For example, I came across a picture on Twitter of an African American gentleman holding a piece of fried chicken in one hand, watermelon in the other, while pulling the exaggerated smiling face associated with minstrel shows.

A word and phrase I am wrestling with here:

Reappropriation seems to fit, however, could ‘self-reflexive irony’ be sufficient here? I know self-reflexive irony is commonly associated with metafiction and artistic works that reference their own artificiality, but I am gearing more towards this phrase in this context.

‘This image is a great piece of self-reflexive irony’ sounds better to me than ‘this image is a great act of reappropriation’ or whatever.

‘Self-reflexive’ is a term that I have only recently come across, so I am unsure of its flexibility or potential use outside of aesthetics.

Thank you in advance!

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    I think it's called a sight gag. – Phil Sweet Aug 4 '18 at 20:02

I'd go with self-deprecating humor. It seems to fit the described image best - the person jokingly acknowledges the stereotypes' existence and applies them to himself willingly while (presumably) making light of them.

Calling it a parody of the stereotypes is fine too, although it's a bit broader term and doesn't necessarily convey the "self" part of it. A white person could, for example, parody those stereotypes in the same way (whether it's appropriate is another matter), but it wouldn't be self-deprecating.

Reclamation and reappropriation are a bit too strong for my tastes - both imply a more serious effort to "take back" the symbols of prejudice and turn them into part of culture. While this might be the intent of the picture - humor can be a part of the reappropriation process - without context I wouldn't call it that.

And self-reflexive irony is probably not a good pick unless you want to say the poster of the image had a moment of self reflection as to whether they really are chicken-eating minstrel show characters. Which I'll go out on a limb and say you don't want to imply.

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    I like a 'paradoy of the stereotype'. I don't like self-deprecating humour for the same reasons you give for rejecting self-reflexive irony. It sounds as if the person were accepting the racist stereotypes and laughing at them in a self-deprecating way. – S Conroy Aug 5 '18 at 1:12
  • @SConroy my impression is that this was the intent of the picture, like me making a "Come to Poland, your car is already there!" joke - self-deprecating (as it accepts the negative stereotype for the sake of a joke), but not self-reflexive (as it doesn't really invite reflecting upon the stereotype's validity). Depends on the context - "parody" is indeed a bit safer. – Maciej Stachowski Aug 5 '18 at 10:36
  • Do you think that simply “irony” could be appropriate? The person is making a joke that’s ironic, layered, and nuanced. – Al-Sabti Aug 7 '18 at 22:48
  • Excellent discussion above ^^^ I agree that self-deprecation and self-reflexive in this context are both problematic in that they, in my opinion, both invite some inference around the stereotypes having some validity. I like ‘parody of the stereotype’. – R.Cunliffe Apr 7 '20 at 18:11

It might be a parody by using an ironic pastiche of cliches




Given the example, I think that reappropriation and reclamation can be used:

the cultural process by which a group reclaims terms or artifacts that were previously used in a way disparaging of that group

However, "self-reflexive irony" is a fitting description of the aesthetic quality of your example of reappropriation (whereas early efforts to reclaim racial slurs may not have had this same effect of irony or satire). The phrase "ironic reclamation" has gained popularity in recent years.

  • How is this ironic? – sas08 Jan 14 '20 at 16:47
  • @sas08 In the literal sense. Irony is a philosophical divergence between what is said and what is meant. Using, for example, racial slurs in a collegial way would be ironic because those words are employed with exactly the opposite intent for which they were created. – Bruce Kirkpatrick Jan 14 '20 at 17:00
  • Irony is when the literal diverges from the figurative meaning. The racist implications of man eating a watermelon are not literal, but are figurative/cultural. The literal meaning here is that a man is eating a watermelon. Perhaps the term might be something like abortive/feigned irony? Or abstract sarcasm? Also how can something be literally figurative speech? The technical terminology is sort of piled up here and obscured by layers of parenthesis; I would try to refactor it. – sas08 Jan 14 '20 at 17:42

Since the term reflexive already refers to what is directed or turned back on itself, smushing it together with the word self doesn't accomplish anything, besides signal intent to move forward. But so does a rear end collision at a red light. No way to get around. And what is happening when an artist refers to a century-old stereotype or a half-century old taboo isn't reflexive; it demands foreknowledge of the stereotype and associated taboos, and perhaps even some inkling that these taboos have become a little bit rediculous.

(Reflexive, to my mind, would refer to something like Hamlet putting on a play about brother-murder in a play called Hamlet.)

I don't think it even really makes sense to call it irony when what's depicted is supposed to be just an exaggerated version of the truth? I would call it a humorous hyperbole mocking two different targets.

Reappropriation might be fine. Or appropriating it from ____ to force the question of from whom. Because that's probably the critical question: does this have to be taken back from racists, or from the woke crowd using it as a totem?

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