Let me begin with something that seems completely unrelated to the dialog I’m referring to.
Freddy Frinton‘s comedy sketch Dinner for One [non-deutschophone passengers pass here and here or better: watch video here (11 min)] and its reception is of special interest to anyone who humanologically works on the phenomenon of national culture. [The theoretical reflection of any humor and laughter related issues is another big branch that interdisciplinarily deals with Dinner for One. Furthermore it is the intersection of those approaches that can be concretened on the academic Gegenstand of Dinner for One, too.]
What I want to do though is not asking why people in Germany do watch it and periodically do laugh about it on the evening of Dec 31st since 1972, but spending a moment on the reflection of why Dinner for One in Great Britain, where it stems from, is less laughed about. To this purpose I’ll reproduce some of the impulses one of my teachers had given in class last summer for in a way they correspond with why I don’t laugh when watching Dinner for One, either.
Professor Stollmann has directed my attention on details I formerly had perceived as mere slapstick elements Laurel and Hardy or Didi Hallervorden alike. I never spent attention on who is represented at Miss Sophie’s table, as there is Sir Toby, Admiral von Schneider, Mr. Pommeroy and Mr. Winterbottom. [“Is everybody here”, Miss Sophie asks having come down the stairway to the hall. “Indeed, they are, yeah. They are all here for your anniversary, Miss Sophie,” James the Butler replies. “All five places are laid out?” she reassures. “All laid out as usual”, he reconfirms.] Two of four guests are civil citizens, one is a representant of the Oberhaus, one represents the military. What always has stuck me instead is the laid out fifth place at the table. [See transcript on NDR.] No I’m no numerologist. What I want to say is Dinner for One for me always has been a representation of social drama in the first place. Too close I am to old people’s places within our society and too close I always have been to friends getting drawn into alcoholism to be able to laugh about James the Butler in his drunkenness.
I never spent attention on what element of the furniture the butler constantly stumbles on which is a tigerskin–its prepared skull, to be exact. As for Germany’s relatively short colonial history and the lack of broad identification as Kolonialmacht with all of its postmodern implications, that artefact of british colonial past in India when stumbled on is perceived differently than if it was identified as element of one’s own past: It’s the Other(s), its not related to “myself” and “my past”, so it can be laughed about. /me personally had not seen the tigerskull as a colonial artefact but as a means to transport the “drunken butler” as a mere slapstick element. It could have been anything else. But of course a comedy sketch is a composed arrangement and anything in it is chosen by purpose. Between finding something funny or not may lie the individual distance to the Gegenstand. James anyway appears to stumble on the tigerskull already before the dinner begins.
Lets now turn to something related. I personally am sick of blinking text that comes along with a variety of advertisement techniques offline and online. So that’s why I just could not get the joke.
“Someone from the Hansestadt Bremen, be it by accident, or may there be deeper issues beyond mere chance, accused me of having used derogatory speech, unworthy of an anthropologist, as out of my mouth had come the words ‘nomads’ and ‘tribe’,” I am told.
I have no idea of “deeper issues beyond mere chance” and no idea about who from my department has been in the audience in the workshop Zephyrin participated at EASA 06 in Bristol.
“I … had to answer to the tribe-accusation, and said: ‘I didn’t say “tribe”. I said “my tribe”!’ To end the now emerging complete bewilderment I finally spoiled it all by explaining: ‘By Jove, it’s a joke!’
Reading his research blog from its beginning I have noticed him using the expression “my tribe” often and I actually do doubt it being a mere joke. That “accusation” in Bristol would have been a perfect possibility to a) distinct Participant Observation from Thick Participation (this is a hot spot still in the discipline, as anyone will know, dealing with issues of objectivity and academic distance related to the etic/emic debate) and b) point to the interrelation he has with his field transfered on a different level than the technical. (His paper was about multitasking and the different channels that are used for communication within the community he researches, as far as I remember.) Another reason for taking up that “accusation” seriously is that it moreover would have been a great chance to push towards an academic reflection of “political correctness” regarding knowledge production and towards an ethnography of what is not spoken about.
Wish I had been there to raise my voice.