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 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 ..so 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 .