Contemporary Estonian and Belarusian ethnic jokes on the internet


Keywords: joke, meme, ethnic humour, ethnic identity, Estonia, Belarus

Much of today’s entertainment, including humor communication, takes place online. It can be expected that as a result of globalization, jokes will become more universal and, consequently, local distinctions, such as specific ethnic targets that have so far differed from region to region, will disappear. The popularity of ethnic jokes can also be influenced by the growing demand for political correctness. This article compares Estonian and Belarusian ethnic humor, focusing on the last few decades. The aim is to improve the understanding of the relationship between ethnic humor and social reality: to complement the models of target choice (Davies 1990, 2002, 2011) and to describe the effects of globalization on the joke tradition. The three central research questions address the following issues:

•   What are the main features and tendencies in contemporary Estonian and Belarus­ian ethnic jokes on the internet?

•   How does the visuality of internet environment influence the creation (of both form and content), sharing and consumption of humour?

•   What is the current status of the category of ethnic jokes?

The results of the article indicate that target choice depends less than before on the geographical proximity of the target group: close and distant targets are mocked increasingly equally. There are universal issues that are addressed similarly in Eston­ian and Belarusian internet humour.

Internet humour tends to be visual and often relies on language play. We claim that even though the visual component is not always central or necessary for getting the joke, much of the humour shared online is increasingly visual because of the nature of computer-mediated communication in general. This affects not only the form of shared humour but also its content: international joke templates get adapted more easily across cultures.

The category of ethnic humour has become more fluid and fuzzy and thus discussions about the ethnic versus pseudo-ethnic jokes can largely be discarded when talking about contemporary ethnic humour. Ethnic humour comments on ethnic, social and political characteristics of the target. Furthermore, some joke topics have developed into metajokes that do not make fun only (or primarily) of the joke targets but of the people who hold such stereotypes about these targets.

National and ethnic differences in humour production and evaluation are shifting as cultural borders become more ephemeral, partly due to the global reach of the media. The Internet has made jokes shorter, more visual, and less dependent on language, while some important differences adjusted to the local social-cultural context remain.

Liisi Laineste (b. 1978), PhD, Estonian Literary Museum, Department of ­Folkloristics, ­Senior Researcher (Vanemuise 42, 51003 Tartu), ­liisi@­folklor­e.ee

Anastasiya Fiadotava (b. 1991), MA, University of Tartu, Institute of Cultural Research, doctoral student; Estonian ­Literary Museum, Department of Folkloristics, Junior Researcher (Vanemuise 42, 51003 Tartu), anastasiya.fiadotava@folklore.ee



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