The widespread notion of a unique national humour involves an impulse to apply the commonplace assumptions of national identity that demand uniqueness of identity, history, language and culture for a political society. What is deemed true and distinctive of the nation must be also be true and distinctive of its national humour, goes the thinking.
However, such cultural exclusivity has not been reconciled with cultural exchanges between nations. Paradoxically, conceptions of national humour have been formulated in dynamic tension with such exchanges during the various phases of globalization that have taken place since the 19th century. The Americanisation of humour, in particular, has been an important component of such transmissions and resulted from the commercial popular culture dominated by America since the nineteenth century. Australia is a prime example examined here along with examples from Britain. To complicate matters of transmission, Americanisation sometimes arrived in Australia via Britain as well as directly from America itself.
Australians and Britons periodically reacted against American culture, including humour, as a threat to national identity. But this was part of a dynamic tension played out between modern and traditional, imported and local in their selections and adaptations of humour imports from America.
There is a huge and historic complexity of cultural anxiety and cultural transfer lying behind the apparent cultural comforts of belonging to a nation-state. Moreover, humour has played its part in the continual discursive recreation of the nation in the form of constant searches for the unique national humour of a people.
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