Inside the 1980s Phenomenon of "Truly Tasteless Jokes" and What it Says about a Cultural Shift around OffensivenessBreaking News
tags: racism, culture war, free speech, cultural history, sexism, humor, obscenity
Note: The transcript and podcast linked do contain the contents of several of the Truly Tasteless Jokes.
Transcript: Before we begin, I want to give you a heads up, this episode not only contains foul and offensive language. It’s about foul and offensive language. One of the bestselling books of 1983 is a slim paperback that could fit in the back pocket of a pair of jeans. It’s all black on the front, on the back, on the spine. The only splash of color comes from the title, which is written in a simple red font from the author’s name, which is in a florid white cursive, the kind you might see on a wedding invitation. The cursive is a joke, though it’s a gesture about to read something elegant and refined, but you’re not. You are really not because the book is called Truly Tasteless Jokes in its 116 page compendium of corny, crass, sick, dirty, sexist, ethnic and racist jokes. The chapters have titles like Dead Baby, Helen Keller, Polish Jewish, Wasp, Black Ethnic Jokes, Variegated, Homosexual, Handicapped, and so on. Most of the jokes are a sentence or two. Some are a few paragraphs, and they run the gamut from relatives of the dad joke to much stronger stuff. On the tamer side are cracks like why does a dog lick his balls? Because he cab in the mid-range? You get jokes like this. What do old women have between their tits that young women don’t? A belly button. And then there are the ethnic and racist jokes which deliver endless, dehumanizing stereotypes. Polish is a synonym for stupid. Jews are greedy. Mexicans are lazy. The chapter of jokes about black people contains just about every racist trope you’ve ever heard, and every slur to most of the jokes in the book are still in circulation. In private conversations and on the internet. But in the early 1980s, you could buy them for 599 at the bookstore, at the drugstore, at the airport. And millions and millions and millions of Americans did. The book sold so well, in fact, that the author, Blanche Not was the first writer to have. Four books appear on the New York Times bestseller list simultaneously. But Blanche, not is not the author’s real name.
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