“I Want to Barbecue bin Laden” Humor after 9/11

November 2003 (VOL. 21, NO. 3)

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This paper is a preliminary examination of humor related to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and its aftermath. Data include cartoons, caricatures, songs, video skits, and satirical essays, gathered from books, newspapers and Internet sources. We begin with a short discussion of sociological approaches to humor, nothing that humor can be used either to further or to stymie social change. We suggest that theories of Bourdieu and Foucault have something to offer in studying humor’s place in social discourse. Next, we examine three themes that emerged in post-9/11 humor: A Just Revenge; The Enemy: Evil, Cowardly, Barbaric, Incompetent; and Insecurity in a Changing world. Also, we briefly consider post-9/11 humor in comparison with humor that followed the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, World War II, and humor that emerged about the Gulf War. We end by suggesting timing, place and power are important when studying the role of humor in social discourse.