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When a Joke Isn’t Funny

November 5, 2013

I’m the queen of uncomfortable humor. I will calmly go about my business as someone says, “That’s what your mom said last night! BOOM!” Then I’ll look up, frown, and respond, “Ew, you’re a necrophile?”

It usually takes a couple seconds to sink in, but when it does, the results are priceless. I guffaw openly as the newly guilty party struggles to compose himself, jaw working helplessly as he tries for, “I’m so sorry…I had no idea…” Of course I reassure him after I’ve had my little fun that it’s all in good humor–my mother may be dead, but that’s no reason for me (and my friends) not to have a laugh at her expense!

I can also tell you any number of Holocaust jokes that would make a seasoned KKK Grand Wizard squirm. And anybody who’s been following me for a while knows how much I love picking on those much-maligned matriarchs of my own culture even aside from my own dearly departed one. And most recently, the number of (figurative, I promise!) cracks that went flying at a film shoot on Sunday in which I sported a disturbingly convincing fake black eye were frequent and flippant enough that I quickly arranged to take some clothing I no longer wear to a local women’s shelter out of sheer guilt.

And yet, while I am the first to defend anyone’s First Amendment rights to free speech in public forums (even if you are a misogynistic, homophobic, Neo-Nazi twat–makes it easier to spot you and guffaw at your idiocy), I will happily admit that there are lines which should not be crossed.

Now, going back to that “First Amendment” statement, that does not mean that I feel the law should step in to enforce those lines…too much of a slippery slope there. But I am absolutely all for private establishments and proprietors, such as those that run most websites and have strictly enforced commenting policies, stepping in to take down any remarks they feel have violated their standards.

And on larger public settings, I feel that people should show a little common decency. But this is obviously not the case, as evidenced by this Twitter “joke” that went viral: “Why are girls so scared of rape? Y’all should feel pride that a guy risked his life in jail just to f–k you.”

I’m trying to figure out if there’s anything about this that isn’t offensive. In an effort to keep myself from drinking a whole fifth of vodka before the sun even sets, I chose to try and derive some small amusement from the fact that whoever wrote this evidently found the full, unabashed writing of the word “fuck” to be more of a taboo than the content of the tweet. Priorties, people.

Naturally, as with everything else, I’m sure there will soon be a backlash of, “It’s just a joke! No one here’s advocating rape or suggesting that rapists not be punished to the fullest extent of the law. Chill out!” Most likely there is already, and my own personal disgust with the matter has kept me from researching the matter fully.

I do hope that it’s true. I really hope that most, if not all, the retweeters (many of them women) think this is simply dark comedy at its darkest, a misguided attempt to play on society’s comfort levels. After all, there’s nothing anyone can say that won’t be offensive to somebody. Hell, I’ve gotten some vicious backlash here for putting forth my opinion that chivalry is outdated, more than I thought the topic deserved.

But there’s a difference between offending somebody and offending large swaths of people. Sexual assault takes place once every two minutes, on average, in the US. Even for a country of 300 million, that’s a soberingly large amount. And this isn’t an issue that, for incalculable reasons, manages to hit one person’s buttons in the right way–this is a violent crime, a personal violation, that has affected a staggering amount of people, most of whom have to live with not only what happened to them, but with the aftermath of a system that is all too frequently incapable or unwilling to bring the aggressor to justice.

So a little common sense here: Would you share that terrible joke with a friend? Great, go for it! Most likely your friends have a similar sense of humor and will giggle appreciatively while silently agreeing that this never goes further than the two of you.

Would you share it with your grandmother? If so, is your grandmother a known racist, homophobe, generally uncomfortable person to be around? If your answer to the first question was “no” or the second “yes,” your joke is unfit for public consumption. Period. Unless you want people to assume you’re misogynistic/racist/homophobic scum, in which case, please allow us to be able to identify and shame you.

Otherwise, you’re welcome to sit in my corner. We can make quips about dead Jewish mothers all night long.

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One Comment
  1. I generally try to save my most offensive and tactless comments for the people who already like me. There’s a time and a place for everything.

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