Der Zeitgeist ist ein gefährliches Biest (German Edition)

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Bhabha characterizes a stereotype as ambivalent, interdependent, and the basis for subjectification — Since it postulates homogeneity where there is actually diversity, its generalization needs to be profoundly ambivalent in order to apply at least a bit better to the whole group. The resulting guarantee for absurd mismatches should become immediately apparent. Yet, even in their superficial ambivalence, the potential for contradiction and ethnic non-sense becomes obvious straightaway.

Ethno-comedy exploits this potential for humoristic purposes since eliciting laughs remains the primary surface value of any comedy show. However, revealing the absurdity of common misconceptions also affords the hybrid artist an opportunity for public renegotiation of ways to identify. This is where I see the metaphorical surplus value of ethno-comedy, the possible effect that exceeds mere entertainment. Ridiculing the obvious inadequacy of cultural stereotypes as inappropriate generalizations opens a gate to reflect critically on images of the foreign, to question perceptions of national identifications, and to re-evaluate the relations of minorities and majority.

Suspending one stereotype makes it necessary to immediately challenge others as well due to their interdependence. Of course, many a stereotype roots in distant realities and some may even still apply from time to time; but most turn out to be relics of a past that has long been overcome by social and cultural change. Other stereotypes were manufactured mainly through the imaginative European othering of the Ottomans which occasionally led the target culture to actually adopt and mirror the European projections, as outlined by Said.

Ceylan, for instance, mocks the persisting Orientalist image with belly dancing. Elsewhere, the reverberations of this alleged air of exoticism — frequently ascribed to Turks from Luther to Mozart, Goethe and beyond — are taken more 85 seriously albeit with a capitalist touch. Drawing attention to these progressions of a society and the resulting crevices in its cultural conceptions, ethno-comedy stages the deconstruction of overcome patterns and paves the way for renegotiating ethnic identifications.

How crucial this comedic contribution to ethnic representation can be, becomes evident in an experience shared again by many of the most popular artists. Some comedians received letters of complaint by members of various minorities remonstrating that their specific group had yet been insufficiently ridiculed in their shows. Accusations like this testify to the identity-establishing powers of cultural stereotypes.

Despite their nature as generalized pseudo-knowledge, their mere existence in any given context still signifies at least the very existence of its object. Therefore, the stereotype possesses a symbolic quality which acknowledges the presence of something and so functions as a basis for its subjectification. This quality does not redeem the backwards essentialism behind stereotypes, but it shows that any public recognition is perceived as preferable to none at all.

Nonetheless, ethno-comedy has been blamed repeatedly of propagating and hence reinforcing false images, causing more damage than relief for the targeted groups. In , Davies still doubted the potential for jokes to have any serious impact on their social environment due to their triviality in comparison to more purposeful behavior Ethnic Humor Around the World 9.

It seems indeed plausible that other social acts could have more drastic effects on public opinions.

However, the profound subliminal consequences of long-term reinscription can no longer be convincingly repudiated. Examining the shows and effects of U. In this light, overcoming a stereotype actually necessitates its preceding re-inscription into the public mindset; it needs to be addressed in order to be rendered harmless. Not all stereotypes are threatening, some may even be advantageous. Probably not all Spanish people have a siesta or take their dinner at 10pm, but enough people do 87 to make it worthwhile providing these ideas to the inexperienced tourist in order to explain common phenomena like comparatively quiet noon times and regularly busy nights in public places.

A final characteristic of stereotypes which Bhabha mentions only briefly at another point but which bears great relevance for both postcolonial and ethno-comedic studies alike is their external origin: Someone labels someone else. This attribute is closely related to the identity-establishing feature mentioned earlier. Bhabha emphasizes the power-political benefits for the majority society entailed in the deliberate maintenance of ethnic stereotypes, usually by fostering particular narratives of the past while suppressing any counter-positions Assmann original emphasis 88 While Germany continues to baffle tourists with its vast number of negative war memorials commemorating guilt and shame instead of honor and bravery, its mentality towards ethnic diversity still leaves much to be desired.

As El-Tayeb has shown, the means of suppression are fundamentally similar: enforcing a rigid perspective that benefits the majority and neglects counter-narratives. The logical conclusion however, that they are by now as European as those worrying about them, is rarely drawn, prevented by an often unspoken, but nonetheless seemingly very precise, racialized understanding of proper Europeanness that continues to exclude certain migrants and their descendants.

However, it fits equally well to other multicultural environments even without a specifically colonial background, as can be observed of course in the case of Turkish Germans in Germany. In his Hassprediger routine, Somuncu relates his first steps on German television. Despite his native proficiency in the German language, his slightly foreign physical appearance severely limited his options: He was not only cast exclusively as a burglar, a car thief, or drug dealer, but 89 always had to fake a broken accent commonly associated with the unemployed, uneducated, and culturally isolated criminal migrant from Turkey.

The continuing influence of long-term stereotyping becomes particularly obvious on the job market. The success rate for applications displaying German names was significantly higher than those with a Turkish-sounding name, despite German passports and comparable qualifications.

In light of these findings, the social need to re-assess perceptions of ethnicity appears all the more crucial when stereotyping overrides all other expressions of identity. In a more pointed way, stereotyping in its unidirectional88 orientation is a form of partial identity theft. As mentioned above, personal identity is the momentary sense and continual articulation of a stable self-image.

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Furthermore, personal and collective identifications are processual and completely dependent on interactions with other individuals. Stereotypes affect both kinds of identity. As preconceived pseudo-knowledge, they thwart the processual by suggesting fixed identities; and they often taint the interactive, particularly in the form of prejudice, by seemingly eliminating the need to become acquainted with others through simulating familiarity where in fact there is none.

Key here is the dependence on others to cultivate a sense of identity. The act of stereotyping as such, however, is essentially unidirectional as it is a non-negotiated form of identifying the other. The further an individual is removed in his or her identification from the imposed stereotype the more difficult become social orientation and the creation of a stable self-image. Analyzing the situation of people of migrant background over generations — from those who first emigrated to their children and beyond —, revealed the necessity to rethink conventional kinds and concepts.

What makes a foreigner, what are the limits of Germanness, what happens when the Turkish-German hybrid does feel in-between and like none of a kind?


These questions are at the core of ethno-comedy. True to its roots in the Kabarett tradition, the genre addresses the problematic pseudo-knowledge of stereotypes, exposes its superficial nature, and tries to replace it with a more differentiated view in order to find answers to these questions that are more appropriate to the current conditions in Germany.

Despite these essential differences coexistence is still very much possible but it requires communal effort. This approach dismisses the idea of a homogenous society entirely and instead aims for a social contract based on unity of the diverse as recently proclaimed by President Gauck. It is here that identities are renegotiated. The realization that differences may be fundamental but never original guides this passage and lends a particular twist to the idea of hybridity: 89 Over the course of increasing Europeanization and globalization it is not even necessary for each individual to migrate in order to experience cultures different from their own.

This third space displaces the histories that constitute it, and sets up new structures of authority, new political initiatives. The same process confronts stereotypes, and although it cannot abolish them it can certainly diminish their obstructing influence within a multicultural society. Ethno-comedy tries to create these Third Spaces through a communal experience — the passage — that bears the potential to affect the mentalities at issue, create new perspectives, and help the audience to find new ways to identify individually and as a community.

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Often based on visual markers only, the clear boundary implied by this excluding classification frequently wrongs cultural hybrids. In addition to rethinking German society as diverse and changing, the analog counterpart of foreignness needs to be reassessed as well. In Europe, there is a curious double standard at work in its perception — once inside a nation, and once on a pan-European scale — and each time the label signifies something else.

For instance, Italians in Germany are foreigners by definition, but appear less foreign to Germans than Asians, Arabs, or Africans. Accordingly, contesting this dubious understanding of foreignness and adjusting the variety of possible individual, national, and European identifications is certainly one of the main goals of many polycultural artists around the globe.

Sixty years later, Turkish-German actor and director Hussi Kutlucan almost seems to emulate the occasionally chaotic comedy of the Marx brothers. As hybrid artists, they all occupy a privileged space in these cultural renegotiations as they can claim both an inside and outside perspective. Through their art they are able to present, question, and revise current identifications of both majority and minorities alike.

They take their socially assigned role as foreigners and reframe it as a role on stage. As a result, there is a fluent passage between personal and stage identities. Under the protective cloak of comedy, they attack the mental barriers of stereotypes and outdated norms and thus afford everyone the opportunity to question their ideas of individual, ethnic, and national identity. Modifying this influence by empowering the minority position destabilizes the identification of the majority and through the ensuing insecurity necessitates its respective modification as well.

The Kabarett artist displays the identity of the native audience, including its racist and exclusive premises.


Ethnic drag designates a heavily stereotyped impersonation of an Other, a questionable practice of racism in disguise. While the concept has shed a great deal of light on German equivalents to American blackface, in the case of self-identifying Turkish Germans a Turkish or German mask could never reach the discriminatory power of drag due to its unavoidable self-referentiality.

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As a material body accommodating elements of two cultures, however, Turkish Germans simply cannot imitate a German or Turk in the same arguable way that a German hobbyist with no migrant background can pretend to be a Native American for carnival. The comedians may very well emphasize different parts of their polyculturality at different times of a show. Ceylan, Yanar, Somuncu, and others frequently switch perspectives, referring to themselves alternately as Germans, Turks, or hybrids. The general course, however, is clearly discernable as advocating a pluralist, polycultural, and transnational society.

By directing attention to phenomena of cultural change, hardened perceptions could become nuanced and ways to interpret and embody Germanness or Europeanness multiply. Terkessidis 90 Germans who still reject the German part of Turkish Germans could be said to perform a reversed type of ethnic drag: Trying to enact and thus maintain an obsolete notion of supposedly genuine Germanness, they play a role by wearing a mask of the past and pretending to embody a non-existent, idealized culture.

Other ethnicities might aim to be recognized as a minority, resisting their blanket identification as migrants or Muslims or other diffuse generalizations, and thus take a crucial first step towards independent articulation and self-representation. On stage, ethno-comedians can introduce, relate, and discuss all of these roles.

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Constantly switching perspectives, presenting different understandings of numerous roles, and always mocking dogmatic opposition to free self-identification — be it religious, nationalist, or racist — they outline a variety of possible reinterpretations of our societal model instead of enforcing a single, equally dogmatic alternative.

The audience is only brought to realize the need for revision but it has to find the specific way on its own and within itself. The jester-like ethno-comedians thus serve the ancient, non-dogmatic double function of amusing entertainers and enlightening facilitators. Whereas most jokes come across easily, their message of transnational humanism is sometimes obscured by their continuous role play.

The liberalism in their presentation may appear confusing to some since it asks a relatively high degree of cognitive participation on the side of the audience.

Moreover, the artists oftentimes approach the topic of identity formation in a highly self-referential way and so create a great deal of overlap between their roles of stage character and private individual which sets them apart from conventional actors. The audience equates his statements and personal sociopolitical opinion. In fact, comedy as a relatively safe, rule-governed space for social subversion is an antique concept.

However, the particular combination of a hybrid artist, self-deprecating humor, and a socially constructive intention gave rise to a distinctly different kind of comedy that enjoys increasing popularity. Lately, ethno-comedy has become an almost global phenomenon where artists first play the fool and then — with varying degrees of subtlety — insert cultural criticism.

In terms of humoristic mechanisms and the potential for cultural political subversion, the German-Turkish constellation is paradigmatic for the global phenomenon of ethno-comedy.