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Friday, March 18, 2005

Unitarian humor 0, retort 1.

A brief chapter from the long annals of the rhetorical strategy we might call "Let's You and Me Laugh at You": A new columnist for the Tuscaloosa, Alabama, News — who proudly identifies himself as a Unitarian Universalist — started one of his columns like this:

When I moved to Tuscaloosa last August, a new acquaintance asked, “Where do you plan to worship?"

“Worship?" I asked jokingly. “I’m a Unitarian. Unitarians don’t worship together. We reason together."

An Alabama native and a Southern Baptist, this man rejected my attempt at humor about religion, as his silence and dour demeanor showed. We have not spoken again.

I have encountered other Southerners, white and black, whose lives are organized by religion and the Bible. Some are too blind to see that their apocalyptic worldview prevents them from recognizing the wondrous humor inherent in their peculiar religiosity.

But cheer up, folks. I am here to tell you all that — even in Tuscaloosa County, with more than 300 churches of various denominations — Southern religion has a long and storied tradition of humor and self-deprecation.

I'm very sure it does. I ask you, however: How likely is it that such a column will be perceived as an instance of self-deprecation? How likely is it that such a column will be perceived as derisive snobbery? Having grown up in another deeply conservative place, I can appreciate the appeal of snapping publicly at the big bully every now and then, but I question the rhetorical effectiveness of Unitarian self-aggrandizement.

Happily, all was not lost. A letter to the editor smartly replied:

I can’t tell you how pleased I am that The Tuscaloosa News has finally got a Unitarian Humor Columnist. Over the years, no telling how many people — knowing my background in journalism — have asked me, “Why doesn’t the Tuscaloosa News have a Unitarian Humor Columnist? Every other newspaper does."

They’re familiar with Joseph Pulitzer’s dictum: “If it ain’t got a Unitarian Humor Columnist, it ain’t a newspaper. Something can quack like a duck, waddle like a duck, and look like a duck, but it still ain’t a Unitarian Humor Columnist."

Despite my delight that the News now has its own UHC, I must lodge one complaint about his column that poked fun at the mainstream churches in the South. Why didn’t he also include some jokes of which Unitarians were the butt? It’s not as if there are no Unitarian jokes. For instance: There was a convention of Unitarians who also were amnesiacs and dyslexics. They all stayed up every night wondering if there is a dog.

If your UHC is short on Unitarian jokes, he might like to buy the book “843 Hilarious Unitarian Jokes for Unitarian Humor Columnists." According to a review in the January issue of the Journal of the Unitarian Humor Columnists Association, “This book is a collection of 843 hilarious Unitarian jokes for Unitarian Humor Columnists." It’s easy to see why UHC’s are so popular.

Touché! ("Finding Humor in Religion," Bill Maxwell, Tuscaloosa News 2.14.05; "Having Unitarian Humor Is Great," David Sloan, Tuscaloosa News 2.16.05; reg req'd)

Yet inspiring all the same.

Columnist Bill Maxwell is actually a very interesting guy. He's a long-time journalist whose inaugural column describes how he was a black civil rights activist in Alabama in the mid-60s and swore he'd never live there again. "Stillman College brought me back," he explains:

As an undergraduate at Wiley and later at historically black Bethune-Cookman College in Daytona Beach, Fla., I promised my professors that I would return to a Historically Black College or University, known as HBCUs, to teach or to coach football, that I would give back, that I would serve.

Two years ago, while an editorial writer and columnist for the St. Petersburg Times in Florida, I decided the time had come for me to keep that promise. During my spare time, I traveled to several HBCUs throughout the country and studied others online to determine where I would best fit and, of course, which one would hire me.

I chose Stillman primarily because of President Ernest McNealey. I liked him the first time we met. I like his no-nonsense, straight-up style: If you have things to do, then get cracking. I like his respect and love of the intellect. He does not tolerate excuses from students. As African-Americans, they must study. They must take control of their plights.

I asked him for a job, and he hired me. My main objectives are to reestablish the journalism major and to transform the student newspaper from a once-a-semester publication to a sophisticated weekly. I have the president’s full support.

Make no mistake: Black people are out of favor in America. Affirmative action, for example — once seen as a legitimate means of redressing some of the evils of intentional cruelty that marginalized generations of blacks — has morphed into an evil for white conservative America.

Now is the time for me and other blacks to make a positive difference, to be selfless, to serve.

Now that's quite a story. ("Road Leads Back to Tuscaloosa," Bill Maxwell, Tuscaloosa News 1.10.05, reg req'd)

Copyright © 2005 by Philocrites | Posted 18 March 2005 at 5:51 PM

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