There was a conversation on a post of PZ’s about a guy who had to endure outrageously and heart-wrenchingly frequent racism at the hands of his bosses and co-workers, who responded to his complaints with condescension and dismissal (which, by the way, most victims of oppression have experienced many times before – it’s why we don’t always speak up about it). The discussion centred on how to know where ‘the line’ is for jokes and humour that involve race. None of us want to offend our friends, and knowing which topics and jokes are ‘okay’ is occasionally quite difficult. Often you don’t know where the line is until you’ve crossed it.
My usual policy is to remember that all jokes are inside jokes. Humour is based on a shared perspective on an issue – that both the speaker and the audience see a situation identically. Some comedians (e.g., Mitch Hedburg) are masters at drawing you into a story and then subtly adjusting the perspective, and the laugh comes from realizing that the situation under discussion, or the meaning of a word, is actually quite different than you thought. Others (Louie CK, Sarah Silverman) push boundaries of acceptable social norms based on the shared understanding that both audience and speaker understand those norms. Still others (Chris Rock) point out the absurdity of the norms themselves, holding them up for scrutiny and ridicule.
Humour, in whatever form, requires the audience to be able to share the perspective of the comedian, which in turn requires the comedian to be able to understand the audience. There are many who fail to be funny because they miss this important second step, resulting in awkward and sometimes hurtful situations*. We sometimes feel bad for those whose humour simply doesn’t work because of failed delivery, and cringe at those who try to be ‘edgy’ but instead fall back on ‘crude and mean-spirited’.
That latter group seems to be particularly prone to lash out when their jokes are not appreciated by the audience. When faced with disapproval and stony faces, instead of recognizing the obvious answer – that the joke isn’t funny – there is an all-too-common tendency to blame the audience. The problem is, apparently, that we have a poor sense of humour; that we are just ‘looking for an excuse to be offended'; that we just don’t ‘get it’.
All right, well here’s some jokes. Let’s all have a chuckle.
At the most resent Pep Rally for Waverly High School, located in Waverly NY, the usual fanfare of cheering for the home team to get them ready was in full swing. As the rally progressed you had your usual cheers and rally cries for the fall sports teams and the football team. It seemed to have done well, with Waverly defeating their opponent 70-21. But what happened at that pep rally went much farther than simple cheers. Three white students were to perform a skit in black face, depicting Chris Brown and Rhianna most notibly. In this skit they would display acts of domestic violence as satire to an audience that included not only students but parents, faculty, and various members of the media and community leaders. None of them stopped the skit.
GET IT?! Because Chris Brown savagely beat his girlfriend, hospitalizing her, and then paid absolutely zero price for it. The funny part is that Rihanna was widely condemned for not ‘forgiving’ him fast enough (tee-hee! He never apologized!), and Chris Brown has gone back to the limelight, having paid seemingly no price! And isn’t the brutal beating of women funny? It’s not like a quarter of the female population of the United States experiences it – certainly not a disproportionate number of black women. Of course the real side-splitting part of this story is that, judging by the screen shot in the article, this is a mostly-white school, meaning that none of the students will ever have to deal with the consequences of anti-black racism, which is what makes it so fun to use as mockery!
Hilarious! Let’s have another!
The University of Texas in Austin is reeling from reports of black and Asian students seemingly being targeted and hit with bleach-filled balloons while off campus. Dozens of students, alumni and faculty protested the attacks on campus Tuesday, after four students filed reports with the UT police department Monday saying they had been targeted. Each of the students reported being hit while walking near West Campus apartments, a location that is off UT’s campus, according to Cindy Posey, public information officer for the UT police department.
GET IT?! Because Texas is a state for white people, even though it was taken by force from its original inhabitants by those white people – a basic grasp of history is a well-known joke spoiler. So if you’re going to be at the white people university, looking all… y’know… not white, then it’s fuckin’ high-larious to assault people with dangerous chemicals! Haven’t fallen out of your chair yet? The University of Texas is currently in a Supreme Court battle to reverse affirmative action policies, ensuring that students of colour never get a foothold!
I can hardly contain my mirth. What else have we got in this bag of giggles?
Jason Thompson, the son of former Governor and Wisconson Senate candidate Tommy Thompson, speaking this morning at a brunch attended RNC Chairman Reince Priebus said that “we have the opportunity to send President Obama back to Chicago — or Kenya.” A woman in attendance then chimed in “we are taking donations for that Kenya trip.”
GET IT?! OMG do you guys GET IT?! Back to Kenya! That’s in Africa! And the president is a black guy! And it’s funny because… I shouldn’t even have to explain it. It’s obvious why it’s funny, right? You guys? Right?
What’s the matter? You don’t think that this is funny? Why, just because it’s all based on the abuse of oppressed people? Because it’s cruel and deeply offensive? Because the jokes are built upon an edifice that manifests itself in deeply un-funny ways that result in the suffering and sometimes death of your fellow human beings?
Or maybe you just don’t get it.
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*These too can be played for laughs, as Ricky Gervais is perhaps singularly skilled at.