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Hobbes
Some specifics of this have been mentioned before in other threads from time to time... but I thought I'd collate...

So:

Does joking about something, condone it?

i.e. by making racist, sexist, and homophobic jokes, or jokes about rape, molestation, domestic violence, etc., are you actually casting some kind of approval at such opinions or actions?

And, if there's a line to be drawn, where is it? I know plenty of people that will tell a joke about any of the above subjects, but will also be eager to inform you that they aren't racism/sexist/etc.

In terms of mainstream stand-up comedy, I think it has mostly moved forward from the racist/sexist jokes (I'm thinking, in UK terms, of people such as Jim Davidson and Bernard Manning... both still doing the circuits, but not really finding new audiences). However, the likes of Jimmy Carr and Ricky Gervais are a lot more likely to bring comments about rape or pedophilia into a stand-up routine. Although many people find them offensive, they also attract massive audiences. In fifty years, will newer generations look at old footage and cringe?

My step-nephew made the point that, by telling or laughing at (for instance) a "rape joke", you are condoning rape to some extent. Perhaps that is a little severe, and I don't mean it quite as such. The implication is that your laughter might equal - in some people's eyes - an approval of some sort, therefore becoming a contributing factor in other people's actions.

My step-niece, in response to her brother, accused him of being "too serious" and claimed that people know it is a joke and thus treat it solely as such. Some might argue that racist jokes have played a part in the cultivation or perpetuation of racism, and that similar jokes do the same.

What do you lovely people think?
CrazyFooIAintGettinOnNoPlane
I think you are talking about two different kinds of joke which aren't really comparable.

Sexist/racist/homophobic jokes are usually based around some stereotype, and by telling the joke you are perpetuating that stereotype, whether or not you actually believe in it.

With the second kind, (dead babies, rape etc.) the joke is basically the offensive nature of subject matter. It's just the absurdity of treating something that is usually a very serious or taboo subject very lightly. I usually don't find these kinds of jokes all that funny but I don't see anything wrong with them, unless you are telling them in the presence of someone sensitive to the subject (e.g. a rape victim).

I think its ludicrous to suggest that the person telling the joke is in any way giving their approval of rape (or whatever). On the other hand, it is slightly more reasonable (and possibly what the nephew meant) to view the comedian as being disrespectful in some way just by making jokes about the subject at all (i.e. the step niece is "not being serious enough"), but I don't subscribe to this notion myself.
Hobbes
QUOTE (CrazyFooIAintGettinOnNoPlane @ Aug 19 2010, 07:14 PM) *
I think its ludicrous to suggest that the person telling the joke is in any way giving their approval of rape (or whatever).


Indeed... approval might be going too far, I know. But I think the implication in my nephew's comment was that, by making light of a grave topic, it might actually serve to reduce the seriousness of it in other's minds - potentially affecting their ability to empathise, or altering some ethical stances?
voices_in_my_head
I Think it's more or less the entire point of humor - making people laugh at serious situations. People laugh at "inappropriate" jokes because they take those topics seriously - When someone makes a joke about something that is a great source of stress to you (Assuming the joke was actually well set up and whatnot) then you'll likely laugh.

Does laughing at these things mean we'll take them less seriously?
I don't think so, for one.

Comedy, to me, is a very use-and-discard sort of thing. Someone tells a joke, you laugh, you forget about it. I don't really think there's much else to it - there's a gut reaction to laugh, and you do. Doing so doesn't mean you find the subject or situation to be funny - you just found the joke funny.
SPEAKERfortheLOST
I think the book Stranger in a Strange Land got it right with this subject:

<quote>I've found out why people laugh. They laugh because it hurts so much… because it's the only thing that'll make it stop hurting</quote>

That simple idea is very profound. Especially if you consider its applications to all jokes. It would imply that the joke is created to make the pain of the ideas or situations hurt less. Maybe laughing at a bad joke is actually a good thing.

I suppose it all depends on your perspective.
Daria
There's a very appropriate blogpost written about the subject of rape in jokes, in the wake of the recent Penny Arcade strip (both the stupid first one and then the utterly offensive second one), here.

Hobbes, I agree with your step-nephew (and find it interesting that your nephew thinks like that but your niece doesn't): essentially, and especially with rape jokes, it is seen that joking about a sensitive matter even when it is not the punchline of the joke trivialises it and allows for the slow but steady normalisation of the issue into society. Many people argue that joking about something allows for a victim of an issue to regain power and control over it by finding humour in their trauma. However, it is not just victims who joke about sensitive issues- in the most part it is those who have had no firsthand experience with the matter who use empowerment as justification for their actions.

Voices, when you say
QUOTE
Comedy, to me, is a very use-and-discard sort of thing. Someone tells a joke, you laugh, you forget about it. I don't really think there's much else to it - there's a gut reaction to laugh, and you do. Doing so doesn't mean you find the subject or situation to be funny - you just found the joke funny."

by saying that it's a reflex to laugh, you're denying that your brain has anything to do with your reaction of laughing- which isn't true. Yeah, you can laugh from shock, but even by being shocked and laughing, you're making a bond between yourself and the joke-teller and thereby almost approving of the joke and allowing for the topic to be open to more jokes.

We all laugh at un-PC subjects, at things that could be offensive to others, and at downright crude jokes- and everyone has their own boundaries for what is and isn't cool to joke about. However many things joked about are now seen to be in the past, or were once so horribly offensive, that satire of it can be seen as the primary intent of the comedians or sketch. The comedy show Little Britain had a series of sketches where two black and white minstrels would go about their "day to day lives"- one sketch they're eating breakfast and a song comes on the radio that they start dancing to, another they attempt to get a room in a bed and breakfast. They're obviously not trying to bring back minstrel shows- instead they're making fun of the past now that we've got past that*.

To quote part of a comment from that blog:
QUOTE
... And, you know, any decent comedian/comedy writer understands that certain jokes only work coming from certain people, or work in different ways coming from different people. But it's amazing how many people who intuitively understand that nuance when it comes to racial humor, for example, magically can't understand the distinction when it comes to humor about sexual violence.

I think that about sums it up, for me.


*Racism is now much less overt than people blacking up on tv, or Jim Davidson making jokes about "coons". Instead, along with homophobia, sexism, ageism, ableism, transphobia, linguistic discrimination, classism, colorism and any other -phobia, -ist, or -ism, it's mostly just covertly institutionalised rolleyes.gif
Hobbes
QUOTE (SPEAKERfortheLOST @ Aug 20 2010, 03:24 AM) *
I think the book Stranger in a Strange Land got it right with this subject:

"I've found out why people laugh. They laugh because it hurts so much… because it's the only thing that'll make it stop hurting"


I would certainly agree with that to some extent. I definitely make jokes about some tragic aspects of my life, and I definitely mean no harm by them. It helps to be able to reference something painful, yet achieve a smile.

--

Should someone question themselves if they laugh at a joke that could be considered to be "in ill taste"?

I know of a couple, where the girlfriend experienced some sexual assault when she was younger. She finds rape-jokes offensive and sometimes upsetting. To her, the sound of other people laughing at the topic is not a positive one ("They laugh because the truth would be too painful... this is a good release!") but a negative one ("They are laughing at the most traumatic thing a woman might ever go through... the most awful event in my life!"). Prior to their relationship, the boyfriend found these kinds of jokes funny and harmless.

Whilst it would be mature and sensible for the boyfriend to be more sensitive, and carefully consider the comedic material the couple watch, should he now also question the humour? To his girlfriend, his laughter would be hugely disrespectful and would be "making light" of a horrific event in her life. Other women with a similar history might also feel the same way. In this particular case, joking about something traumatic in your life would not be therapeutic, but painful.

The boyfriend may suddenly feel that, now he knows someone who's experienced rape, the jokes aren't actually all that funny anymore. Would he therefore question whether they ever WERE funny?

Maybe the laughter is more representative of ignorance?
Daria
QUOTE (Hobbes @ Aug 20 2010, 03:15 PM) *
The boyfriend may suddenly feel that, now he knows someone who's experienced rape, the jokes aren't actually all that funny anymore. Would he therefore question whether they ever WERE funny?

He should.

QUOTE
Maybe the laughter is more representative of ignorance?

Yes.
Hobbes
QUOTE (Daria @ Aug 20 2010, 02:27 PM) *
...it is seen that joking about a sensitive matter even when it is not the punchline of the joke trivialises it and allows for the slow but steady normalisation of the issue into society


Ah, you have put it far more eloquently than I managed to! This is exactly the idea I was trying to express, and that I feel my step-nephew was suggesting.

QUOTE (Daria @ Aug 20 2010, 02:27 PM) *
Hobbes, I agree with your step-nephew (and find it interesting that your nephew thinks like that but your niece doesn't)


I also find it interesting that my niece doesn't agree with her brother. And again I wonder whether it is about experience, or knowledge of experience? I occasionally work with a 17-year-old girl, who has no qualms concerning jokes about rape. She tells them, and finds them funny. And yes, entirely because of her gender, I do find this curious.

--

QUOTE (Daria @ Aug 20 2010, 02:27 PM) *
However many things joked about are now seen to be in the past, or were once so horribly offensive, that satire of it can be seen as the primary intent of the comedians or sketch.


This is quite a common form of modern comedy, I feel. We find ourselves laughing at the ridiculousness of someone else's racism, or sexism, or whatever-ism. You mentioned Little Britain, and I can also think of a scene in The Office where David Brent (Gervais) begins telling a joke that features racial stereotyping, but halts when a black co-worker joins the circle. He eventually hears the rest of the jokes, completes the punchline himself, and laughs a little. David Brent feels far more comfortable about the joke, now that a member of the punchline's "minority group" seemed to approve.

Our laughter is, I hope, at Brent's faux pas, his lack of social graces, his awkwardness and sudden worry, and then his ill-founded thought that it was actually an okay joke to tell because "he found it funny!".

My worry is that some people cannot see the satire. I'd say everyone on this forum is intelligent to understand Gervais' comedy here (and the sketches in Little Britain, and hundreds of other shows), but I fear that there may be others who don't "get it".

i.e:
Skip back 40 years, and the comedy "Love Thy Neighbour" was on British TV. The key premise of the show, as described by (the fountain-of-all-knowledge:) Wikipedia, was:

[quote]based around a suburban white working class couple who unwittingly found themselves living next door to a black couple, and the white couple's attempts to come to terms with this[quote]

Some viewers saw irony in the show. The script-writers themselves claim it was all written with satire in mind; the leading white male's bigotry towards his neighbour was meant to deride the racism that was prevalent during the 1970's increase in black immigrants. We were supposed to be laughing AT him, and not WITH him.

Others, however, were not viewing the show in quite the same way - instead seeing the white male as a hero, saying the things they were thinking. It was not satire... it was racist comedy.

To be fair, there's plenty of room for argument concerning that particular's shows level of satire vs. blatant racism, but that's not really my point. The query is whether everyone understands the reason for the humour, and what the result is?
Daria
I think this sketch in the Young Ones is a good example of the kind of satire we're talking about. (Warning: racist language used from start.) In this instance, it exemplifies the inherent racism in the police force in the 80s. When tv channels show re-runs of this episode, they bleep out the use of 'nigger' at the end- apparently 'sambo darkie', 'coon', and 'rastas chocolate drop' aren't offensive enough to censor- which I never understood. The Young Ones is only ever shown post-watershed, and the offensive language of the police officer is key to the joke. I can totally see that the whole sketch could be very offensive (especially as racism in the police force is still a prevalent issue) but the main aim of the joke is to take the piss out of the police.
Pikasyuu
I wanted to reply in this thread really badly when it first opened up, but I couldn't organize my thoughts on how I felt. Thankfully, Daria has - I agree with her view here 100%.

Now, so that this isn't a completely useless post..some of you may have seen my campaigning against the casual use of the word 'retard'. Have I used it in a casual setting? Absolutely. I can't speak for anyone else's culture, but on the western end of the United States, kids are raised in a background where calling someone 'retarded' is a completely PC reaction to another person's stupidity. It used to be like that with another word, do we remember that one? We sure do, it's gay, and I'm about as prone to react to homophobia and gay issues as Daria is anti-feminism. Everyone has a button. However, calling people gay in a derogatory way has, in most American homes, been reacted to with negativity and so phased out. We understand that someone's sexuality (or we're beginning to, at least. I have hope for FOX news.) is simply a part of who they are, and wherever that sexuality lies, it can never be a negative part of who they are. So, anyways, back to 'retarded'. Why do I want to phase this out? I don't know anyone personally who is mentally retarded, outside of a few girls I was friends with in gym back in high school. My mother and cousin both spent large parts of their lives teaching special ed. Maybe a combination of several factors brought me to the realization that the word 'retarded' might be pretty f-cking loaded for some people, and that outside of personal connections, it's just not necessary. Sometimes, it's just cruel.

This transitions into jokes in this way - I've made off color jokes. Not often, and not with personal context of any kind, but I have. A survivor and I have made them around/to each other. Again, you'd really have to understand the context to understand why this was somehow okay (and even as I'm typing this, I'm starting to feel that it really wasn't, context or none), but on the whole, jokes that involve the categories Daria listed above usually aren't alright with me unless they're very obviously light-hearted. It takes a certain set of circumstances or mood, or a certain kind of joke to keep me from becoming uncomfortable at the idea that anyone would make light of that subject matter. Sorry, I just can't haha at rape. It's not funny. My personal hangups regarding who tells the jokes, how, and when aren't necessarily the most solid rules for whether or not the joke is actually acceptable either. I wish I could clarify, but I can't - I've found them funny on occasion, with the exception of rape jokes.

Likewise, does someone's orientation or ethnicity change how you feel about the joke? For instance, a gay man aimed an extremely hateful, derogatory string of put downs towards another gay man yesterday, and passed it off as a joke. It was pretty disgusting and no one laughed, obviously, but this person's defense was that they were gay and therefore they could say that kind of thing. I disagree.
Hobbes
QUOTE (Pikasyuu @ Aug 21 2010, 12:20 AM) *
I wanted to reply in this thread really badly when it first opened up, but I couldn't organize my thoughts on how I felt. Thankfully, Daria has - I agree with her view here 100%.


I am glad you've replied, Syuu, because I was hoping you might. And, yes, Daria does a damn good job of delivering eloquent oratory prose in place of the jumbled mess of words that spills from my fingers!

QUOTE (Pikasyuu @ Aug 21 2010, 12:20 AM) *
Now, so that this isn't a completely useless post..some of you may have seen my campaigning against the casual use of the word 'retard'. Have I used it in a casual setting? Absolutely. I can't speak for anyone else's culture, but on the western end of the United States, kids are raised in a background where calling someone 'retarded' is a completely PC reaction to another person's stupidity. It used to be like that with another word, do we remember that one? We sure do, it's gay


As a resident of jolly ol' England, I find that the word "retard" isn't used all that much. Not in any form, or with any intention, to be honest. It did have a brief stint as a 'casual' insult and I actually think, when I consider the generation that took it up, that it might have been as an "American import" smile.gif But, on the whole, I don't hear it that much.

"Gay," on the other hand, was heard a lot throughout my life at school, and even ever-so-occasionally in the adult world. In fact, if I do hear it now, it tends to be in a satirical manner when someone is mocking its usage by other groups. i.e. it'll be flanked with exclamations of "fail" and "pwn" (audibly pronounced as such), and "gay" itself will be implied as being spelt, "gh3y".

But it was used and heard a lot during my time at school. I actually remember telling my two closest male friends from that era - who I walked to-and-from school with - that I didn't like the word being used as such, and that we should make sure none of us ever do. Looking back, I wouldn't be surprised if they thought I might have been on the verge of making some proclamation about my sexuality, and that was the reason for my dislike of the word's usage. But it was not like that all: just a straight guy that took offence... something a lot of others failed to understand.

QUOTE (Pikasyuu @ Aug 21 2010, 12:20 AM) *
Likewise, does someone's orientation or ethnicity change how you feel about the joke? For instance, a gay man aimed an extremely hateful, derogatory string of put downs towards another gay man yesterday, and passed it off as a joke. It was pretty disgusting and no one laughed, obviously, but this person's defense was that they were gay and therefore they could say that kind of thing. I disagree.


This happens a lot: the idea that, as part of the "minority group", it is therefore perfectly acceptable to make jokes concerning your minority. I kind of, "Hey... it's about me too... so it's okay!". Whenever I think of this, I often recall a stand-up routine that I think was performed by Chris Rock (and I vaguely remember Richard Pryor doing something similar too), whereby jokes are made about his own racial group. To make such jokes, as a black man, does that automatically make it satire? Does it therefore make it acceptable? Did white-members of the audience feel it was acceptable to laugh at the routine too?

If you don't personally subscribe to the prejudice yourself, does it automatically make your joke satirical, and therefore "okay" ? i.e. how many times have you heard the words (or a variation of), "I'm not racist but..." before a joke?

In a similar experience to Syuu's, I've seen a gay man make comments/jokes about homosexuality, that made most of his "audience" more uncomfortable than if they'd have been made by a homophobe.
Daria
I like that we agree, Syuu! happy.gif <3

ps.

QUOTE
We sure do, it's gay, and I'm about as prone to react to homophobia and gay issues as Daria is anti-feminism.


Anti-feminism = sexism (towards all genders) (totally IS my button >_>)
gothictheysay
I'm not really sure I know how to express this either, but I feel like laughter at something *can* be a sort of coping mechanism - but it's different for different people, and everyone has different lines to cross, et cetera. I'm surprised at myself how much this has happened to me personally. I've caught myself saying things like "I'd kill myself if I had to listen to him talk again", despite having attempted suicide. It's probably overemphasized and used as an excuse very often, but I still think it's a valid point. And often, when confronted with something we don't know how to deal with, we laugh, so I wonder about that too. I think a lot of things are so ingrained into us that as jokes they seem less urgent - but I don't think that always means we take the issue less seriously. I think it's something that we all should be aware of, but I don't think I take issues like rape or suicide less seriously because sometimes I laugh at jokes relating to them.

That said, I can't think of any sort of joke involving rape off the top of my head that's actually funny, so there's that.

QUOTE
but this person's defense was that they were gay and therefore they could say that kind of thing. I disagree.


I disagree because they were being insulting. I really have no idea how I feel about being part of the group making the joke against the group more acceptable; for some reason I feel like it's another coping mechanism, like "if I can find this funny, I have dealt with it enough so that it no longer offends me", or something like that. I'm not sure if that's what I meant to say. :X Anyway, I think maybe it is relied on a bit too much. I recently put myself in a very awkward situation with a Hitler type joke and tried to assuage the person I offended by mentioning I was Jewish. Didn't help at all, and she was Jewish too. So, bad move on my part. Personally, I think humor helps in a large portion of situations/views in life - not all the time, or all of them, but I just can't take everything seriously all the time.

I think "condoning" would really depend on the joke, and lots of other things surrounding it. And while there are offensive jokes that are funny, there are a lot that aren't. I've taken issue a couple times with jokes my friends have told, but I know they don't have the negative feelings they express. I just let them know where my line is.
Pikasyuu
Me too, Daz. biggrin.gif

So, we've addressed racist, rape, sexual etc. jokes, what about fat jokes? Are those less offensive? Just as? Why?
Hobbes
QUOTE (gothictheysay @ Aug 22 2010, 05:47 AM) *
I'm not really sure I know how to express this either, but I feel like laughter at something *can* be a sort of coping mechanism - but it's different for different people, and everyone has different lines to cross, et cetera. I'm surprised at myself how much this has happened to me personally. I've caught myself saying things like "I'd kill myself if I had to listen to him talk again", despite having attempted suicide. It's probably overemphasized and used as an excuse very often, but I still think it's a valid point


For me, the most notable personal example is making jokes about my mum no longer being alive. It's not an everyday occurence, but often enough. It's usually during times when I guess one would expect me to be more 'upset' (i.e. birthdays, Christmas, Mother's Day, etc.), and is usually along the lines of, "Well... mum didn't even bother getting ME anything for my birthday, why should I get HER something. UNGRATEFUL!" or some similar reference.

I'm absolutely positive that this is my way of 'dealing' with it, since I rarely express any other obvious emotions about it. And I'm okay with it.

I know a few friends that have also lost a parent and some of them do it too. Others don't, but are not offended by me doing it.

However, it is probably safe to assume there would be peope who'd find it difficult for me to say something like that? I don't know...?

And I do recall a friend making a joke about MY mum, and I didn't appreciate that?
Daria
A friend of mine's mum committed suicide a few years back and we've been over and discussed "yer mum" jokes. His point is that the death of a parent (especially when it's suicide) is not something you just get over. You learn to deal with it, to get by day-to-day, but nothing will ever fix it. Having someone continuously going on about his mum is just lamping lame and dredges up all the stuff he keeps to one side so he can get on with life. He doesn't make a big song and dance about it, he either just walks away (litterally) from the conversation, or asks the person not to joke about it. It depends on how well he knows the person- he doesn't want to just guilt trip a stranger/ new person who wouldn't have known that his mum's dead.

I remember watching The Virgin Suicides with him once, only twigging after the first death what the title refers to (yeah... I know >_>) and asked him if he was ok watching it with me. He pointed out that we wouldn't have started watching it if he wasn't cool with it, but appreciated my concern, and then made a joke about his mum.

Hobbes, I think he's very similar to you insofar as it's ok for him to joke about it, but not others- and maybe that's the whole point about using humour in a theraputic way? It's ok for the 'victim' (using it in a broad sense here meaning The Person Who's Affected By A Thing) to joke about their trauma because they are the one bringing it up- in their own time, on their own terms. It is so very not cool for someone else to joke about it because it's not that person's Thing to joke about- they don't have to deal with the emotions and trauma-related-stuff that the 'victim' has to and by bringing it up in joke form in front of the 'victim' it's almost like rubbing their nose in it.
CrazyFooIAintGettinOnNoPlane
QUOTE (Hobbes @ Aug 22 2010, 01:03 PM) *
QUOTE (gothictheysay @ Aug 22 2010, 05:47 AM) *
I'm not really sure I know how to express this either, but I feel like laughter at something *can* be a sort of coping mechanism - but it's different for different people, and everyone has different lines to cross, et cetera. I'm surprised at myself how much this has happened to me personally. I've caught myself saying things like "I'd kill myself if I had to listen to him talk again", despite having attempted suicide. It's probably overemphasized and used as an excuse very often, but I still think it's a valid point


For me, the most notable personal example is making jokes about my mum no longer being alive. It's not an everyday occurence, but often enough. It's usually during times when I guess one would expect me to be more 'upset' (i.e. birthdays, Christmas, Mother's Day, etc.), and is usually along the lines of, "Well... mum didn't even bother getting ME anything for my birthday, why should I get HER something. UNGRATEFUL!" or some similar reference.

I'm absolutely positive that this is my way of 'dealing' with it, since I rarely express any other obvious emotions about it. And I'm okay with it.

I know a few friends that have also lost a parent and some of them do it too. Others don't, but are not offended by me doing it.

However, it is probably safe to assume there would be people who'd find it difficult for me to say something like that? I don't know...?

Of course, death is a sensitive subject for everyone. If someone made a joke about my mother and I responded in a very serious tone that my mother is dead I would expect the other person would probably be more distressed about it than me. Strangely I don't think this has ever happened to me, but it does come up in regular conversation that people presume I must have two living parents, which is kind of awkward (but unavoidable).

Syuu, I think fat jokes can be almost as bad as racist, sexist, etc. jokes as they belittle a group of people based on nothing but appearance, and/or encourage stereotypes of fat people being unable to control their eating or whatever. But I wouldn't consider them as offensive because there's not the same kind of historical discrimination as with the other prejudices, which I think you have to consider.
Pikasyuu
Cool story about the dead parents jokes -
since it's less common for people to joke about dead dads, I've never really been on the receiving end of something like that and therefore have no idea how it feels. and while I don't like to discount my relationship with my dad or what we went through together, I understand my loss isn't the same as, say, if someone had always grown up with their dad and been very close to them the entire time they were alive. he was still my dad and I still love and miss him, and the 'mystery' surrounding his death does make things harder, but I feel like I would be absolutely devastated in a very different way if I lost my mom at this point. we're attached at the hip and we've been through so much together, I just can't imagine it would be the same.

on that note, I made a 'your mom' joke at school not knowing the recipient's mother had passed, and he laughed and went, 'don't talk to me about dead parents, b*tch.' to which of course I responded in kind to let him know I was in the same boat. ..of course, fifteen minutes later I felt awful about the mistake and went up and hugged him and told him I was sorry (to which he was very sweet!), but it does beg the question, should people be blamed for accidentally making jokes about sensitive subject matter when it isn't always commonly sensitive? like someone's parents? or should they just skip joking about anyone's parents at all to be careful?
CrazyFooIAintGettinOnNoPlane
QUOTE (Pikasyuu @ Aug 23 2010, 01:51 AM) *
but it does beg the question, should people be blamed for accidentally making jokes about sensitive subject matter when it isn't always commonly sensitive? like someone's parents?
No, as long as they don't continue to do so after they have been made aware of the reason for it.

The post Daria linked to mentioned jokes acting as a trigger as being one of the reasons why we shouldn't tell rape jokes, which I definitely disagree with. True, in this specific case we're not losing much of value by just not telling the jokes, but if you apply the same idea more generally, then I think you would need to apply an unreasonable amount of censorship not just to comedy, but to any form of entertainment and to every day life, essentially making it more of a taboo subject. I don't think this even helps the victims because the less acceptable it is to talk about it, the harder it is for them to seek help.

If you disagree on this point then I have the following questions:
  1. Is it ok to portray rape (as in any situation where one person is coerced into having sex without giving consent) in movies?
  2. If so, should the cinema be required to warn viewers of this before they see the film (in addition to the standard film ratings)
  3. If not, what is different about going to see a comedy show aimed at an adult audience?
  4. Is there anything different about any of these (all potentially traumatic) subjects?
    • domestic violence
    • war
    • bullying


I find the second argument to be a stronger one (joking about the subject trivialises it) but I'm not totally convinced. I think this would depend on the actual joke.
Daria
QUOTE (CrazyFooIAintGettinOnNoPlane @ Aug 23 2010, 07:16 PM) *
If you disagree on this point then I have the following questions:
  1. Is it ok to portray rape (as in any situation where one person is coerced into having sex without giving consent) in movies?
  2. If so, should the cinema be required to warn viewers of this before they see the film (in addition to the standard film ratings)
  3. If not, what is different about going to see a comedy show aimed at an adult audience?
  4. Is there anything different about any of these (all potentially traumatic) subjects?
    • domestic violence
    • war
    • bullying


That's an interesting point you bring up- however I feel that it would depend on how the rape is being portrayed. The conclusion of "well, it depends..." is an annoyingly vague but very apt one in this whole minefield of very subjective interpretations.
gothictheysay
QUOTE
Hobbes, I think he's very similar to you insofar as it's ok for him to joke about it, but not others- and maybe that's the whole point about using humour in a theraputic way? It's ok for the 'victim' (using it in a broad sense here meaning The Person Who's Affected By A Thing) to joke about their trauma because they are the one bringing it up- in their own time, on their own terms. It is so very not cool for someone else to joke about it because it's not that person's Thing to joke about- they don't have to deal with the emotions and trauma-related-stuff that the 'victim' has to and by bringing it up in joke form in front of the 'victim' it's almost like rubbing their nose in it.


I kind of agree with this - and my mother has passed also so I run into these awkward situations as well. I can usually brush off "your mom" jokes pretty easily coming from strangers - if someone knows my mom has passed, then that's a different story. Usually it's okay because I know they weren't thinking, but sometimes I do feel awkward. I don't usually joke about my mom - I may joke about situations surrounding her, though, and I think it is a way of coping. Like "when do telemarketers update their data? Mom's been dead for ___ years and they still call for her." Luckily this doesn't come up often other than "your mom" jokes.
Hobbes
Generally, if an 'unknown' mentions my mother, I don't usually correct them - I just bring a close to the conversation. Actually, the only people I would correct are people that already know the situation anyway.

There has been a couple of times when someone has made a "your mum" joke in my direction (usually along the lines of "That's what your mum told me last night, hahahahahaha..." etc.), and I've replied with something like, "Well... I'm not entirely sure how you have sex with ashes, but whatever floats your boat...". However, the original comment has never been meant with any malicious intent - and is often almost satirising teenage life - so it's all fairly harmless.

The last time this happened, it turned out that the guy who made the joke had also lost a parent, and often dealth with it in a similar way. To reiterate, there was no offence involved, and none taken. But deciding what to do in those situations is difficult - often I don't really feel like telling someone my family history!
Hobbes
QUOTE (Pikasyuu @ Aug 22 2010, 06:01 AM) *
So, we've addressed racist, rape, sexual etc. jokes, what about fat jokes? Are those less offensive? Just as? Why?


I think many would argue that fat jokes are less offensive because, perhaps, there is more choice involved in being overweight? That's not to say that the struggle individuals have with their weight is any more/less trivial, but the racist/homophobic/sexist/disability jokes are - essentially - based on characteristics that people have no control over whatsoever.

I haven't been to very many stand-up comedy shows, but there's been uncomfortable moments at all of them. Perhaps not for the whole audience, or even the comedian, but occasionally just for me. At the last one, jokes were made about obesity, down's syndrome, wheelchair-users, etc. All of them, in my opinion, made with a great deal of satire involved. I would say that the comedian is offensive in terms of language, and subjects, and some of the ways he deals with the content... BUT... I would never say that the comedy is sexist/homophobic, etc.

But, regardless, the point I was on my way to making...

In all of the jokes that were made, a member of the "target-group" was sitting in the audience. An extremely overweight lady was sitting two seats away from me, and happily laughed along at the fat jokes. A young man with downs syndrome, and seated in a wheelchair, also visibly enjoying the entire show. Some people would claim that, because they were laughing, then the jokes must be okay and that nobody else should feel awkward about the inappropriateness of it all?

I think perhaps there's an eagerness to lump people of a particular minority in together, and assume that any one individual is representative of the whole. Obviously this isn't a new idea, but what I mean is: "Well, THAT black man didn't think the joke was racist..." or "THAT disabled person wasn't offended, why would any other?".

But, should the negative responses to a joke always outweigh the positive? In other words, the majority of people might find a joke funny, satirical, ironic, etc. and have no issue with the content whatsoever, but what if a couple of others find it insensitive and offensive?
gothictheysay
QUOTE
But, should the negative responses to a joke always outweigh the positive? In other words, the majority of people might find a joke funny, satirical, ironic, etc. and have no issue with the content whatsoever, but what if a couple of others find it insensitive and offensive?


I think that is essentially the problem - any joke that is about a sensitive subject is almost bound to offend someone. But where do we as individuals draw the line? It seems like it is so very subjective and there isn't a real answer. I've heard fat jokes that were funny and some that offended me since I am a little overweight and struggle with my self-image. If a joke is more of an attack on the group of people, that's one thing - I've been turned off of comedians who seem to enjoy relentlessly making jokes about a particular group (Carlos Mencia comes to mind...) But if it is really meant as a joke, there is such a high level of subjectivity involved.
Hobbes
Everybody is going to take the jokes in an entirely different way: some will be deeply offended by it, some disgusted, others might be slightly amused, and another group might be commiting it to memory for hilarious repetition. So yes, it might seem that the question, "Is it offensive...?" might be unanswerable.

But, does that mean the joke-teller is now devoid of responsibility? Since people are going to make up their own minds regarding a joke's appropriateness, our controversial comedian might therefore be able to step away from blame and declare: "I tell the joke... it is not my fault if some people find it offensive, and others not."
gothictheysay
Good point. I don't think that makes the joke-teller less responsible. If anything they have more responsibility as almost anyone could find a joke offensive, and they have to take that into account. Obviously they shouldn't go as far as telling only "politically correct" jokes, but it is up to them to decide how much of an impact their offensive joke will make. It would be interesting conceptually if the comedian could step away from blame, but I don't think any audience would see it that way.
oxym0ronical
Just wanted to insert my $0.02 for a couple of the issues brought up.

I am the director for a domestic violence / sexual assault shelter / victims of all crime program. Part of the way we deal with the work we do is to make jokes about situations that probably nobody else would find humor in. In a sense, to deal with the horrors that we have to face on a daily basis, we develop an often morbid sense of humor. But, in no way do we condone rape, domestic violence, child abuse, elder abuse, etc. And, if any of my employees ever made a tasteless joke where others who do not work in our field / do not have the same sense of humor (coping mechanism as it were) were present, my employees would be reprimanded.

I would never purposely make a joke that I know would offend someone who is present. Treat others as you'd like to be treated and all of that jazz.

That said, how in the world could fat jokes possibly be more "ok" than the other types of jokes? Are they not still hurtful? I am fat. I have been fat all of my life. I have medical issues that make it more difficult to lose weight, though I constantly work on it. My cousin doesn't - she's just incredibly lazy and has no desire to change her life. So where do you draw the line? Is it okay to make a fat joke in front of my cousin, because it's her fault that she's fat, but not okay to make a fat joke in front of me?

I guess the bottom line is a combination of intent and simply knowing your audience. Time and place matters. Context is important.
gerbilfromhell
While this is hard to argue, I really think that, if you're in company which you know to not hold the stereotypes you're joking about, that making the jokes doesn't further the stereotype. There's a million and a half problems with this, I know, but I've always found that when listening to someone else tell an offensive joke, it's not too hard to tell if they at least partially believe the stereotype they're referring to. I have a strange group of friends in that some of us are relatively un-prejudiced as far as we can tell and others are legitimately racist or sexist. We also tell a lot of offensive jokes very often, but then often end up as a result in more serious discussions about some prejudice (which I honestly think has made some of them less prejudiced, but then again I'd like to think that even if it wasn't true...).

That being said, people need to be tactful. Not just in terms of not telling an offensive joke around someone whom the joke might apply to, but also when you're with people you don't know well enough to know if they'll be offended or not. So, if you tell a joke and someone gets offended, I think you still bear responsibility for not keeping in mind other people's sensibilities.
Hobbes
I've been reading some of this lately: "The Naked Jape: Uncovering The Hidden World of Jokes", by Jimmy Carr & Lucy Greeves.

For those that don't know, Jimmy Carr is an English comedian who often tells jokes that are sometimes considered as "offensive". The majority that fall into that category will cover something like rape, child molestation, or disability. This isn't ALL his content, mind you, just SOME of it. I have been to see him perform stand-up live, I have several of his DVDs, and often watch the TV programmes that he hosts, or features on (there was a time when you couldn't turn on Channel 4 WITHOUT seeing his round little face...). So, obviously, I like his humour. And my personal perspective of his 'work' is that there is no malicious intent, and he's certainly not condoning such actions as rape, etc. There's a definite sense of irony, and he believes his audience understands it.

I guess the stance is: It is a joke ABOUT the subject, not a joke AT the subject.

Anyways...

The book does have a chapter about the possibly offensive nature of jokes. It would be difficult and lengthy to cover it all here, but there's a couple of particularly interesting things written:

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Comedian Rowan Atkinson spoke eloquently in defence of our right to joke about other people's ideologies, a right he and many others felt would be threatened by [a change in the law, criminalising incitement to racial and religious hatred]:

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To criticize people for their race is manifestly irrational but to criticize their religion, that is a right. That is a freedom. The freedom to criticize ideas - any ideas - even if they are sincerely held beliefs - is one of the fundamental rights of society, and a law which attempts to say you can criticize or ridicule ideas as long as they are not religious ideas is a very peculiar law indeed. It promotes the idea that there should be a right not to be offended, when in my view, the right to offend is far more important than any right not to be offended, simply because one represents opennes, the other represents oppression.


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A joke defies definition, defies control, because it's a scrap of chaos pinned proudly to the lapel of the individual in defiance of society. The artificial collectives of state, of received opinion, of religious dogma tend towards deep suspicion of jokes and the chaos they represent, their refusal to be suppressed or supervised. All the more reason to celebrate the freedom to joke, and our right, in the process of joking, to offend occasionally: that's something worth fighting for.


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No matter how risky the subject matter, no matter how much it shocks our elders and betters, there's something safe about a joke. It deals with the riskiness so neatly, taking all the sting out of it... We prize jokes for this ability to render things harmless, reflecting the distant origins of laughter as an expression of relief at a threat diffused.


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Perhaps the joke itself is never offensive. It is up to the individual as to whether they "take offence". But then... maybe it is also up to the teller to do their best not to share the joke in front of people who are likely to take offence. i.e. buying a ticket to see Jimmy Carr live would not be sensible for someone who doesn't enjoy that kind of humour. Similarly... watching certain TV programmes, being with certain people, etc. Sure, if something is new, you just don't know whether you are going to like it or not. But I think most of us can make an educated guess.

I'd like to say, "No joke is offensive..." but I think that is too broad a statement. I consider myself relatively unshockable, but I've been unhappy with some jokes. But I'd certainly be happy to say that a joke-teller should be aware of his audience when it comes to certain topics.

I often laugh when I heard about complaints to TV companies that run along the lines of, "I sat and watched the hour-long programme, and was repeatedly offended and disgusted by its content!". Surely it would be sensible to have stopped watching after the first instance of being offended?
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