The power of controversial jokes: hurtful or helpful?
It’s no joke by Angelina Ye
Why did the chicken cross the road? To escape people mocking its struggle.
Humor is a wonderful tool that can serve as a remedy for many of the problems that riddle our lovely society. And, as the world becomes more accepting of diversity, it can sometimes be difficult to know when to draw the line for jokes about race, gender or other sensitive topics.
So if you make a joke, then find yourself asking, “Is this racist?,” “Is this sexist?” or even “Is this offensive?,” let me break it down for you, nice and easy.
Don’t joke about things you don’t get.
Still confused? Here’s an example: guy sees girl, guy makes joke about period. It was offensive. Why? Because guys will never be able to truly understand what it’s like to endure a single period, much less monthly ones, or irregular ones. Have they ever felt the pain of cramps? Have they ever been falsely accused of “PMSing”? Have they ever needed to hide pads and tampons because society is not only unaccepting of the natural process known as menstruation, but even has public figures trivializing it? No, they haven’t.
The rule is simple: If you do not understand whatever you’re making fun of, you are not entitled to tell whatever wisecrack one-liner you’ve been saving up, because you have never experienced the same struggle, discrimination and/or stereotyping. These so-called “jokes” do not break down social stigmas; they build them up. They turn part of someone’s identity into a point of pain.
Even if a joke seems absolutely harmless to you, there is no guarantee that a member of the group you’re poking fun at would agree. As slam poets Belissa Escoloedo and Rhiannon McGavin put it, “We can joke about it, because it’s ours to joke about, similar to how our bruises are ours to poke at and yours to keep away from.”
It would be so easy to just call me another SJW who gets “triggered” too often and talk about how “Oh those dumb liberals/feminists/millennials/people are so annoying,” but it’s time to face the music and realize that some jokes are simply unacceptable for if we want to maintain a level of tolerance, acceptance and diversity in society.
This is not about creating barriers of political correctness, but rather about being respectful to people, their unique experiences and their identities. This is about decreasing exclusion in a society where marginalized groups already face untold discrimination.
In conclusion, please remember: do no harm.
(I swear to everything green and good on this planet, if someone asks me whether I was PMSing when I wrote this, I will most likely slap them. Hard.)
Humor helps by Sanghoon Oh
Danish philosopher Søren Aabye Kierkegaard famously said that humor is based upon suffering, be it your own or someone else’s. Obviously, suffering isn’t funny, but I think Kierkegaard’s point was that humor can help us make sense of the world around us—both the good parts and the bad parts. If certain things are taboo, we never laugh about them, but we also never talk about them.
Even top comedians like Louis C.K.engage in black humour, but we find his jokes funny because of the way he presents the situation.
We joke about the TSA and their “random” security checks, but jokes that are amusing come from exaggerating how unrealistic the number of terrorists are caught by the TSA and their procedures. People joked about the absurdities of a Trump presidency because people never thought it would be possible.
Such jokes, however, require precise execution and articulation to be perceived as one. Tone is vital — being too serious comes off as a statement of intention. It is vital that you act more absurd in tone than needed to make sure that people disassociate themselves with the subject matter.
We’re able to laugh at jokes when we’re detached from the topic. We joke about Hitler because we’ve been desensitized to the horrors of war. We joke about death because we can’t perceive ourselves as a corpse.
As such, when you are making jokes about serious topics that still affect people today, consider the reality of others. What you may think is unrealistic may be the very thing that others have experienced.
We all experience Schadenfreude, a pleasure from other’s suffering. jokes like “When I die I want to be shot out of a cannon… and into a children’s birthday party” people find it funny because of how unexpected and absurd the situation seems. Most people are not laughing at the trauma the kids face. When we’re making jokes, we need to make sure that the punchline is the situation, not the people in it.
Only by making jokes are we are able to push the envelope to test our humanity. We have the ability to make fun of things in the world, and seemingly terrifying jokes help us to see what we are willing to tolerate as a society. Jokes essentially become a way to measure the pulse of the public’s conscious.
It’s also misleading to say that all jokes about stereotypes do more harm than good. Jokes about race, religion, gender and sexuality often poke fun at stereotypes and help us realize how absurd our own assumptions about others can be. Not to mention, it can also be difficult to discuss controversial, potentially offensive issues without a little humor thrown into the mix. Like it or not, making jokes about sensitive topics brings them into the conversation, and that’s a step in the right direction.