This morning after teaching in PA this weekend, driving back during Snowmaggedon 2018, and taking a me day, I read this:
The Day The Laughter Died: Social Justice and the War on Funny — @Pussy_LiquorNE
And some of this I agree with. After all, my favorite movie of all time is Blazing Saddles, which many younger people are just horrified at seeing.
So, there are three primary issues I see right now with these sorts of things:
1. There is no clear way back.
These issues can raise their heads a million times over, and there is never enough. This is a problem. I agree.
I once, when I was teaching a class on fitting pants when I was 23, talked about fitting a small waist and flared hips (very difficult in jeans and pants, BTW), and I mentioned that it was a figured loved by black men.
At the time, I was married to a black man (who had told me that very thing), and I was making what I thought was a joke.
I was called out as racist in both the class and in the comments sent to the event organizers.
I was also completely naive and had no negative intentions at all.
This was not on a world stage. It was not in the days of social media, so it could get spread everywhere. It also was a very different time for the world in general, and our understanding (her-well, she was woke, but ours as a collective) was different.
I apologized to both the individual and the event, and explained myself to the event hosts (because they asked). I was forgiven by both parties.
Done. Moved on.
2. There has NEVER been a clear way out of hell for the people being mocked.
Sure, if we are privileged (and I am, in many ways), it’s easy to say, “It’s just a joke,” “Grow a thicker skin,” and “Stop being such a snowflake,” when we laugh at others.
After all, we laugh at jokes that target us, right?
Thing is, when it comes right down to it, the equality of treatment has been way off balance for so many years that there is NO WAY we can understand what it means to be picked on YET AGAIN for something we can’t control.
For example, in comments on a recent writing, There were people who were upset about being labeled cis, or gender-conforming to their assigned sex at birth.
They feel it’s a term used perjoratively, to make them feel/look bad to the public at large.
Thing is, this is a VERY recent phenomena for most of us. Like past couple of years.
Trans, homo, black and many others have been bandied about for decades in various ways, used perjoratively to LABEL others as NOT BEING NORMAL.
And people are crying about a few years, and a few social groups, when others have lived their entire lives being labeled.
Add to the fact that those of us who are privileged are generally given greater benefit of the doubt in the systems that matter (social, monetary, etc), and are forgiven more easily (because power) when we do fuck up.
So, there is that balancing #1.
3. Laughter is NOT always an indication of something being funny. And something being funny is not necessarily and indicator of goodness.
ANYONE who has ever laughed along with something that made them feel small knows this, even if we don’t always bring it to mind.
Jokes are rarely JUST JOKES. They have truth in them. Sometimes a LOT of truth, and the defense that it is a joke is just that. And no one believes it anyway.
Some thoughts on what is funny and laughter:
“But while the average adult laughs 18 times a day,  laughter isn’t a reliable indicator. Researchers found only 10 to 20 percent of remarks that prompted laughter to be remotely funny. ”
“One general theory, put forth by a decidedly non-zany murderers’ row of Plato, Aristotle, Hobbes, Descartes, and Baudelaire, holds that we are amused when we are made to feel superior to others. Freud, for his part, suggested that forbidden things are hilarious (because humor is a pressure valve for repressive psychic energy). Yet another approach, pioneered by Kant and Schopenhauer and affirmed by Henny Youngman, sees humor as arising from incongruity: When conventions are undermined by an absurd situation, we’re tickled.”
(Note: Two of those three reasons for laughter or “funny” are not at all funny, when we really think about it.)
There are others posited in the article, although these are the three I’ll focus on here as potentially problematic.
You’ve heard of ‘fight or flight,’ right?
Well, that’s not actually all of the puzzle. It’s ‘fight, flight, freeze forget or friend.’
The friending or fawning response refers to the inclination to cooperate or submit oneself to one’s threat or captor.
To laugh when they laugh, even when you feel more like crying.
Or to laugh when surrounded by a majority of people laughing, so you don’t stand out, become the butt of even more jokes, or possibly put yourself in physical danger.
So, when people laugh, sometimes it’s not because things are funny. And sometimes it’s because they are funny and malignant (like feeling superiority).
And people who don’t find anything funny about being gay won’t ever think to make a joke of it any more than they might make a joke about water being wet.
As Chrissy Teigen said:
“I’ve gone my entire life without saying the n word. Not when singing a song, not out loud, not in my head. It really isn’t that hard. The trick is to just…not say it. And boom! You’ve never said it and there’s no tape of you saying it.”
And THAT is possibly one of the biggest challenges in all of this.
Is that we are often too full of fears to sort what is funny (surprising/absurd) from what makes us laugh in self-defense to KNOW what is right an wrong, and the hurt we have caused is creating a HUGE backlash that can’t be calmed with a few apologies that MIGHT be sincere or might be a sop to the world, so it can respond to that stressor by forgetting.
And that is not acceptable, if we are all going to grow and change.
So, I don’t have the answers. I never have claimed to.
I will simply do my best and keep an open mind, and own up when I fuck up and speak up when I think people are being unfair.