It’s so fun to get the last licks

This Letter to the Editor appears in the July 2011 issue of Harper’s magazine.  My response follows:

In confessing her authorship of the Truly Tasteless Jokes series of the 80s and 90s [“Being Blanche,” Miscellany, June], Ashton Applewhite disingenuously claims that her books “made fun of everyone.” On the contrary, what made her books masterly was the way they distilled misogyny and racism and made these vicious sentiments widely available to the middle-class public, whereas before they had at least been kept in the closet. While her handful of jokes about WASPs were toothless, filled with the gentle self-mockery of those comfortable in the driver’s seat of social power, the vast majority of her wisecracks picked on the same social groups Ronald Reagan was targeting through neoliberal economics and the rollback of civil rights. These jokes were not, as Ashton Applewhite absurdly suggests (quoting her friend Luc Sante) a “sigh of relief,” but were part and parcel of the Right’s general attack on feminism and civil liberties, an attack that continues to this day.
John Sanbonmatsu
Worcester, Mass.

Ashton Applewhite responds:

Far be it from Blanche to claim the moral high ground, but I can’t imagine what closet Mr. Sanbonmatsu is referring to (and since when are closets a good thing?).  These jokes were the source of water-cooler and playground merriment long before I collected them. Why assume that the middle-class was somehow in the dark until then (and why the middle class)?  Perhaps Mr. Sanbonmatsu feels that I lack respect for his heritage? (The Japanese are so advanced . . . the beach comes to them.) As for WASP jokes (What do WASPs do instead of having sex? Rule the country.), I’d love some vicious ones. Send them to

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