Sunday, December 17, 2006

Abrazos Gratis (Free Hugs) in Chile

So this past weekend I went to Chile and this was only a few days after Pinochet died. In the same street you could find people crying and other people popping open bottles of champagne to celebrate the death of the 'asesino.' I walked through the center of Santiago and ended up following a protest against the sexual exploitation of children.
As I walked through the protest I saw a woman holding up a sign saying 'abrazos gratis' free hugs and hugging people who came up to hug her. There were about three of them with these signs so I asked her what it was all about. She told me its simply just a way to be cool with people and its part of a global campaign to just give hugs because there are days when people want to be hugged and have no one to hug them or when people want to hug somebody and don't have anybody to hug. She asked me if I wanted a sign so I said okay no problem.
I held up the sign and the first guy who hugged me started crying and told me that he had just lost his job. And I thought wow, thats pretty sad. Then the second was an old lady who hugged me and thanked me because she said she really needed it and I thought "man people in chile really need some love." Then of course, little children ran and hugged me and grabbed my hair because they had never seen dredlocks on somebody that looks like me before so that was fun for me but NOT for my dreds. Anyway, when a couple shady guys started hugging me I gave up the sign and thanked her for letting me participate.

Then I thought, what would've happened if this were done in Jamaica?

Here are some of the responses I would probably get from stereotypical Jamaican men if I held up a free hugs sign in Half-Way-Tree.

1."Den baby yuh neva need no sign!"
2."So no free kiss nah give out too?"
3. "Yuh can give me yuh numba so me can hug yuh lata?"

4. "Yuh sure is jus a hug yuh need? me can give u more tings u nuh..and it would be for free still baby."
5. "So yuh fren nah give out no free hug too?"

Yep, there would be a lot of groping going on in Half-Way-Tree if the free hugs campaign ever made it to Jamaica.

Gender and Stand-up Comedy

Political Humour as it exists through stand-up comedy operates in a public space that becomes a contact zone between individuals and institutions of power. In many ways, within that public space, marginalized people can talk back and the comedian functions as mediator. In other moments he or she reinforces social norms and participates in the perpetuation of notions/beliefs we have about each other.
So for example, when I was in Nicaragua, their stand-up comedian Luis Enrique Calderón (and yes there is only one) was known as the grand imitator of several politicians and public figures. Not only did he mock them and their policies but he also had a question and answer session in his routine where the audience engaged with him and the personaje he created in order to produce comedy. The questions the audience posed were usually about scandals that the public knew that the politicians would deny. So questions would range from 'is it true that, how can I ask this..hmmm did you sleep with so and so? to '...what happened to the 6 million dollars you were gonna use toward...?' and responses would range from 'the question is not did I sleep with...its who DIDNT sleep with so and so' and 'yeah, I've been looking for those 6 million dollars too...'
In circumstances such as the one above, stand-up comedy becomes a space in which criticisms of the ruling class are made visible, silences are broken and the reaction of the common people is made public. In this way, the comedian both creates and mediates a space where people can talk back and therefore, he/she gives them voice. This is important because there is a gap between 'public figures' and 'common folks' where people do not have access to the president or a politician. So the simulation between the comedian and the audience intends to change that.
This is one side of stand-up but there is a way in which Stand-up comedy can also be about the reinforcement of social 'norms' about gender, sexuality, race etc. What I am seeing now of stand-up comedy in Argentina is that it often draws upon and reinforces social norms to make people laugh.
So a cartoonist Demetrio Lopez from “El Mosquito” told me that female comedians and male comedians talk about different things. He said “los hombres hablan sobre lo que pasa y las mujeres hablan sobre lo que les pasa a ellas” Men talk about what happens while women talk about what happen to them…He continued “Las mujeres hablan sobre cosas femeninas mientras que los hombres te pueden hablar de cosas 'normales' como la economia no..?” Women talk about feminine things while men can talk to you about the economy etc. Now anyone who knows me will know that my own feminist ideologies strongly disagree with him so I want to describe what happened yesterday when I went to a stand-up comedy show.
It was a meeting of many cartoonists, comedians and writers to celebrate the publication of a new comedy supplement “El Mosquito” in Argentina and after a discussion about the state of humour today and fifty years ago, four comedians: two men and two women did stand-up comedy routines.
Here are all of the opening jokes from their routines:
The first male comedian started his routine by saying. “Hoy mi mujer me sirvió desayuno en la cama, yo empujé la cama hacia la cocina y me dió el desayuno” “Today my woman served me breakfast in bed, I pushed my bed to the kitchen and she gave me my breakfast”
The Second Male comedian started his routine: Ayer mi mujer me dijo que está embarazada y yo dije “en serio?” me dijo “si, felicidades sos tio! Yesterday my woman told me that she is pregnant and I said, “really” and she said “yes, congrats, you’re an uncle.”

The first female comedian “Chicas, hay sólamente dos tipos de hombres “el que te quiere coger y el que ya te cogió...y basta. Sí, es que es tan sencillo,” Girls, there are only two types of men, those that want to f---k you and those that already f---ked you…and that’s it…yes, its just that simple.
The second female comedian said: “¿Miren, ustedes han visto esas publicidades en que la mujer intenta comer el chocolate y el hombre se lo quita la mano de ella y la ofrece una pastilla de dieta...y ella SONRIE?!? un hombre me hace eso...lo matare! Que tengo hambre idiota!" Hey, have you guys seen those ads with the woman trying to eat the chocolate and the man pushes her hand away and offers her a diet pill....and SHE SMILES??? Look, if a guy does that to me...I will kill him! I'm hungry you idiot!

Each comedian begun their routine with some statement alluding to habits, stereotypes or events with the person of the opposite gender. It is not true that women talk about gender and men don't. They speak about gender in different ways. It is not a coincedence that these jokes happen nor is it just natural that a man or a woman would talk about these things. These jokes are supposed to be things that are believeable and most importantly, things that the audience is supposed to identify with.
So what are the notions about gender that are at play: one is the image of the woman who is watching her weight and the man ensuring that she sticks to her diet. What a perfect patriarchal image right? Then there's the notion that all men just want to have sex with you because that is the way that patriarchy defines manhood. If the comedian had switched genders and said that 'there are only two types of women: one that wants to... and one thats already...' it just wouldn't be that believable would it? Then there is of course, ideas about social institutions i.e the bad marriage ideology at work...the cheating wife or the 'I can't be bothered to really serve you in bed anymore' one which is really identifying a marriage thats losing its steam. Calling upon notions about gender and social institutions is important for the comedian because it allows him/her to connect with the audience. Comedians' explanations for this is that comedy is supposed to reflect social reality not change it. Stand-up comedy is a mirror to what happens in the day to day life of ordinary people.
Now I think this is true to some extent but I want us to return to the final joke I posted about the woman talking about the ad, 'the I'm hungry you idiot!' line. For me, I thought that this joke went against what has been constructed as normative. The notion that a woman is more worried about her body image than eating when she's hungry. It was interesting to me because it wasn't a fat comedian saying it, she was slim and in shape so she wasn't using her weight to make the joke funny. What I felt like that female comedian did in that instance was to challenge the notion that it is okay to tell her to watch her weight. In essence, she made a criticism of how the media feeds us (no pun on feed) with how we ought to behave and how women supposedly look at our bodies. For me, in that instance, the 'norm' was broken and more power to her for it because her joke basically said, "listen thats just dumb that they are telling us that we can't eat whatever we want and that we need to watch our image and if you mess with me like that, dude, I might just murder you." What I am curious about is whether or not a woman like that is therefore constructed as less desirable or as a glutton? It could be. But for me, it was an instance where social norms were challenged and reveals that a comedian chooses to reinforce or to challenge social norms. So if stand-up comedy is supposed to be a mirror, then it is the comedian who decides what is being reflected because he/she does not exist outside of social reality. Social change through stand-up comedy can only happen when a comedian decides that he/she wants it to happen.
©Danielle Roper

Monday, December 11, 2006

fav quote from gay pride rally in Buenos Aires

"Saca tu rosario de nuestros ovarios"
Take your rosary out of our ovaries
--Gay Rights Advocate speaking on abortion