The Common Man, The Common Punchline

 

Frederiksen, echoing Terry Hirst, suggests that mascot Joe is “‘a survivor who has to laugh to keep from crying’” (95). While the creators of the magazine do suggest that the magazine proffers some strain of counterdiscourse to the Kenyan politicians who’ve lost touch with the common man, the gender of the often taken-for-granted phrase asserts itself perhaps virulently in the smattering of strips, jokes, and scraps collected from Joe Magazine. Frederiksen makes no suggestion that the magazine’s constituency is men, particularly through his assertion that the first blessing of Uhuru is bottled beer. What strikes me as counterproductive to Joe Magazine’s attempt to resonate with “the common man,” is the extent to which it elides female identity almost completely.

Frederiksen notes that the majority of the stories in Joe Magazine that deal with marriage simultaneously deal with infidelity (100). If the magazine works with an imaginative utopic impulse, this might suggest that marriage is itself an invitation to cheat, or devalue the women to whom these men presumably have powerful communal or affective attachments. The cover of January, 1975’s issue illustrates such a phenomenon: Joe himself signs a document promising that he, among other vices, shan’t “chase women,” while he simultaneously ogles a certifiably groovy chick. His wife stares daggers at him, and angrily grasps his tie (107). In this moment, moonstruck Joe is impervious to threats of violence, as if to suggest that his wife’s deserved fury is fantastically impotent. In an illustration of three individuals, only the wife possesses a countenance imbued with expressive feeling; in effect, she becomes the outcast of the threesome—isn’t it funny that she cares so much about Joe’s failure as a husband?

The Party Jokes section on the preceding page mobilizes similar rhetoric to point to women’s place in their magazine as punchline. The first, a glib sentence suggesting that “An executive friend of ours is so dedicated to his work that he keeps his secretary near his bed in case he gets an idea during the night” works on a similar register (106). The moment the sentence is supposed to become funny is in the adjacency of two objects with no business being near each other; “secretary,” reduced to sexual object, reduces a woman’s identity not just to the feminized, administrative labor expected of her, but translates that labor sideways into sex work. Another joke in the collection acts as a corollary to the joke, explaining why women like the one above is stripped of agency. When a man shoots his wife after discovering her infidelity, he explains his actions by stating “Better shoot her once than one man every week!” (106). This wife occupies the opposite end of the spectrum, where exertion of her agency fatalistically circumscribes her to cheat on her husband once a week.

 

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