Tuesday, October 03, 2006

A Joke -- and Some Questions

The Joke
An American gets on a plane and finds himself seated next to an Indian. He immediately turns to the Indian.

"You know," he says, "I've heard that flights will go quicker if you strike up a conversation with your fellow passenger. So, hey, let's talk!"

The Indian, who had just opened his book, closes it slowly and says, "OK, so what would you like to talk about?"

"Oh, I don't know," says the American, grinning. "How about nuclear power?"

"OK," says the Indian. "That could be an interesting topic. But let me ask you a question first. A horse, a cow, and a deer all eat the same stuff -- grass. Yet the deer excretes little pellets, the cow turns out a flat patty, and the horse produces muffins of dried poop. Why do you suppose that is?"

The American guy is dumbfounded. Finally he replies, "I haven't the slightest idea."

"So tell me," says the Indian slowly, "How is it that you feel qualified to discuss nuclear power when you don't know shit?"

The Questions
I think it's fairly obvious that this joke has been re-ethnicized to reflect current political realities. However, I don't believe it suits stereotypes of either Americans or Indians in today's world! The typical international traveller never wants to talk to his/her fellow-passenger, in part because the flights are so long and the prospect of being stuck with an 8-10 hour conversation is too nightmarish to contemplate, in part because neither passenger may want to talk to a foreigner. My guess is that this joke started out about two passengers of the same nationality but belonging to different social groups/classes.

So my questions are: which nationalities (or infra-national ethnicities) are most likely to have been the subjects of the original joke? Which ones might better suit the current situation? Which Indo-ethnic flavours might be substituted for "American" and "Indian"? Your move.


Amrobilia said...

I'll be mean - how 'bout lawfully wedded as the yankie-doodle/party of the first part and any of us birds as the indian/party of the second part???

Actually that's not funny, so moi apologesticariums!

Marginalien said...

Nemmind, I smiled anyway. Not even sure what exactly you meant!! Arf-arf-arf, as Popeye the Sailorman laffs - you know that weird laugh he has - arf-arf-arf. Married versus singles you mean? Maybe the original joke involved a rustic traveller versus an academic? Nouveau-riche versus old money? Female versus male? (ouch! That was nasty!)(see? I can do it too!)

Arthur Quiller Couch said...

Damn, you took away my brainwave about the American/academic. Perhaps an American academic?

Anonymous said...

hi ms. mp! i was reading the li'l joke on nuclear technology - and though it is true that your tilt here is towards humor and the origins of ethnicity bias, and i have surely suffered on several flights with the dreaded traveller next to me - i did want to add a modicum of some rationale (uncalled for) thinking in your blog - that of course you are welcome to delete if you think it unfit or an overkill. i have been reviewing the field of "nanotechnology" and writing a report on it - as one of the emerging technologies and i do think that what we state about it actually encompasses nuclear technology, stem cell research, genetically modified organisms etc---

"Academics in the natural and social sciences struggle to figure out how to get the public more involved in scientific decision-making and how to make them more informed about Nanotechnology. Citizens use heuristics when dealing with emerging technologies. They do not try to understand all the complexities of an issue such as Nanotechnology (nuclear technology etc), and they do not try to be amateur scientists. In fact, it would make little sense for them to do so. Political scientist Sam Popkin has termed this “low-information rationality." He argues that it makes sense for people to not use all available information, but to use only the information that is most easily available to them. So it is on the one hand imperitive to engage the public in decision making about Nanotechnology (---etc), but on the other hand, it becomes more and more important for scientists and science journalists to develop a better understanding of how public opinion is formed and of how individuals make sense of emerging technologies.The goal of these efforts should not be to make citizens think like scientists, but rather to make them understand how scientists gather knowledge and reach scientific conclusions. gt

Marginalien said...

AHA! I have found the source-joke! But before I get to that -- gt: you're totally correct to wish thfor awareness levels to rise in the lay-world re science/techno issues. You're always welcome to post provocative items.

ANYWAY! Here's the joke (and it turns out that my final guess was correct, albeit in reverse, i.e., male versus female. I have slapped myself on the wrist. OF COURSE ...): A guy gets on a plane and finds himself seated next to a cute blonde. He immediately turns to her and makes his move.

"You know, I've heard that flights will go quicker if you strike up a conversation with your fellow passenger. So let's talk."

The blonde had just opened a book but she closes it and says "What would you like to discuss?"

He says "How about nuclear power?"

"OK" says the blonde. "That could be an interesting topic. But let me ask you a question first. A horse, a cow, and a deer all eat the same stuff -- grass. Yet the deer excretes little pellets, the cow turns out a flat patty, and the horse produces muffins of dried poop. Why do you suppose that is?"

The guy is dumbfounded. Finally he replies, "I haven't the slightest idea."

"So tell me," says the blonde, "How is it that you feel qualified to talk about nuclear power when you don't know s***?”

Notice how, in this joke, the reader's expectations are manipulated by being told that the smart passenger is a cute blonde -- and in the re-written joke, that passenger is presented as an "Indian". Does this mean that the person/people who re-wrote the joke by inserting nationalities in the place of male passenger/cute blonde didn't realize the implication ... i.e., didn't recognize that part of the reason the original joke works is that the reader expects that the cute blonde will NOT be intellectually advanced?

This leads to a further interesting speculation: why, while re-writing the joke, did the re-writers not make use of classic joke structure so that it wasn't obviously a re-write? If they had wanted to re-caste the personalities of the joke then they should have been more alert to the likely real-life behavior of the two characters in the joke and the language used by the "Indian". The particular choice of words used to describe the animal excretions are not what I would associate with a typical Indian person's speech -- "muffins" for instance! A US-born NRI maybe?

A good joke scores -- and a poorly researched re-write fails -- by the way its stereotypes are chosen: with an understanding of the knee-jerk responses readers will have to the stereotypes.

Amrobilia said...


Anonymous said...

i heard this joke recently -
2 blondes standing on the banks, seperated by a gushing river
blonde 1: "sigh! i wish i was on the other side."
blonde 2: "but you ARE already on the other side!"

versus a real life incident that my dad told me that took place a few decades ago about when he was in college in ludhiana (or maybe chandigarh?)

it was summer, mid day, hot and vacation time. the roads were kind of deserted and pater was biking from place X to place Y - on the wrong side (the "other" side) of the road when he overtook a sardar peddaling away on his erstwhile bike - and the gent shouted to my dad (in punjabi) "ayy what are you doing on the wrong side yaar? and you are not even a sardar!"

i think in both cases the ethnicities can be easily substituted. i don't think the actual stereotyping really matters - every "group" has its specialized brand of "other group" that the joke is made on - much like in religon - where one group inevitably lamblast another (or others) always coyly stating "but oh - we are all very tolerant of others who don't think like us!!you let me go on with my tamaasha and i'll let you go on with yours!" sure. this is probably one of the biggest (and saddest) jokes going on everyday. OK OK deleted.

anyway humor is a fascinating topic - why we laugh? what is funny? you can show charlie chaplin to a bunch of 10 year olds in the sahara or australia - and these kids are in splits as they watch him tumble and twist. however what that means I have no clue! why do we all find this slapstick humor so funny? though someone once said - if it happens to you its a tragedy - if it happens to someone else its a comedy!)


Anonymous said...

In Jerusalem, a journalist heard about a very old Jewish man who
had been going to the Wailing Wall to pray, twice a day, everyday, for a long, long time.

So she went to the Wailing Wall to check it out, and there he was.

She watched him pray and after about 45 minutes, when he turned to leave,
she approached him for an interview.

"I'm Rebecca Smith from CNN. Sir, how long have you been coming to the Wall and praying?"

"For about 60 years".

"60 years! That's amazing! What do you pray for?"

"I pray for peace between the Christians, Jews and the Muslims. I pray for all the hatred around the world to stop and I pray for all our children to grow up in safety
and friendship."

"Sir, how do you feel after doing this for 60 years?"

"Like I'm talking to a f#### wall." gt

Anonymous said...

heh - wonder if you've seen http://wordsmith.org/anagram/ = you can slip in any word and get all possible anagrams. i got only one as "jam ulna", though "ulna jam" sounds good too - guess with whose name! yuk yuk gt

Marginalien said...

"jam ulna" is better than what my cellphone's SMS text-editor offers as its first option when I key-in my name: "mangily". Or maybe I should say, my PREVIOUS cellphone. The current one has smartened up and has taught itself to get my name right the first time around! I tried your name just now and got "Hat?" after I typed in the first three letters!

Amrobilia said...

Hortatory Snodsgramonde!

We NEED another post!

Dev Kumar said...

I remember this folk tale I had read in my childhood. A pandit is crossing a river by boat. He asks the boatman, "Have you read the Vedas?" The boatman is shamefaced, he shakes his head. "Oh," said the pandit, "one fourth of your life has gone waste. Have you read the Upanishads?" The boatman again shakes his head. "Another quarter of your life is gone. The Ramayana?". More blushing and head shaking from the boatman. "There goes another quarter of your life," said the pandit. "Sir, do you know how to swim?" asked the boatman. "No," said the pandit, "I was so busy with my studies that i did not have the time for such useless activities. Why do you ask?" The boatman smiled as he prepared to jump off the boat, "Because there is a storm brewing panditji and it will soon hit our small boat. I am afraid your entire life is lost."

Marginalien said...

Heh! Good one Dev Kumar! I liked that. Thanks for posting ...