2. You're never "just joking." Nobody is ever "just joking." Humor is a social act that performs a social function (always).
— Jason P. Steed (@5thCircAppeals) August 9, 2016
Jason Steed’s tweet storm has gone viral, and with good reason. He tackled the idea that Trump was “just joking” about that whole 2nd amendment people taking care of Clinton.
But in a certain sense, it doesn’t really matter what Trump intended. This tweetstorm, from Dallas lawyer Jason P. Steed, explains why.
Before becoming a lawyer, Steed was an English professor. He wrote his PhD dissertation on “the social function of humor” and found something important: Jokes about socially unacceptable things aren’t just “jokes.” They serve a function of normalizing that unacceptable thing, of telling the people who agree with you that, yes, this is an okay thing to talk about.
This, Steed explains, is why “it’s a joke” isn’t a good defense of racist jokes. By telling the joke, the person is signaling that they think racism is an appropriate thing to express. “Just joking” is just what someone says to the people who don’t appreciate hearing racist stuff — it shouldn’t matter any more than saying “no offense” after saying something offensive.
Likewise, Trump is signaling that assassinating Hillary Clinton and/or her Supreme Court nominees is an okay thing to talk about. He’s normalizing the unacceptable.
This is very much the same as the standard you walk past is the standard you accept, but people are always trying to exempt humor from that, and it is not exempt, in spite of all those who wish it to be.