Funny or Offensive?

I find myself wondering at times about the limits of humor. Ideally, I think that pretty much anything can be made into a joke, but I also don’t know that everything SHOULD. And I think it’s always the case that someone might have their own reasons for not finding a joke funny. While I don’t necessarily think any subject should be off limits, I can totally see why a lot of people aren’t going to find the humor in a joke involving, say, rape, miscarriage, or cancer, even if the joke isn’t intended to belittle such matters. Another important factor, I think, is the angle from which you approach it. For instance, the September 11th terrorist attacks weren’t funny in the least, and I think pretty much any attempt to make a joke out of such a horrible tragedy isn’t going to work. On the other hand, I think there’s potential for humor in such subjects as Bush’s insistence on continuing to read the book about the goat, or the pointless patriotism that resulted. I remember reading something by Mel Brooks where he said that making fun of Hitler and the Nazis helped to remove what posthumous power they might have.

On the other hand, he was offended by Life Is Beautiful, which I haven’t seen, but from what I’ve heard is a slapstick comedy set in a concentration camp. I think that might be a good rule of thumb. There’s nothing remotely humorous about the Holocaust, of course, but the people who carried it out remain ripe for ridicule. I suppose it goes back to how humor, and satire in particular, works better when used against the powerful. The Nazis were powerful in their time, while the people they killed were utterly powerless.

The reason I was thinking about this recently was due to a LiveJournal friend mentioning that she took offense at a comment Amanda Palmer made a few months ago.

I really didn’t think much of this tweet. From what I could tell, she was mocking the idea of ironic product placement, and trying to come up with the most ridiculous organization to which someone could donate money. It seems more like she was trying to make fun of racists, not promote them. But apparently quite a few people took it the other way. Someone directed me to this post, which gives a little more detail on the context, and argues that the comment was hurtful. It seems to me that the author of that entry is missing the sarcasm, but maybe I’m just too willing to give Amanda the benefit of the doubt in this respect. On the other hand, I also thought the product placement in the Lady Gaga video that Amanda was complaining about wasn’t meant to be taken seriously. Or is that just because I can’t understand how anyone could genuinely LIKE Wonder Bread? :P

But then, I don’t have the same opposition to advertising as hopelessly idealistic kids like Amanda do. {g}

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9 Responses to Funny or Offensive?

  1. Angelique says:

    I’ll try to keep this short, but I do have a lot of thoughts on this topic. In general, I feel people mistakenly defend offensive humor by saying it’s edgy; I, on the other hand, think something needs to be truly subversive to be edgy, not merely pushing or stomping on hot-button topics. Most rape “jokes,” in particular, aren’t trying to subvert anything; in, fact, they represent an unfortunate status quo. Additionally, while I don’t think you need to have an experience (eg, being raped, having a miscarriage or had cancer) to see the offense in a “joke” or comment, I also don’t think it’s shocking that most of the people saying these things are not personally affected by them or at risk. So, guys can make rape “jokes” or wear T-shirts with rape punchlines on them because it’s not their reality (or because they don’t think it is; 9% of rapes reported in the US have male victims and, given the under-reporting of rapes in general, this could be even higher). So, Amanda can “joke” about giving money to the KKK because it’s less than real to her, comical even. This is what’s supposed to be humorous or tongue in cheek instead exposing male privilege or white privilege…which shows these people really aren’t subversive.

    • Nathan says:

      Makes sense, although I’m still not entirely sure what the difference is between joking about the Klan and about Nazis. Is it just a matter of time, or what? I do think jokes that reinforce the status quo fall under the general rule I mentioned about how jokes are usually funniest and most effective when directed against the powerful, not the powerless. Which is one reason conservatives tend to make lousy comedians.

      As for being edgy or subversive, I agree that people use these things as excuses WAY too often without actually doing anything out of the ordinary. If it’s the same basic joke that’s been made a billion times before, where’s the subversiveness? Of course, we live in a society where the media can try to bill Lady Gaga as controversial. I like her music, but she’s about as controversial as the Spice Girls.

  2. vilajunkie says:

    …I don’t even know who Amanda Palmer is. And maybe after this I don’t want to know.

    Back on topic, I think most humor is really subjective, no matter how innocent or mean-spirited the joke. After all, I’m sure most straight people would raise their hackles at being called “breeders” by the LGBT community, but among most LGBT people, the idea of straight people as nothing but baby-makers is pretty hilarious.

    • Nathan says:

      Amanda is a musician who was the more significant half of the Dresden Dolls before they broke up.

      I kind of thought “breeders” was more a term used by women who don’t want to have kids against those that do (which would include some lesbians, but not all of them, nor would it be limited to them), but I’ll admit I haven’t heard it much. I do find it amusing, though, and apparently Kim and Kelley Deal did as well.

      • vilajunkie says:

        Yeah, it’s probably used more by “child-free” women, but gay guys use it too. I think “child-free” folk mean it as more of a direct insult than a sarcastic joke, but I could be wrong.

  3. Kal says:

    Both Nazi and KKK jokes are approriate. It’s what they get for being douchbags all those years. If you are offended by that then maybe you need to stop being so sensitive and put your robe or your jack boots away for good. I swear if I hear one person stick up for them or a huge corporation I will lose my shit.

    Time plus what equals comedy again? I forgot. Humour is the way we deal with things and black humor is appropriate for black events. For example, the Catholic Church. They are full targets now for what their reaction to sex scandals have been. I hope I offend someone who supports this institution despite what they know to be the truth. I have no patience for collaborators or those who take evil’s side in anything. Even evil baked goods.

    Hey, you got me good and worked up. How did you slip through the cracks and I missed you all this time. It was in no way intentional my brother.

    Who you got next for me to beat up on? Okay the hairy armpit lady but the jokes just write themselves and that is just lazy comedy.

    In all seriousness I will say that jokes that make fun of the victims are not cool. The perpetrators yes…but not victims. That is classless. Like you said there are enough digs to go along on those that deserve it.

    I do use the word RETARD but that is to criticize BEHAVIOR. I have used the ‘N’ word and FAG but not to put down a person for something they are not responsible for – the way they were born – but to comment on someone’s behavior? Absolutely.

    • Nathan says:

      I think religion in general is often given too much of a free pass when it comes to humor. I can see why people might be offended by jokes about rape or racism, but religion? I think a lot of it is that mainstream religions pretend they’re being persecuted when it’s more often the case that they’re the ones persecuting others. Just because some people think they need to stay on the good side of the Pope in order to get into Heaven doesn’t excuse his cover-up of child molestation.

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