Friday, February 20, 2004

Here's a piece by Canadian Mark Steyn from the Wall Street Journal about how some Canadians can't take a joke. Seems that Conan O'Brian's silly "Insult Dog" act, the whole point of which is to be obnoxiously insulting, made fun of French Canadians.

Go read the whole piece, but check out this bit:

There's a lesson here, both for the European Union and an increasingly Hispanicized U.S.: Gags are one of the great pillars of a common culture, but they're one of the first things to get lost in translation--and if you can't share a joke, it's hard to have a shared culture. That's why multilingual societies tend toward the humorless: see Switzerland and Belgium. (For the purposes of the preceding racist generalization, I should point out that I'm half-Belgian.)

Is this true in Catalonia? It's certainly the stereotype other Spaniards have of Catalans: they're cold, unfriendly, humorless, unfunny.

The Catalan answer is that other Spaniards, and especially Andalusians, are phony and frivolous though humorous and fun-loving--gracia, alegria, fiesta, and all that--and superficially friendly. Others may offer easy but shallow friendship, while when the Catalan offers friendship it is sincere and from the heart.

My feeling is that stereotyping people is something we all do; you've got to classify things in your mind. I agree it is a sign of intelligence to be able to draw finer classifications than the standard, but the standard, stereotypical classifications--"Catalans are X, Aragonese do Y, Andalusians think Z"--are extremely convenient ways of organizing people into groups that your mind can define, compare, and contrast. We all do it; the funny thing is that classifications become much more specific the closer you get to home.

Here in Spain, for example, each region has its stereotyped character--Catalans are dour, Madrilenos show-offs, Basques tough, Aragonese witty, Andalusians happy-go-lucky. Within your region, comarcas (counties, subregions) have stereotyped characters, and within a comarca different towns and villages are said to be different--just around here there are extremely strong local rivalries between Terrassa and Sabadell, Olesa and Esparreguera, Igualada and Manresa. Remei says she's from the country, though, and that all country people in Catalonia and Aragon and Old Castile have a lot more in common with one another than any of them do with city folk.

I dunno. I wouldn't call Catalans humorless; Catalan individuals are just as likely to have a sense of humor as anyone else. I don't think there's anything I can put a finger on and label "typically Catalan" humor, though. Black humor and irony are popular here, but they are everywhere else. Many Catalan jokes tend toward the scatological or the sexual, but that's just like everywhere else too. And as for being a bunch of Dalinian absurdists, uh, no. High absurdity is a rare gift everywhere, including here.

I do not much like the current style of humor that TV3 is dishing out, though; a lot of their stuff comes from two different producers, El Terrat and Krampack. Both appeal to the 15-30 crowd, more or less. El Terrat's style is harsher and Krampack's lighter, but both of them are doing young urban humor. Much of it is indistinguishable from what you'd find anywhere else; one thing it has in common is that it's all very politically correct and Neocatalanist.

The local twist is that these guys often parody Catalan society, but never too viciously and often quite gently, while they're often harsh with Spain and especially with Spanish media celebrities. I can just see Toni Soler and Andreu Buenafuente and Joel Joan swilling blended scotch (as they do here) and grousing, "Goddamn Maria Teresa Campos, she's not nearly as good as we are yet twenty million people watch her and only one million watch us." So they take it out of her hide.

Funny Catalans: Eugenio, Quim Monzo, Ramon "Iva" Tosas, Eduardo Mendoza, Jaume Perich, Xavier Cugat, Empar Moliner, Miguel Cartanya. Catalans who would be funny if they didn't take themselves a little too seriously: Albert Boadella, Albert Pla, Manuel Trallero, Lloll Bertran.

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