I recently posted about a kid who was using her t-shirt at school to promote her faith and got in trouble over it. She got in trouble, not me. Just clarifying that.
In the National Post at the end of December last year, there was an article titled The death of humour and I’d fully intended to check out the rest of their “Year in Ideas” series when I saw it but then forgot. Big surprise there.
How are these things related, you might wonder? Personally, her shirt reminded me of a joke: How do you make holy water? You boil the hell out of it. Wearing a shirt that says, “Jesus, he scares the HELL out of you” should be equally funny (if dumb jokes are your thing) but it wasn’t. The school opted to call foul on the use of HELL on school property and a news story resulted.
Not long after the earthquake and tsunami struck Japan, Twitter was a-fluttering with tweets on the topic, some of which were entirely tasteless. Gilbert Gottfried got a tsunami of bad press after his series of tweets and that cost him his job with Alfac Inc. He’s since apologized.
It makes a person wonder, though: has crass taken the place of comedy, or are we just becoming too thin skinned and perceiving offense where none was meant? Onto the NP article:
In the war between literalism and irony, the first casualty is jokes.
The trend is global, and Canada is not the worst affected. Just as the American obesity epidemic is sometimes described as 10 years ahead of Canada’s, so does Britain — where the tourist attraction of Speaker’s Corner is the only place you are truly allowed to speak freely — offer a glimpse of what might be in store.
One of its most celebrated and blackest comics, Rowan Atkinson (who, for the literalists out there, is not actually black) advocates against laws that aim to ban speech that could be considered offensive to certain groups, and which are lethal to comedy.
This puts in mind the blasphemy laws Ireland set up. Michael Nugent, of Atheist Ireland said at the time,
“We believe in the golden rule: that we have a right to be treated justly, and that we have a responsibility to treat other people justly. Blasphemy laws are unjust: they silence people in order to protect ideas. In a civilised society, people have a right to express and to hear ideas about religion even if other people find those ideas to be outrageous.”
I’d say the same extends to comedy but I don’t think that translates into a free pass to be an asshole. Joan Rivers defended Gottfried, her argument being that comedy helps people deal with tragedy. While I agree with her to some extent, it’s so easy to go too far with it. I think Gottfried did, for which he Gottfired.
Anyone who’d mock a tragedy as it happens deserves a fair amount of derision, especially when it’s done so publicly. I think there’s still a need for some sense of personal responsibility in terms of what we say and give to the world. I think it’s even more important now given how far across the world an idea can get, and how fast it happens. Gottfried showed no compassion at all. He wasn’t mocking an ideology or belief system or drawing Mohammad. He was cracking jokes at the expense of people dying through no fault of their own. That’s nothing anyone should laugh at or applaud. What kind of human beings are we if we do that?
Typical ones, I suppose. Satire like it is, even The Onion gets it:
According to Perkins, the exceedingly rare occurrence of the human race simultaneously feeling a moment of tenderness and selfless concern for others only has a handful of modern precedents: Similar behavior occurred for 22 minutes following the 2010 Haiti earthquake, for six minutes following the 2004 tsunami in Indonesia, and for slightly under four seconds after news first broke of the trapped Chilean miners last year.
Experts calculated that in order for everyone on Earth to act like a good person for 30 minutes, 1,000,000 human beings would have to die in a volcanic eruption or flood. For an hour of worldwide charity and altruism to take place, statistics suggested that an entire ethnic group would have to be genocidally murdered in a single afternoon on live television.
In order for people to be decent and caring for an entire day, there reportedly would have to be only 12 survivors left on the planet, though by the next morning they would likely begin arguing, slandering, and killing each other for resources.
I’d really hate for them to be right…