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Side-Splitting while Nation-Forming

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Crossroads Atrium: HJ Patterson Hall
Tuesday, October 09, 2018 - 2:00 PM to 4:00 PM

E. M. Perego, (eperego@shepherd.edu), Shepherd University, Department of History

This presentation will demonstrate that joke-tellers, cartoonists, popular singers, and playwrights employed comedy as a tool for criticizing the French colonial regime and unifying different sections of the population around a common Algerian Muslim identity during the country’s late colonial and early independence periods. Furthermore, these comedians, both popular and professional, often did so in veiled and self-deprecating ways. In turn, colonial and postcolonial states attempted to curb or manipulate this nationalizing humor according to their interests; both states spent significant time and resources on surveilling political satire lest it upend their authority. I argue that this comedy significantly shaped and cemented national identities at a moment when various Algerian actors sought to control narratives and definitions of the emerging nation. Without taking the category of “Algeria” as a given, the paper instead investigates how past actors conceived of it over time. I thereby historicize the process of national identity formation during the period leading up to and following independence while contributing to scholarly understandings of humorous traditions in the region.  

This talk intervenes in the history of Algerian comedy by looking simultaneously at political humor across genres (orally-told jokes, theatrical comedies, puppet shows, film, and bandes dessinées) while helping to stress continuity of and decolonization as a process spanning across the period before and after the moment of independence. Above all, I highlight the power of humor as a discourse for spreading ideas and building a shared sense of affinity with an imagined Algerian nation during a key point in the territory’s history.

 

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