Friday, March 15, 2013

CAN A JOKE BE BOTH OFFENSIVE AND HILARIOUS?


can it? humans are complicated creatures, that's the simple uncomplicated comeback to all internet challenges, but is it in fact true?

envision the Worst Human Tragedy Ever, WHTE. say your grandparent survived the WHTE, it's been a long time since the event, thirty years, and then he sees a late-night comedian joking about it, talking about ovens and whatnot and tying it to a modern harmless general kitchen sense. is he not supposed to laugh? can he not laugh EVER? would it always be a tremendous everlasting slight to his brethen who weren't so lucky and lost their lives? so he's entitled to merriment, but not for this one joke. however, what if he does in fact laugh? now the grandfather being the stoic man he is would do his darndest to hide the fact he's laughing in front of the children and help and dogs, he'd cover his mouth in a dignified way, reach for a kerchief, but he still laughs, he laughs inside, his brain is snickering at the thought, this is human response.

so then, only certain people have the right to be offended, those who went through it. those who didn't can laugh freely, unburdened by having gone through it, but isn't it offensive to laugh casually at a joke another, especially a loved one, a family member, would be completely wrapped into, a joke which represents the man's very life-and-death struggle, his raison d'etre, his continuing fight for causes, the very spark upon which he gets up every morning and lives another day, his honoring of his beloved fallen? so if he laughs, we can laugh, but only if...but what is we laugh at it and he doesn't, but we can't help ourselves, at that very moment, the joke was funny, there wasn't time to process the fact that it was offensive. the joke lives in the duality of being both funny and offensive.

i'm dusting off my memory banks for this one, but i do remember reading something in college, a pamphlet about Freud and how he thought jokes played into human experience, a joke was a way, a quite healthy way, to deal with trauma, nervousness in a situation, embarrassment at something that just happened to you, the whole "laugh it off" philosophy.

can hard-core feminists enjoy Family Guy the same way others do? is it just because it's a cartoon that it's easier to laugh at core beliefs, to smirk when our very religions and deep-seated faiths are being made fun of in quite hilarious colors and skits? is it simpler to merely laugh at the pretty animated colors? it would be a different story, though, if such heretical ideas and thoughts were presented in a dramatic format, right? if atheism or the WHTE were trashed in an episode of House when the good doctor Gregory House cynically smears your belief in order to make another of his classic rude remarks, another smart one-liner slam at the System? go check imdb, the butthurt on a drama like House type away paragraphs and paragraphs over their hurt feelings, and most of the time, the trolls comply and engage in somewhat elucidating conversation about faith in modern society, what crosses the line, etc. on the Family Guy boards, the butthurt basically get trolled back with "it's a comedy, laugh, relax, it's a joke..."

and that's precisely the point, it's a joke, is it all okay if it's a joke, something meant to be funny? what if it's an attempt to be funny but the joke falls flat and it's not funny to the majority of the room? then it's a mob-rule determination as to whether it's acceptable, if 20 people get it, it's okay, 19 and no. what if the very same line is said seriously rather than by a stand-up with a mic? then it's not okay.

"i bought better ovens at the local Walmart than those used in the WHTE."

that sentence delivered as a joke would elicit either tons of laughs or tomatoes, but the audience knows this is said in jest, it was said trying to get a laugh. if the very same sentence is used in a diatribe in the New York Times over some government policy the author is ranting against, then it is looked upon in a very different light, the line is delivered angrily, seriously, and so it is possibly offensive. what if the author is on the side of those affected by the WHTE? then it's okay, that softens it a bit. if this is on a hate site against those of the WHTE, challenging whether the WHTE ever occurred, it is humanly universally condemned. that i agree with, but again, it comes down to a matter of tone, of the speaking/typing voice, whether it's done in jest or with a stern face.

this bleeds into my theory of jokes, humor, and the NIN/SNL effect. you can view life through two extreme lenses, the Nine Inch Nails lens or the Saturday Night Live lens, both speak to the utter ridiculousness of human existence but with two different paintbrushes. on the NIN side, you have Trent constructing beautifully brutal songs about how life basically sucks and is meaningless, no God, etc., and this is done seriously, he's in pain and wants his listening audience to know it and to share in it through his music. Saturday Night Live approaches this absurdity of life with humor, with tearing down the most sacred of our pillars of faith and reasoning, of touching the untouchable, of making fun of our leaders of supposed high esteem, of making a joke out of the Pope, rape, pedophilia, etc., it's all just another punch line. did the date-rape of those two celebrities make for a good joke? well, if the joke was constructed carefully during the week, and the two comedians chosen to portray the ill-fated lovers came off genuine and with the right accents, and the punches and abuse were staged for comedic effect, it can be a funny joke, something unpleasant and humanly degrading is made to be laughed at. is there a line? is there such a thing as going too far? why does SNL go for a joke rather than not? the bottom line: it's funny. that's all that matters. will the audience laugh even despite knowing it's probably in bad taste to laugh at date rape? bottom line, the result: did you laugh? that's all that matters...yes, you laughed at a joke about the WHTE, you should feel ashamed...or maybe it's just that you're human and couldn't help it, it was an involuntary response of sorts, you chuckled...it was funny, sorry...but it was funny.

is there a line? what does it mean to cross it? is absolutely ANYTHING in bounds? can you say absolutely anything if it's ultimately "funny". does discussing atheism in the lyrics of a pretty melody somehow make it more palatable than would a lecture about atheism among young people dryly droned on by a boring professor in a vest in a college-campus auditorium? who determines if something is funny? if the one who is being made fun of thinks it's okay, then it's okay, let's abandon our human kindness in favor of the laugh, let's not think about human dignity anymore, building people up instead of tearing them down, even people who think it's okay to be self-deprecating to a fault, to their detriment, it's like saving people from themselves...great, nanny state, that's not a topic i want to tackle, i'm almost done with this. take any Comedy Central roast of a celeb, it's okay in this setting to fucking destroy this poor famous person in the hot seat from one C-list comedian to the next B-list actor because the person is in on the joke. however, take these horrid, demeaning, soul-crushing jokes out of the Roast and just look at them in a vacuum. if you were to slam the person in the hot seat with one of these jokes, casually mocking him with one of these jokes as you encountered him on the street on a sunny day, the Roastee would clobber you within inches of your life, and his bodyguards would finish the job. so then it's a matter of setting, if the dude isn't comfortable with you, isn't in on it, it's not okay, even though these are the same exact jokes used. tone, setting, and comfortableness of the one being made fun of, three factors...

...and the fourth, mob mentality. it doesn't matter if single you thinks a joke is in poor taste, if the rest of the room comes to a consensus that the joke was funny, you're out in the cold, your opinion doesn't matter. hey, i thought all opinions mattered, every single human life is precious, right? that was the whole point behind the internet, everyone, every single troll, every person around the world with a keyboard, has the right to type away his little diatribes about this and that and no one can stop them, this is his feelings, his opinions, and he matters, i'm typing this right now, whether you read it or not, the fact is that i was able to give you my thoughts on the matter, my thinking has spread to your reading, Big Brother has a gun to my head and tries to stop me from expressing my true feelings, everybody in the entire world can hate me or think i'm an idiot for typing this, but here it is, it is typed, this happened, i typed this, screw the haters, i have proven that i exist, i'm a human, a human who cowardly hides behind the moniker the late phoenix and will never show his face for fear of recrimination, these paragraphs prove i am alive, have a heart, a pumping heart, and a mind that thinks thoughts, and here are my thoughts, ha ha, you tried to stop me, you tried to troll me into silence, but it's still here, my thought, here for all to see...and examine and ridicule, yes...but for all to mostly see, see, that's the point, read it and you read me, you validate my human existence.
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2 comments:

Kazi G said...

The best comedians are those who have suffered the most in life. True fact.

I have a very offbeat (and sometimes dark) sense of humour, and I laugh probably hardest at jokes in poor taste, even though I know I shouldn't. Perhaps because they should be verboten, they are more appealing? I don't know. I just know I couldn't stop laughing when my morning disc jockeys recently told of a woman in a day care center putting Sominex in the babies' bottles...

:*

~Kazi xxx

T. Roger Thomas said...

I think there is a fine line between being funny and offensive. Not everyone is going to like what you do either way.