I've long been a fan of playing the dozens, as is to be expected from anyone who loves language. Last night, in a fit of my usual insanity, I thought it'd be fun to throw out some "Yo mama" snaps themed around this year's election on my Twitter account:
- Yo moms such a ho they set up robocalls for all her booty calls.
- Yo moms so fat Russia can see her from their house.
Things took off pretty quickly from there. Lore Sjoberg (you remember him from Brunching Shuttlecocks and his writing for Wired) picked up the meme and ran with it. His were some of the first, and funniest responses:
- Yo mama so fat, McCain refers to her as "Those Ones."
- Yo mama so fat, she got an endorsement from General Mills. (I would have gone with Colonel Sanders here; That's why Lore is a genius!)
- Yo mama so fat, her other biography is called "The Audacity of Hardee's
Around the same time, a number of other fantastically funny folks joined in the fun:
- Fernando Rizo offers up "yo mama's such a ho, she said she'd sit ON Ahmedinejad with no preconditions"
- Matt Haughey added "yo mama so ugly, the RNC spent $4,716.49 on hair and makeup"
- One of my personal favorites, Guillermo Esteves absolutely slayed me with "yo momma’s so fat, John McCain looked into her eyes and saw three letters: KFC." Absurd, obscure, specific — perfect!
As these were taking off, Xeni Jardin, who was dropping some snaps of her own, featured the thread in progress in a post on BoingBoing. Fun! The comments there have lit up with more suggestions, and a Twitter search for other replies now offers up, well, dozens more. I've marked a lot of the best as my favorites on Twitter.
While this is all in good fun, what's startling to me is that none of the jokes I've seen mention, or even allude to, race. Playing the dozens is a uniquely and explicitly African American tradition, and we obviously have an African American candidate favored in the race for the first time ever, and yet it hasn't come up.
Some of this, of course, is selection bias due to the audience that Twitter reaches. (At least so far.) But as these jokes from last night are already making their way around online as email forwards and apparently getting quoted in offices across the country, it seems to me like the playfulness of the language and the absurdity of the medium may have masked something timely and fitting. This obviously and instrinsically black tradition has been adopted by a community like Twitter that is, frankly, disproportionately not black. You could see it as the deracination of the tradition, or even worse as a deliberate omission of cultural context in its appropriation. But I actually see it as something positive.
A running joke on Twitter is all in good fun, but I find the unselfconsciousness of this little political gag to be a comforting reflection of the way that the larger trend around this election is moving as well. Like Barack Obama, playing the dozens is obviously black but we're able to just include that implicitly in our participation without having denying or diminish it. That feels like progress.
And best of all, even if it is just a bunch of jokes on Twitter, making these jokes is something that anyone can take a turn with. Just like your mama.