EDITOR’S NOTE: The viewpoints in this article do not represent the opinions of The Writer’s Bloc.
Ever hear the phrase “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me?”
It’s true, in a sense. Unless they are at an obscenely high decibel, it’s physically impossible for the sounds emitted from someone’s mouth to harm you. But when these sounds, these words, take form as hate speech or offensive humor, they shape ideas and beliefs. And these ideas and beliefs are manifested through sticks and stones. And those do hurt. Do you see a cycle?
By joking about violent or discriminatory behavior, offensive comedians are actually perpetuating violent and discriminatory behavior.
Fellow Bloc member Jin Kim gives two choices of which is worse to joke about, Ebola or heart disease.
Is this how comedians pick their material? Which joke is least bad? Okay, I’ll play along.
While heart disease is sad and I’m sure many people could feel personally affronted by a heart disease joke, people are not discriminated against because they have heart disease.
Ebola, on the other hand, is the newest method for people to publicly rationalize their racism. In South Korea, a bar is literally banning “Africans” for fear of catching the disease. In the United States, African immigrants, from both affected and unaffected areas, are being discriminated against.
Your Ebola jokes may be funny to you, but they’re not funny to the people who are dying by the thousands from inadequate health care or those being asked to leave work because of their nationality. By joking about Ebola, comedians are erasing the serious issues surrounding not only the epidemic – which is bad enough – but also its accompanying racism.
You ask why jokes about the Holocaust are awful but Crusades jokes are fair play. Before I address this ridiculous question, I want to congratulate you for invoking Godwin’s Law three paragraphs into your argument.
Why aren’t Holocaust jokes funny?
Well, speaking as a Jew, a background from which I cannot separate myself from to make an objective opinion, the horrors and the anti-Semitism of the Holocaust have been drilled into my brain from around age six.
To joke about gas chambers, about my people being dissected in laboratories, is not only extremely offensive, but terrifying. What is funny about people being systematically starved and burned alive?
The Holocaust was notoriously fueled by extreme racism and anti-Semitism. By making light of such a tragedy, you are perpetuating anti-Semitism; a mind-set that is still prominent today.
The Crusades, your alternative to the Holocaust, were also genocides. They also massacred Jews and Muslims.
If your joke involves making fun of an entire community being wiped off the map because of its religion, it’s not going to be funny. And even though it happened centuries ago, it is still very relevant today.
In the past few years, Guilford College football players assaulted a group of Palestinians. The U.K. is seeing an upward spike in anti-Muslim hate crimes, including the murder of a college student.
Those swastikas weren’t painted by 90-year-old Nazis.
They were painted by college students.
Those Palestinian students were beaten by fellow students, not by Crusaders. The offenders had to have learned, somewhere, that racism, whether in the form of Nazism or Islamophobia, is acceptable. I’m sure that exposure to jokes about religious and cultural genocide allowed them to rationalize their behavior.
Oh wait, it definitely has, according to one Oberlin College student who hung anti-Islam and Nazi posters around campus as a “joke.”
Offensive humor, what you say “gives joy to others,” is extremely harmful to the subjects of the joke.
Studies have proven that exposure to aggressive humor results in increased aggressive behavior. Another study found that subjects exposed to sexist jokes have a higher proclivity for acquaintance-rape. This finding is even more disturbing because about 66 percent of all rapes are acquaintance-rapes.
By joking about abuse or rape, comedians are desensitizing their audiences to the negativity of abuse or rape. In turn, these audiences continue to perpetuate violent and oppressive behaviors in society.
I’m not saying every audience member is going to assault someone after a comedy show. But these audiences can internalize ideas about assault and abuse which can lead to victim blaming and increased acceptance of violence.
The issue I have with offensive humor isn’t necessarily that it is offensive. While yes, maybe you should be compassionate about your peers’ feelings, the main issue with offensive humor is the culture they perpetuate. Offensive humor enforces oppression; it enforces the behavior it jokes about. The joke itself, while crude, is a single instance, a single entity. But its effects on the audience are the problem.
Humor does open audiences to new ideas. By setting something up as a “joke,” comedians can easily say things that cannot be brought into mainstream public conversation. In this way, humor can be important as a subversive art form to mainstream culture. Humor can change the way people think by making them consider different perspectives.
But why should we be trying to open people’s minds to harmful and oppressive ideas?
Hanna Greenblott is a sophomore English language and literature major and can be reached at email@example.com.