I remember watching one of those bloopers and practical jokes programs with my father, must’ve been during the late 1980s, when he made an observation that was characteristic of him. We must have been watching a segment featuring a common citizen made the butt of a practical joke when my father said, “You know, it’s all fun and games when they get us laughing about these crazy jobs they want these people to do, but once the joke’s over, these people ain’t got no job.” “That’s true,” I said. “Yeah man, that part ain’t funny–at all.” I never forgot that aspect of reality as it became masked by the joke. Did the television producers who created the joke find work for the person who got us to laugh? My father’s remark made me think about how much time someone might’ve put into looking for a job and the relief they must have found once they secured one. How did they react when the joke was over? Did they simply head back to the drawing board cheerfully optimistic about their chances for landing an actual job the next time around?
My father’s engagement with the television program was a mode of viewing that I routinely experienced as the common practice of those around me. People talked back to what they saw. I guess that’s why I was surprised later to learn that people passively observed television programs. Too, I understood my father’s way of viewing television as an act of reading. Reading at its best was performed very much like how my father viewed television (and how he read the newspaper, books, magazines, and people): poetically, actively; thoughtfully, fully. Consistently done, artful, active reading enhances noble aspects and expressions of humanity: laughter, empathy, remembrance.
Reading was an important theme in my reading of Mitchell Duneier’s chapter entitled “The Stereotype of Blacks in Sociology and Journalism.” As a reader of this work, I finished this chapter greatly impressed by Duneier’s skill as a reader. He astutely reads the classics of his field; discerning the consequences of sociological jokes masked as truths. I think that my father would have appreciated his skills as a reader.