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Ludic Modernism: Comedy and the Making of Modern Tibetan(s)

When Jan 24, 2018
from 05:00 PM to 06:00 PM
Where Rooms 8 & 9
Contact Name
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China Research Seminar given by Timothy Thurston, Leeds University

Comedy and laughter are not the first things most people think of when they think about Tibet. And yet laughter and humor constitute an important part of everyday life on the Tibetan Plateau. Beginning in the 1980s, a unique form of comic dialogues called kha shags, modeled on the Han Chinese xiangsheng tradition and disseminated on stage, radio, cassette, VCD, television, and the Internet, became important vehicles for spreading ideas about modern life to a Tibetan populace that remained largely illiterate into the twenty-first century. Through examining a series of four wildly popular 1990s comedies about a fictional nomadic community called “Careful Village” I examine how comedy engages in a mode of “ludic modernism” in which humor is used to advance a modernist agenda aimed at creating both modern Tibetan subjects, and a set of linguistic practices by which these Tibetan subjects will communicate. This is accomplished through satirizing behaviors perceived to be “backwards,” including close-mindedness, putting too much faith in religious clerics, lack of education, and technological illiteracy, and simultaneously modeling a modern alternative. Importantly, Careful Village is not actually a village, but an allegory for all of Tibet.

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