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when humor goes wrong

July 7, 2010

So, I read a lot of blogs. This shouldn’t surprise you. I read a lot of liberal blogs. Progressive blogs. Feminist blogs. Queer blogs. Blogs that advocate for issues that most people have never even considered being something you advocate for. Unsurprisingly, the people on these blogs are often angry about something. Often that something is an attempt at humor in the mainstream media, which they found offensive. Almost every time, if they do manage to get a response, it’s “I’m sorry; I didn’t mean to offend you.” Which, fyi, isn’t an apology. (the right answer is: “I’m sorry I did offend you.”) But anyway. My thought of the day is this: they really honestly didn’t mean to offend. The reason they did is that they weren’t considering a wide enough audience. To white people, a joke that plays off of Asian stereotypes is often funny; to an Asian who was taunted with that stereotype in grade school, or yesterday at work, this is often a heck of a lot less funny. To men, a joke that depends on women not enjoying sex might be funny, but it’s probably less funny to a woman who has heard that seriously from a previous boyfriend (or parent). It’s also not funny to people who are aware that, while these things haven’t happened to them, they’ve happened to people them. Not every Asian got teased for being Asian in elementary school, but some did. Same goes for women, and a lot of other groups. Thing is, I understand the instinct. Around women, I have told (and occasionally still do tell, though I’m trying not to) jokes that were pretty sexist towards me, and we all laughed and laughed. It was funny for us. It’s less funny for a man to hear that joke though. (Now granted, I do think it’s different for a woman to tell a joke about men then for a man to tell a joke about women. But that’s another post.) Because I like and respect men, when I think of jokes I now do my best to take into account if the punchline of my jokes means laughing AT men, as opposed to laughing with them. And that’s the difference with a lot of the humor that gets ranted about on progressive blogs. Yeah, it’s a hilarious article about Asians invading your small town if you’re white. It’s a sad attempt at racial humor that really just ends up racist if you’re Asian. If I assume the people hearing my joke (or for that matter, those reading my blog) are just like me, then I have a lot of options for what to say. Taking into account other people limits that. To me, though, that’s acceptable. If I want to be friends/coworkers/family/lovers with people who aren’t exactly like me, then I need to consistently respect these people. If you don’t think it’s funny, then I shouldn’t be saying it. Moreso, I shouldn’t always have to be told that I’ve crossed the line. I shouldn’t say whatever the hell I want and then apologize when corrected; I should figure out about where the lines are on my own rather quickly and then only fuck up occasionally. If I respect people who aren’t exactly like me, then it’s my job to put a good effort into not insulting them. That’s not too much to ask from comedians, or advertisers, or editors, or journalists. And that’s why these liberal progressive communist hippie blogs I read keep harping on this humor thing: if these people respect people like us, they’ll put the effort into not insulting us. If they respect us, they’ll remember that we’re in the audience.
(I’m not bothering to put any links here as examples, because honestly there are too many. Read through back posts on Shakesville, or any of a hundred other blogs. Read the blogarounds on Shakesville. They’re there. All. The. Time.)

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