The Comic Corrective: What Humor Does in Social Movement

The Comic Corrective: What Humor Does in Social Movement Art and Spectacle

at the Fleming Museum of Art

with Nancy Welch, UVM Professor of English

This talk surveys the wonderfully rowdy and comic artistic production of the Industrial Workers of the World. Popularly known as the Wobblies, this radical union movement emerged in the opening decades of the 20th century to organize predominantly immigrant workers into an effective force against Gilded Age injustice. Although the mainstream press painted the Wobblies as violent bomb-throwers, their real weapon to “organize the unorganized” was humor. Through art, music, and spectacle, the Wobblies evoked laughter, exposed hypocrisy, and taught workers across scores of languages and nationalities about their shared bonds and potential power. This historical survey will also fast-forward you to your new Gilded Age and the lessons today’s social movements can take from the Wobblies’ comic corrective.