On Jokes and Insults

This is a tricky subject. Many jokes are funny because they are also somewhat insulting. The key is to know where to draw the line, and how to take responsibility if you cross it. To take from Chuck Wendig, own up and apologize like an adult if you cross from offensive to mean.

Let’s take an example: sexist jokes. Most people can laugh at the typical jokes that poke fun at the stereotypical differences between men and women. Yet once you start going down the path of friendzones, make me a sandwich, your place is in the kitchen, and so on… things aren’t funny anymore. Now you’re just being mean and degrading to roughly half the human population.

This is a topic I’ve been mulling over for a while, but recent events encouraged me to finally post on it. An English friend re-tweeted a joke on Twitter, a joke that insulted Americans. When I called him out on this, recommending he consider who follows him before posting hateful remarks, he told me I simply couldn’t take a joke.

He then proceeded to tell his friends how I lacked emotional maturity for being hurt by a joke. That is when I blocked him. This wasn’t our first fall-out and I decided I’d had enough.

Now, I’m not going to sit here and bash this person for his actions. In his mind, his words and actions were completely harmless. That’s usually how jokes go — the joker doesn’t think the jokes could hurt someone. But sometimes they do. You wouldn’t tell insulting Islam jokes around practicing Islams. Because it’s mean and hurtful. I don’t tell homophobic jokes because it would hurt several of my friends (not to mention myself).

Being American is as part of my identity as being female is. Insults to my country and nationality hurt just as much as insults to my gender or my race, and I’m not afraid to stand up for myself as I once was.

What you consider to be a joke might hurt those at the other end of that joke. And if it does, that’s when you act the adult and apologize. Sure there is a point when people are overly-sensitive, but if you can’t accept that your jokes may have unintended consequences, well… who’s the immature one, then?


About Squishy

Writer, dancer, gamer, and admirer of all that is beautiful.

Posted on June 23, 2012, in Real Life, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

  1. People really can be insensitive when it comes to jokes. Even I’m guilty of this at times, particularly when it comes to people’s tastes, but I’ve really been trying to get that under control lately.

    Fortunately as a Canadian, most of the jokes directed at my nation are about our accents and how apologetic we are. Wait that was really boastful, I’m sorry eh.

    • I see what you did there!!

      You’re bound to accidentally hurt someone with a joke or other comment/action. It happens. The point is to accept it, apologize, and learn from it. You’re only a jerk if you refuse to accept some people might be hurt by what you consider to be funny.

      (Also: My GW alliance and I figure Canada will rise up and rule the world… in another 300 years or so. Canadians are just lying in wait for the perfect moment!)

  2. The problem with Muslim jokes is that one cannot tell what is a joke and what is a news report; for example:

    Last week, a Muslim woman was seen shoplifting. She was caught on camera. Police are looking for a woman with dark eyes. From my article [link removed because I don’t care to trackback to such things. -S]

    Jokes are not just meant to entertain, they are also meant to release tensions between groups. If we didn’t have Irish jokes, polish jokes, jewish jokes, then instead of words there might have been fists. Just as porn has reduced rapes, and games have reduced violent crimes, jokes reduce violence against the stereotyped groups.

    Another purpose for jokes is for purposeful ridicule. I mock Muslims so that others who may consider becoming Muslim know that Islam is not a religion, that converting to Islam deserves derision in the same way that anti-drug abuse advertisements are meant to discourage kids from trying drugs.

    It is better that someone make anti-American jokes than throw rocks. Feelings should not be bottled up. BTW, what was the anti-American joke?

    • Oh dear. I just did a quick search for “jokes reduce violence” and found absolutely nothing. And I mean literally nothing. There are no search results, nothing.

      In fact, jokes that mock stereotypes can encourage and normalize prejudiced behavior. Take, for example, the results from a series of studies performed by Thomas Ford and Shane Triplett:
      “if you hold negative views against [women, gays, Muslims, etc.], hearing disparaging jokes about them “releases” inhibitions you might have, and you feel it’s ok to discriminate against them.”
      Releasing those inhibitions does about the opposite of releasing tensions between groups. I’ll not belabor the point, but you can read more about it –>here<–

      Secondly, Islam is indeed a religion, and nearly a quarter of the world’s population follows it. It’s an Abrahamic religion, much like Christianity and Judaism. I do not profess to have an intimate knowledge of Islam, but I do know that one of the “Five Pillars” of the religion is charitable giving. There are issues with their holy text according to many of today’s Western standards, but the Bible is no different.

      There are terrible people in the world, and some of them happen to be Muslim. To condemn an entire religion, equating it to drug use, because of those people, is small-minded and ignorant. It’s just as terrible as people condemning all Christians because some Christians are sexist and homophobic.

      It’s better to neither joke nor throw rocks, but to open your mind and accept that to act from prejudice is to hurt others. A joke isn’t funny if it causes pain.

  3. To people who do not have an intimate knowledge of Islam it only appears to be a religion – Islam has religious, legal, political, economic and military components. The religious component is a beard for all the other components. I suppose giving a link here would be futile.

    As for jokes and violence, at the link you pointed me to, there was nothing that said jokes against a group makes one act in violence against that group; in fact: “when we consider groups that most people discriminate against, and feel they are justified in doing so, disparaging humor towards that group does not foster discriminatory acts against them.”

    But he did write something interesting: “there are other social groups that it was once acceptable to discriminate against, but over time we have slowly shifted our views and consider prejudice against them as unjustified. Among these groups are women, racial and religious minorities, and gays and lesbians. These groups suffered historically from discrimination but today, more and more people agree that discriminating against them is immoral and wrong.”

    It is a shame the author did not investigate why after more than a century of so-called hateful discriminatory jokes against these groups, that prejudice against them is now considered unjustified. I believe it was jokes that reduced that prejudice, and consequently violent acts against them.

    The purpose of jokes is to stimulate laughter, And laughter is what makes us friendlier to one another: “Primal laughter evolved as a signaling device to highlight readiness for friendly interaction..” link.

    How about this: A study from psychologists at the universities of Kent and Liverpool has revealed that laughter increases altruism towards strangers – link – http://www.laughteryogaamerica.com/learn/research/social-skills-laughter-acts-social-lubricant-enhancing-sense-group-identity-strangers-682.php

    However, what jokes are all about is not a topic simple enough to cover in short commentary bursts. It is easy to note from FBI reports that there is an inverse relationship over the past decades between the number of guns and gun violence – that is: it appears the more guns results in less gun violence, although searching the phrase ‘guns reduce violence’ will not bring up any direct links, even though it is true.

    The same inverse relationship can be seen in the proliferation of porn and the reduction in rapes and violence against women. However, in this case “porn reduces rape” does seem to bring up direct, cogent search results. In the case of gun violence there is so much emotional and political noise that getting to actual studies is difficult.

    So when I wrote that jokes reduce violence, it is the result of 6 decades of reading about jokes – that jokes are a social lubricant, that ‘humor defuses anger’ (google that last phrase and you’ll get better results – sometimes it’s just the way one turns a phrase that helps get better search results).

    Not finding something on the Internet is not probative evidence of anything.

  4. As for hurting people’s feelings: There is no such thing as a joke to which no one will take offense. If we make a wry, humorous observation about mothers-in-law then some mother-in-law may take offense. If Chris Rock makes a nigga-joke, his audience is hardly likely to take offense, but if I were to repeat the same joke it is highly likely that some black person somewhere will take offense. So obviously the joke itself does not offend, rather the operative mechanism is whether someone has a sense of humor or not.

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