven, it’s hurting!) attempt to point out the misperceptions regarding Islam–continuing “Orientalist” viewpoints–or does one condemn the religious fanaticism which denies the enlightenment so thoroughly that a mere image throws people into a bloodthirsty chaos. I wish Marx was here.

  2. i have been thinking about “making fun” a bit these days. unfortunately i haven’t seen brooks’ film either, but blogs i read have been awash with discussions of the danish cartoons. the “liberal” position i see circulate a lot is like the one michael hints at — it defends westerners’ freedom of speech and condemn fundamentalists’ calls for censorship. this seems to me misguided. comedy plays into dynamics of power, so who makes fun of whom is key. in general, it is not funny when those with more power make fun of those with less power. comedy goes upwards, so to speak, and is directed *at* power. so i don’t know that we need, with respect to the danish cartoons, to become “sensitive” towards islamic conceptions of iconography etc., but, rather, that we need to ask ourselves who is waging war on whom, who is imprisoning/torturing/rendering whom, who holds the keys to the prison cells, who drops the bombs, and all that. i don’t find the “bloodthirsty chaos” of angry muslims any more bloodthirsty than the chaos brought by angry christians to iraq or by angry jews to palestine.

  3. the anti-modern pathology of this fundamentalism poses a problem because we can’t leave it up to people like Bush (and corporate global economics) to oppose and dissipate it. Who then? religion is the upside-down expression of genuine social problems (thank you Karl)–modernity is meant to strike its most excessive forms down, but instead it gives new life to its own opposing mythologies. I honestly can’t think right now of the third alternative (one this is currently vital and alive) to blundering inept violent neo-colonialism and religious authoritarianism. is there one? where is it? is it somewhere at the universities–or are they pretty much now committed to professionalized irrelevance? (as a side note you should check out David Horowitz’s hilarious new book about the “worst” professors–one is at USC, and I’m very disappointed Kincaid didn’t make it) and where can I get a decent thin crust pizza with tasty sauce?

    what does this have to do with movies….well, how the hell do I know? I suppose I could ask who are the secular modernist critical film-makers now, those in the mold of Bunuel, Antonioni, Hitchcock, Solas and Godard (old Godard–since nothing he makes recently gets seen very much, and the last thing I saw In Praise of Love, was a steaming pile)–filmmakers who might articulate a “third way?” or is that too much to ask nowadays? And where’s my truss?

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