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Saturday, July 26, 2008

Folk Jokes

Folklore is a compound word which comes from two words: ‘folk’ and ‘lore’. ‘Folk’ is similar to the word ‘collectivity’ (Koentjaraningrat, 1965:196-169), as quoted by Danandjaja in Folklor Indonesia, 2002:1. ‘Folk’ is a group of people having particular characteristics in physics, social, and culture that make them different from other groups of people. While ‘lore’ refers to folk tradition which is passed down from generation to generation orally or by using mnemonic device (Danandjaja, 2002:1-2).
Brunvard, via Danandjaja (2002:2) gives definition of folklore as “those materials in culture that circulate traditionally among members of any group in different versions, whether in oral or by means of customary example”. Furthermore, in his newest book entitled Folklor Amerika, Danandjaja again quoted Brunvard (1998:3) states that American Folklore is unrecorded traditions of a collective or folk of one ethnic in the United States, covering form, context, tradition, and the way they are passed on from one person to another.
American folklore is classified into three categories: verbal, partly verbal, and non verbal. Verbal folklore – the type most commonly studied in the United States – covers folk speech, folk proverbs, folk riddles, folk rhymes, folk narratives, folk songs, etc. partly verbal folklore includes folk games, folk dramas, folk dances, folk festivals, folk customs, etc. While non verbal folklore includes both the traditional materials of folk architecture, arts, crafts, costumes, foods, and the non material tradition of gestures, and folk music.
This article discusses jokes, as part of verbal folklore. Alan Dundes – one of famous folklorists in the United States – assumes that jokes give way out to express prohibited opinions. Dundes says that jokes emerge to show hidden aggression toward another collective and to attack another collective they do not like (Danandjaja, 2003:165). The aggression is not always constant and it has certain function of time and place.
Jokes mostly have “appropriate incongruity” perception, a perception which needs two incongruous semantic domains but they are put in one tect as if they are congruous (Danandjaja, 2003:166). Therefore it is unavoidable that joke texts are ambiguous. To understand such jokes, we have to pay attention to the contexts outside them. For example,

Q: What is the first thing President Clinton going to do in the Oval Office?
A: He is gonna have flowers on his desk.

At a glance, people will not understand where the funny thing lies in the joke. The funny thing, in fact, lies in the word ‘flowers which can refer to real flowers, but it can also refer to a woman’s name. To understand that, people need to know that before Clinton has an affair with Monica Lewinsky, there is a gossip that Clinton has an affair with another woman named Jennifer Flowers.
In the explanation aforementioned, “appropriate incongruity” perception is seen clearly.
Next, in this article, I will compare two kinds of jokes related to ex president of the United States (Bill Clinton) and ex president of Indonesia (Soeharto).

When Hillary and Bill Clinton ran out of gasoline

One day Hillary and Bill were driving their car in a coastal area. Suddenly, Hillary said, “Honey, our car will run out of gasoline. Let’s buy it in the next gasoline station.”
They bought gasoline in a gas station called Texaco. When one of the workers of the station was filling in gasoline, Hillary continued staring at him, as if she were flirting him. It made Bill jealous. He asked her after they left the station, “Why did you stare at that man so passionately?”
“Oh, that man was one of my classmates in high school, and we used to go out together often,” Hillary answered calmly.
“How lucky you did not marry him. If you had married him, you would not become the first lady now,” said Bill.
“I am sorry I don’t agree with you. If I had married him, believe he would become the president now,” commented Hillary more calmly.

The reason why Hillary Clinton shaved her pussy

Q: Why did Hillary Clinton shave her pussy?
A: So she could say, “Read my lips! No more Bush!

The first joke only attacks Bill Clinton who is considered not as smart as his wife. On the other hand, the second joke attacks two politicians who were struggling to get the presidency in 1992: Bill Clinton and George Bush.

The following you will find a joke related to Soeharto. This joke appeared in March/April 1998 when Soeharto was elected to be the president again.

Q: Have you heard that Soeharto would be the president again?
A: Oh no … not again.
Q: Oh come on, give that old man one more chance to be the president. He enjoyed being the president of Indonesia only for two years.
A: Who the hell was our president before 1996 then?
Q: Itu Tien Soeharto.

Feminism versus mysticism

In the United States, feminism has become the most debatable discussion since the sixties with the publishing of The Feminine Mystique written by Betty Friedan. Hillary is also well-known as feminist who believes that women are equal to men. Furthermore, American people know Hillary as a smart person, she is even much smarter than her husband, Bill. In the first joke about Hillary and Bill Clinton, we can see that Bill cannot ‘beat’ his wife in discussion. The second joke shows how Hillary makes use of her being smart to make Bill win the presidency. In 1992, George Bush Sr. was famous with his promise in his campaigns, “Read my lips, no more taxes.” In this joke, American people consider Hillary as feminist who actively does anything to win people’s heart to choose her husband as the next president.
In Indonesia, on the contrary, the joke about Soeharto and the late Tien Soeharto above is not based on feminism, but mysticism. It is generally believed that Siti Hartinah Soeharto (her complete name) was the one who got ‘blessings’ from God. Since she was married to Soeharto, Soeharto could become the president of Indonesia for 32 years. After Siti Hartinah passed awy, Soeharto lost the blessings and he could not rule Indonesia for along time.


Jokes can be included in the verbal folklore since they have some characteristics of folklore, such as anonymous, collective, passed on orally, sometimes crude. Jokes are chosen by society to express their dislike to another collectivity without really making the attacked collective offended, because it is only a joke. It works both in the United States and in Indonesia.

Jogja, 2003

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