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Mideast tour: white people and a total lack of irony

September 26, 2007

On my comedy tour of the Middle East, I was brought to realize many things.

Our military is a lot whiter than I had imagined. In fact, a huge swath of the US Armed Forces is made up of recent (Caucasian) high school graduates from Texas, Indiana, and Ohio.

At one point, I said to one of the other comics, “I thought the military had a lot more black people.”

He replied, “No, you’re thinking of Vietnam.”

(Update: A commenter has provided this link [downloadable PDF] to the relevant data).

Living in Manhattan for awhile will give you a skewed picture of American demographics. If I had to guess, I’d guess Manhattan was roughly fifty or sixty percent white people, but all of them relatively wealthy, while a large percentage of everyone else are recent immigrants.* Every very rare once in awhile, you see a homeless white person, and think: what, possibly, could be the excuse for that?

(*Side note: Manhattan has as high a percentage of recent immigrants as, say, Texas, but nowhere near the anti-immigrant sentiment, because it is so terribly obvious that without hardworking recent immigrants, some of them illegal, we wouldn’t be able to afford to go out to eat, get our nails, laundry, and dry cleaning done, our food delivered, and many other services. You ever try to get your nails done in the suburbs? Try making an appointment and paying $35! A million small things are cheaper in New York thanks to a constant influx of immigration).

On Army and Air Force bases, we often did shows to crowds of 600-700 soldiers, many of whom would line up afterwards for autographs. They hadn’t known who we were before the show (well, there was one guy whose wife loved my work on McSweeney’s — dear god did that make my evening!), but there was literally nothing else to do, and an acute shortage of women.

The McSweeney’s note was especially unusual, as the entire remainder of our tour was free of irony and of any appreciation of irony. As well, perhaps, it should have been, as earnestness may be a necessary means of bolstering oneself for peril.

At Camp Buehring, Kuwait — a training base where soldiers are stationed for a short time just prior to deployment in Iraq — we did a show for an audience that was both armed, and shipping off to Iraq an hour after the show. One officer, observing the mood of the crowd, explained that much of the audience wasn’t laughing out loud because “Twenty or thirty of these guys are going to get blown up just on the way there.” In the autograph line after the show, one soldier took his signed photograph of Laura Rosenberg and showed us where it would be taped to the butt of his rifle, to keep him company in combat. Is it 1944? I thought, and then Well, goddamn.

Towards the end of the tour, we did a show on the USS Enterprise, and the ship’s media officer did taped interviews of us for the ship’s local TV channel (when they don’t have something like a rerun of last night’s comedy show to play, it’s just a blue screen with motivational messages scrolling by). Despite all the (wry, offbeat) quotes that could’ve been extracted from those interviews, when the ship’s newsletter came out the next morning, it was peppered with made-up (unfunny) quotes purportedly from the comics, things like, “Performing for the troops who are defending our country makes me proud to be an American,” and, “Entertaining the hardworking men and women of the USS Enterprise is the greatest experience of my life.”

We did not say those things. But we forgive the “media specialist” responsible.

Comments

11 Responses to “Mideast tour: white people and a total lack of irony”

  1. Anonymous on September 26th, 2007 9:25 pm

    Um… the research only takes a few seconds:

    http://siadapp.dmdc.osd.mil/personnel/CASUALTY/RACE-OMB-WC.pdf

    Can we do away with this canard?

  2. Anonymous on September 27th, 2007 1:34 pm

    For someone who flew to the Middle East to entertain our American troops you sound really Un-American and ungrateful dismissing those comments … “when the ship’s newsletter came out the next morning, it was peppered with made-up (unfunny) quotes purportedly from the comics, things like, “Performing for the troops who are defending our country makes me proud to be an American,” and, “Entertaining the hardworking men and women of the USS Enterprise is the greatest experience of my life.” We did not say those things. But we forgive the “media specialist” responsible.”

    I don’t see you replacing those comments with anything more supportive and patriotic OR funnier than those.

  3. JenIsFamous on September 27th, 2007 3:44 pm

    You’re kidding. And I certainly hope you enjoy this reply.

    “…the greatest experience of my life”? That’s meaningless in its hyperbole. The person that quote was attributed to had ACTUALLY said something like “…one of the greatest PERFORMING experiences of my life.”

    Words have meaning; comics select them and put them in a particular order for a reason. You don’t just get to make up people’s words, no matter who you are.

    Also, comics generally try to be funny every time they give quotes. My actual interview said some “normal” things, and also some funnier stuff about which types of uniforms were the most attractive (I don’t remember my exact words on the matter). Keep in mind the USS Enterprise is not in immediate danger, and the mood on the ship during a three-month deployment was one of just slogging through the next few weeks of drudgery to get home. In fact, the Navy chaplain even used the intercom to issue a group prayer for the Army, because they were the ones really going into battle.

    If your definition of patriotism requires some kind of rah-rah everything-America-does-is-great-no-matter-what … what the hell are you doing reading the blog of a sarcastic New York feminist comedian who makes fun of bad grammar and anti-intellectualism, and who critically evaluates our nation’s actions through the same eye of ethical considerations and policymaking efficacy that she uses to evaluate the actions of governments globally? Hmmn?

    And incidentally, such critical analysis applied to American policymaking over the last century generally yields pretty respectable results if you believe in Enlightenment values, which I do. If you would trash that process of critical analysis — why, we might as well have never had a Revolution, never had a Jefferson, never formed a system of checks and balances delegating important powers to the states, and remained loyal to George III, who would’ve been happy to accept uncritical, unquestioning allegiance.

    There is no place in this country for unthinking jingoism, and demands on others for “patriotism” — rather than well-considered opinions of particular actions, policies, and beliefs — are nothing but unthinking jingoism.

    Jen

  4. Molly Crabapple on September 27th, 2007 9:04 pm

    RE: Anynomous.

    It’s pretty damn condescending to say that the very tough, brave people who are risking their lives in the Middle East are too stupid and fragile to hear a comedian’s exact quote.

    Just saying.

  5. SFG on October 7th, 2007 1:08 pm

    I thought she was saying that she was misquoted but doesn’t mind, because she knows these guys are going to war for real…

  6. Klint on October 7th, 2007 1:25 pm

    A million small things are cheaper in New York thanks to a constant influx of immigration.

    And a couple of bigger things, like living in a decent neighbourhood and sending your children to a good, i.e., majority white school can be a lot more expensive. Though I doubt having children will ever be on Ms. Dziura’s agenda.

  7. Marcus on October 7th, 2007 4:34 pm

    Nice to see a performer who doesn’t respond to a military tour with “my decadent intellectual concerns over the justice of our foreign policy are as nothing when confronted with brave young Americans prepared to die for George Bush’s whims! And such fine, handsome, pleasant young men too…none of them appeared to be vicious bloodthirsty trolls, as my effete leftist friends had led me to believe they’d be!”

    incidentally, such critical analysis applied to American policymaking over the last century generally yields pretty respectable results if you believe in Enlightenment values

    I dunno about that. Check out the history of the war in the Phillipines, the level of civilian casualties during our involvement in Vietnam / Cambodia, who we supported in places like Guatamala, and so on. Even in WWII, which was such a good war that you can hear the inspiring soundtrack every time someone mentions it, that whole terror bombing of Japanese civilians thing is a little uncomfortable to think about.

    We’re definitely better than Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia, after that things start to get a little fuzzy.

  8. JenIsFamous on October 7th, 2007 5:27 pm

    SFG–

    Yes, that too. I got a little sidetracked by the “lack of patriotism” charges.

    “Patriotism” means getting the best education possible and using it to fully participate in democracy, which means exercising the right to free speech, voting, criticizing our leaders when needed, communicating with our Congresspeople — and going to war when needed, while applying strict scrutiny to our motives for doing so — and many more actions that require eternal vigilance and thought, and are only dampened by rah-rah-rahs.

    Mindless our-country-is-the-best-because-I-was-born-here is only patriotic in countries that didn’t bother with a constitution.

    Klint–

    Having trouble getting a read on your comment. You sound sarcastic when you say “majority white,” yet you follow that up by a crack about my having kids. Not sure what you mean by that.

    It’s certainly true that raising kids in Manhattan is incredibly expensive — although the availability of immigrant nannies also changes the economics of that situation for upper-class families.

    It was just an observation about New Yorkers’ attitudes on immigration, no special conclusion implied.

    Marcus–

    I’m certainly willing to accept more data on that point, but it’s also true that America is simply forced into more difficult foreign policy decisions than other First World nations who can leave the dirty work to us. It’s very easy to keep your hands clean when you’re postwar Western Europe. How many European leaders condemn US use of torture — while being secretly relieved that the US is doing it for them? (Not supporting torture here — just saying that the US has somewhat more difficult decisions to make).

    Jen

    p.s. – Can someone tell me who’s linking to this page?

  9. Anonymous on October 7th, 2007 6:05 pm

    Even in WWII, which was such a good war that you can hear the inspiring soundtrack every time someone mentions it, that whole terror bombing of Japanese civilians thing is a little uncomfortable to think about.
    -marcus

    OTOH, the terror bombing of German civilians doesn’t bother you at all. Probably because the German govt was killing Jews, while the Japanese govt was only killing Chinese.

  10. SFG on October 8th, 2007 5:04 pm

    p.s. – Can someone tell me who’s linking to this page?

    You were linked to by a comment from the website of paleoconservative blogger Steve Sailer. One of the tenets of paleoconservatism (which is basically what people in the South believed before 1960 or so) is that white people need to have more kids to prevent being swamped by black people, and urbanites with their low fertility rates are a major part of the problem, along with Mexican immigration.

    Why would they link to you in the first place? You were described as ‘a NY feminist who’s almost as obsessed with IQ as Steve’. If you look through the comments on Steve’s page you can find it. How that anonymous commenter found your blog I have no idea.

    Sailer has a large enough following (among other things, quasi-liberals such as myself who like to feel naughty and edgy read him) that anything linked to from his page will get a few paleoconservative visitors for a while. I wouldn’t get too worried, most of them are not interested in your work and this will eventually peter out.

    http://www.isteve.blogspot.com if you’re curious. But it will probably raise your blood pressure too much. I’ve gone through Republican and libertarian phases so I’m much more tolerant of this sort of thing.

    He has convinced me that there’s too much immigration, although I’m not sure of a lot of the rest of his program. Among other things, immigration depresses wages (supply and demand–more workers, less salary), particularly among the lower sections of society. Also, with more people, land becomes more expensive. (The paleocons are doing their part by having lots of kids, of course.)

  11. Jennifer Dziura.com on December 7th, 2010 7:00 pm

    [...] with an internet connection.  And, in 2007 on a Mideast tour to entertain the troops, I wrote about all the comics’ having their interviews completely scrapped and replaced with fabricated [...]

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