This just in: Elena Kagan is funny

The media comes to a shocking realization: The Supreme Court nominee is both humorous and a lady -- imagine that

Topics: Elena Kagan, Broadsheet, Gender, Love and Sex,

This just in: Elena Kagan is funnySupreme Court nominee Elena Kagan laughs on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, June 29, 2010, while testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on her nomination. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)(Credit: Alex Brandon)

Several news outlets have posted highlight reels of Elena Kagan joshing with senators left and right. Even the staid Christian Science Monitor joined the fray by discussing how the Supreme Court nominee was “drawing giggles, laughs and even some outright guffaws.” Four paragraphs in, they feel confident in delivering a pronouncement: “Kagan is funny.”

This is newsworthy? Cue reference to that infamous Christopher Hitchens essay in Vanity Fair, in which he started from the premise that women weren’t funny, or simply not as funny as men, and proceeded to pretend to investigate why. (His answer? Men don’t get laid if they can’t make a lady laugh, but all ladies have to do to attract similar attentions is stand there. Boffo for them.)

The subtext of all “Women: Funny? Discuss” pieces seems to be that women can trade on their sensuality or their humor but not both. Should we pile on with a list? Paula Poundstone, Ellen DeGeneres, Fran Lebowitz, Nora Ephron — the criteria for a career in comedy used to be that you not be conventionally attractive in the eyes of conventional men.

And this subtext is certainly apparent in the media coverage of Kagan so far, veering as it has from is-she-or-isn’t-she speculation about her sexual orientation to more general nimrod partisan head-scratching about why she and other prominent females in the Obama administration weren’t, you know, a little cuter.

Both those memes now exhausted, this new take on Kagan seems almost to have inspired relief among those who found her haircut, her careerism, and her life choices mystifying. It’s as if the collective media brain slapped a collective hand to forehead in delayed recognition. Oh, I get it now! Kagan’s the funny fat chick! Cool!



Though attitudes are slowly changing, Tina Fey herself must be bored with reading profiles that wink wink nudge nudge over how she’s surprisingly do-able for a smart, funny lady. (I’m bored just typing that sentence.) For reasons that elude me, American culture loves throwing out these binary options and then feigning — or is it real? — surprise when the world proves three-dimensional. That we’re still having this conversation speaks to the genius of the Bechdel Test for Women in Movies. People fed a steady pop culture diet are not accustomed to images of well-rounded women — let alone women who don’t fret much over men, Oscar gowns, low-fat yogurt, yoga mats, babies or Sephora. 

But I don’t think we’ll ever get past it. Hitchens likened a woman laughing to a woman about to climax (“I am talking about that real, out-loud, head-back, mouth-open-to-expose-the-full-horseshoe-of-lovely-teeth, involuntary, full, and deep-throated mirth; the kind that is accompanied by a shocked surprise and a slight (no, make that a loud) peal of delight.”) Well, sure. But then there’s also cover-your-mouth-and-point laughter, which most men typically don’t enjoy eliciting.

If men continue to find women’s humor novel or noteworthy, one suspects it’s because they still worry that the laughter might be directed at them. Which is perhaps the subtext’s subtext here. The power to ridicule is no small thing. 

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Burger King Japan

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Burger King's black cheeseburger: Made with squid ink and bamboo charcoal, arguably a symbol of meat's destructive effect on the planet. Only available in Japan.

    Elite Daily/Twitter

    2014's fast food atrocities

    McDonald's Black Burger: Because the laws of competition say that once Burger King introduces a black cheeseburger, it's only a matter of time before McDonald's follows suit. You still don't have to eat it.

    Domino's

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Domino's Specialty Chicken: It's like regular pizza, except instead of a crust, there's fried chicken. The company's marketing officer calls it "one of the most creative, innovative menu items we have ever had” -- brain power put to good use.

    Arby's/Facebook

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Arby's Meat Mountain: The viral off-menu product containing eight different types of meat that, on second read, was probably engineered by Arby's all along. Horrific, regardless.

    KFC

    2014's fast food atrocities

    KFC'S ZINGER DOUBLE DOWN KING: A sandwich made by adding a burger patty to the infamous chicken-instead-of-buns creation can only be described using all caps. NO BUN ALL MEAT. Only available in South Korea.

    Taco Bell

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Taco Bell's Waffle Taco: It took two years for Taco Bell to develop this waffle folded in the shape of a taco, the stand-out star of its new breakfast menu.

    Michele Parente/Twitter

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Krispy Kreme Triple Cheeseburger: Only attendees at the San Diego County Fair were given the opportunity to taste the official version of this donut-hamburger-heart attack combo. The rest of America has reasonable odds of not dropping dead tomorrow.

    Taco Bell

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Taco Bell's Quesarito: A burrito wrapped in a quesadilla inside an enigma. Quarantined to one store in Oklahoma City.

    Pizzagamechangers.com

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Boston Pizza's Pizza Cake: The people's choice winner of a Canadian pizza chain's contest whose real aim, we'd imagine, is to prove that there's no such thing as "too far." Currently in development.

    7-Eleven

    2014's fast food atrocities

    7-Eleven's Doritos Loaded: "For something decadent and artificial by design," wrote one impassioned reviewer, "it only tasted of the latter."

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>