Sometimes, it feels like the ceaseless watchdog of political correctness has cut the balls off the English language. We have to monitor every word we offer for public consumption.
I’ve never been particularly invested in coloring inside the lines. But I’ve reframed my awareness of what may hurt others as empowering, not limiting.
You can live in denial of progress all you want. Nevertheless, it exists.
Progress can infuriate the public. When 17th century astronomer Galileo advocated that the earth orbited the sun, rather than the other way around, he was tried by the Roman Inquisition and found guilty of heresy. He spent nearly a decade under house arrest until he died.
People don’t like having their belief systems challenged. It took the Catholic Church 350 years to apologize to Galileo, who was unequivocally right.
Progress. With enlightenment, comes awareness. With awareness, comes responsibility.
It’s not that everyone is so damn sensitive. It’s that we’ve made progress as a culture. We’ve learned that language has the power to create injustice. To shape attitudes and influence actions and ultimately determine how people are treated.
I’m certain some people find it offensive when I use profanity. I have an incredible family of readers who show up despite my potty mouth. I’ve also lost an entire population of the reading public because of my language.
When does humor cross over the line from bold and edgy to insensitive and damaging?
Herein lies the problem.
I’m not suggesting that I be the arbiter of humor, but I’ll offer this as a parameter: avoid joking about OTHER people’s anguish.
This does not mean horrific tragedy is off limits. Many people who have suffered through cancer, for example, successfully inject levity into that experience and find it remarkably healing.
But I’M not going to be the one making cancer jokes.
Here’s my short list of what isn’t funny:
1. Rape jokes. This includes rape culture jokes. If you crack jokes about writers jumping on the “anti-rape bandwagon,” you are participating in rape culture.
The “anti -rape bandwagon” is the finest fucking bandwagon in the universe to jump on. I encourage everyone to jump on it until their brains rattle in their skull.
Let me break it down. Anti-rape = good. Anti-anti-rape = bad.
Anyone who is callous enough to resort to this kind of humor has obviously never been close to someone who’s been raped. Once you look into the eyes of a woman whose psyche has a pile of ashes where her hopes and dreams should be, you lose all desire to exploit trauma for a laugh.
If you are accused of contributing to rape culture, and you sneer, “whatever THAT is,” you are officially part of the problem.
2. Heroin jokes. Lives are ruined, careers destroyed and people die from drug addiction. You have been blessed thus far not to have tangled with this demon, but don’t press your luck. One minute you’re tweeting heroin jokes, the next, you’re dropping your kid off at a rehab.
3. Jokes using the word “retarded” or “gay.” Many of us grew up using the word “retarded” to mean stupid, but we were adolescents with no accountability. Words matter. Before you use the word “gay” pejoratively, please check in with someone who has been fired, ostracized, bullied or beaten up for being gay.
4. “JEW” as an adjective. They’re Hanukkah doughnuts, not “Jew” doughnuts. Your lack of education is not an excuse. You have access to enlightenment via Wifi, so take time away from the Buzzfeed quizzes to watch Schindler’s List.
Persecuting Jews is not just a thing of the past. My son lost friends in kindergarten because the parents found out he was Jewish. Yes, Virginia, anti-Semitism is alive and well in the 21st century.
A person can be a Jew. It’s a noun.*
“Jew” is derogatory when used as an adjective.**
If you need this reviewed, ask your Jew boss about it.
*Nouns are person, places or things.
**Adjectives are descriptive words.
5. Boob Obsession. Everyone loves boobs, including me! I also happen to be quite fond of large penises, which I occasionally allude to. Yet, if all I did on Facebook and Twitter was post about big cocks, people would find me repulsive.
Have fun with occasional boob references but don’t devote your ENTIRE SOCIAL MEDIA presence to boobs. Aside from being creepy and desperate, you’re helping embed in our culture that it’s acceptable to reduce women to their frontal charms. You’re sending a message that women’s breasts belong to everyone. Don’t be surprised when your tween boy violates a girl by snapping her bra in class.
This includes tasteless jokes about Breast Cancer Awareness Day, which actually ISN’T about leering at women’s breasts flopping around, unencumbered.
6. “Crazy” jokes. One of the main reasons I never write about my PTSD, anxiety or depression is that I am terribly ashamed. I’m frightened that the people I love will stop loving me if I admit freely to having mental illness. People who glibly tweet jokes about craziness and psychos demonstrate insensitivity and intolerance.
Who among us is in a position to characterize what is crazy? Who isn’t crazy?
I don’t know any sane people. I just know some who are better at hiding their insanity.
A particular stigma has unfortunately manifested around being overly cautious with words, with some asserting that this is tantamount to censorship. I don’t experience refraining from making certain jokes as censorship. I feel empowered and compassionate.
And there’s so MUCH to laugh about in this world. I can probably write an entire post about how I get outwitted by laundry, weekly.
Like any art form, humor needs to be transgressive; it needs to push boundaries. However, exploiting pain for a cheap laugh simply demonstrates a lack of talent.
You’re fortunate to have led a white picket fence life, devoid of addiction, sexual assault or mental illness. On behalf of the rest of us, please choose your joke fodder without fostering a culture of disrespect around different identities and experiences.
What kind of humor do you find offensive? Are we getting overly sensitive, or just the right amount of sensitive?
Do you have a funny joke? Tell it to me. I’m listening.