Stupidity and Rationality: Jokes from the Iron Cage

  • Christie Davies


One of the most outstanding features of the jokes told in industrial societies is the enormous and universal popularity of jokes told at the expense of allegedly stupid groups of people. In the Western industrial countries these jokes are usually told about an ethnic group or minority, whilst in Eastern Europe the jokes are of a political nature. It is perhaps not surprising that, apart from jokes about sex, ethnic jokes of all kinds are perhaps the most popular and numerous of all jokes in the West whilst political jokes tend to dominate the popular humour of Eastern Europe. However, what is remarkable is the range, durability and popularity of jokes about stupidity in both types of industrial society. It is a phenomenon that calls for a sociological explanation. Why, for instance, do people in Western industrial societies prefer jokes about ‘stupid’ ethnic minorities to almost any other kind of joke? Why are they so fond of jokes like these:

A Polish couple decided to have a chicken farm. They bought two chickens, took them home, dug a hole in their backyard and buried the chickens head first. Next morning they discovered the chickens were dead.


Ethnic Minority Industrial Society Garden City Western Industrial Country Spontaneous Order 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Chris Powell and George E. C. Paton 1988

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  • Christie Davies

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