Sunday, March 22, 2009

It's Not Funny

We are all familiar with President Obama's gaffe. He compared his low bowling score to one that a Special Olympic's contestant would have. By trying to be funny he insulted the combatants on the Special Olympics team. He had to immediately apologize.

He isn't the only one who had to apologize for an inappropriate stab at humor. I recently forwarded an ethnically inappropriate e-mail joke I received and was chastised by one of the recipients. The rebuke was justified and it made me aware of how insensitive I had been in spreading a hurtful stereotype about a group. It started me thinking about the jokes we tell.

Underneath most humor is an element of truth or it wouldn't be funny, but there is a darker element of cruelty as well.

Jokes are, by their nature, politically incorrect. Think of all the subject matter of current jokes making the rounds. 1) Dumb blonds 2) Dumb Poles (Polish) 3) Jewish Princesses 4) Irish drunks 5) Italian mafia types, 6) Welfare Blacks and many others. Elders are especially singled out for humor. We are portrayed as senile,
poor drivers, incompetent, incontinent, suffer from erectile dysfunction, memory loss, etc.

Individuals are not immune from this kind of humor. Sarah Palin jokes come to mind, George Bush provided a wealth of material with his garbled sentences, Bill Clinton was the butt of sex jokes, and now Barack Obama is getting his share of fame on the comedy circuit. Even the Pope is not immune. Is this the price of fame? Is it okay to tell jokes about anyone in the public eye?

If the joke is true about a certain individual, or a certain type within the larger group, but is attributed to the entire group it helps to spread prejudice by making an assumption that this is the normal behavior of the entire group. This is particularly true of ethnic jokes, although it can apply to 1) Political parties 2) Religious sects 3) Gays, etc.

When Jay Leno or David Letterman tell offensive jokes the audience roars. Does the guilt lie with the person telling the joke or the masses who find it funny? Or is there any guilt to be assigned?

They say that comedians are unhappy people in their private lives. Is humor a way of compensating? Do we laugh at others to soften the dissatisfaction within ourselves? These are a few of the unanswered questions I have about jokes.
  • Is humor a hidden way of stereotyping?
  • Is it okay to laugh at ourselves but not at others?
  • Is it okay if others laugh with us if the joke is on them?
  • Would comedians be able to find enough material to tell jokes if they had to be politically correct?
  • Are we too sensitive and do we take offense too easily?
  • Are we all guilty of telling offensive jokes?
  • Would it be impossible to find enough humor without offending someone or some group?
  • Is laughter, as a way of relieving stress in our lives, worth the possible hurt it might cause someone?
  • Should we just lighten up and take a joke for what it is; even though it is politically incorrect?
  • Is there a fine line we can draw?
I do not have easy answers. I can laugh at myself and even laugh with others at my expense if it isn't meant to be cruel. I do not find it funny at all if someone is using humor as a hidden way to zap me and that is MY fine line.

I have always been proud of the fact that I have no prejudice and try to always be tolerant. That makes me doubly and deeply sorry that I was hurtful in sending that offending e-mail.
I have promised myself to be more sensitive in the future. I will try to find that fine line before thoughtlessly and mindlessly parroting old jokes. Sometimes we have heard those jokes, or variations of them, so often that we think it's acceptable.

With all of my unanswered questions I will leave you with an elder joke that this old gal laughed at.

It was a small town and the patrolman was making his evening rounds.

As he was checking a used car lot, he came upon two little old ladies sitting in a used car.

He stopped and asked them why they were sitting there in the car Were they trying to steal it?

'Heavens no, we bought it.'

'Then why don't you drive it away.'

We can't drive.'

Then why did you buy it?'

'We were told that if we bought a Used car here we'd get screwed we're just waiting.

P.S. This will be my last post until I return from California April 2. It will take me a few days to catch up so don't hold me to a specific date. I will try to get organized and resume blogging as soon as possible .


Granny Annie said...

Okay, I can see you now. WhooHoo! About political correctness -- it sucks!

Femin Susan said...

Those are absolutely fascinating. Wonderful post! Blessings to you and your family……

lilalia said...

I spent many years in the lunch room of our company listening to the most sordid jokes a group of male engineers could come up with. Some days they scrapped the bottom of the barrel, and the jokes were cruel, racist, and not funny. Other days they were bawdy, droll, and quite funny. On good days I stayed around and finished my lunch. Other days I left quietly, but demonstratively having lost my appetite with the sickness of their jokes.

The fact that public figures have to apologize for making a stupid comment or one with a jab, is rather pathetic. I agree with Granny Annie that political correctness is a miserable state of affairs. When did we all get so ###*%& sensitive?

Have a wonderful trip!

Darlene said...

Granny Annie - so glad I made it legible. Thanks for coming back.

Femin Susan - Thank you for your visit and kind words. I hope you return after I return. ;-)

Lilalia _ Yeah, there are good jokes and then there are the other kind. Men seem to love bawdy jokes. I blame the press for making a big issue of a simple gaffe. Thank you for your good wishes for my trip.

Looking to the Stars said...

Darlene, I have done the very same thing not seeing that it might hurt someone. I do think we have gotten too far off the path, we need to be able to laugh at ourselves and each other. We have gotten too senstive and we demand our public figures to be perfect, its very sad. You have a good trip, will be looking forward to more of your posts when you return :)

Lydia said...

You've asked some important and potent questions in this post. I cringed when I read about Obama's statement, but I absolutely could feel the moment and see myself saying something like that. Thank goodness he didn't say this during the campaign....the Palin camp might have actually been able to use it effectively enough to.....oh, I can't even think about it.

Have a great trip. "See" you upon your return.

joared said...

Interesting question you raise here. Jokes can mask aggression and be insulting. So, guess they have to be subjected to individual perceptions. The joke teller needs to be sensitive to their audience as you have acknowledged being.

I've heard a number of comedians make a point of saying they had very happy childhoods and family life, so guess we can't assume they all had unhappy backgrounds.

Enjoy your trip to Calif.

Tabor said...

Funny jog and not necessarily un-PC. Your post reminded me of the comedians of my generation (the Smother's Brothers, George Carlin, etc.) and wondered if they had been less controversial would people have listened to the message behind the jokes.

Tabor said...

I guess by "jog" I meant joke/blog!!
My word verfication is 'herse'---is that an elder joke?

Anonymous said...

There are just too many of us sitting around waiting for an opportunity to play "Gotcha". We are ready to strike out in this passive/aggressive activity at the least excuse. It isn't that we've lost humor...but that we've lost civility. Please forgive me my gaffes as I will try to forgive you yours!
Cop Car
P.S. Hope your trip goes/is going well.

Sylvia K said...

Terrific post, Darlene! Have a great trip!

Rinkly Rimes said...

It's so terribly difficult to be Politically Correct! Here Aborigines used to be called Abbos. Now, if someone uses the word it's supposed to be insulting. Yet I'm called a Pom, (an Australian from Britain), and nobody turns a hair, including me!

20th Century Woman said...

I hope you are having a great trip. I'm off to Alaska tomorrow. I tried to leave a long comment yesterday and somehow it got lost.

Joy Des Jardins said...

Great post Darlene. I've always been a believer in being able to laugh at one's self; but I've never believed in being insensitve or cruel at another's expense in the process. And I don't think Obama meant to do that any's not his make-up. Blown out of proporation by those who want to blow it out of proportion....

Have a wonderful trip Darlene...

millie garfield said...

Great post, lots to think about.

Hope you had a wonderful trip and are home safe and sound.

Darlene said...

Thanks to all who wished for me a good trip. When I catch up I will post some of the photos I took and you will see that I enjoyed it muy mucho.