Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Having a laugh

They say laughter is the best medicine. But is it really healthy to laugh at anything at all, even if it's at the expense of other people? Even if it's making fun of people's weaknesses or disabilities?

There's a big clash of opinion here. Some say it really doesn't matter what you laugh at, and people who say they're offended and hurt are just over-reacting. They just have inflated egos. What about those gay and disabled comedians who send themselves up all the time? There's a funny side to everything, no matter how serious.

Others say no no, humour has its limits. Of course we all enjoy a good laugh, but jokes that are cruel, jokes that merely mock someone's shortcomings or differences, aren't funny and often just add to ongoing victimisation. Laughing at such jokes simply shows we're stupid and heartless.

I tend to agree with the second view. Laugh by all means, but pick your targets with care and don't get your amusement by ridiculing the less fortunate or less privileged.

I have to admit that in private I've been known to crack some very dubious jokes - racist, sexist, disablist, you name it. Let's face it, some of them are wickedly funny. But I know very well how dodgy they are and I would never repeat them in public. I have gay and black and disabled friends and I'm well aware of how hurt they can be by crass, unthinking so-called jokes by those who have no idea of the problems and discrimination they have to cope with day in and day out.

Accusing people who're not amused by your jokes of "not having a sense of humour" or "taking themselves too seriously" is unacceptable. Why should people be compelled to find something funny? Why should they be forced to laugh at themselves if they aren't comfortable about it? People are entitled to their personal dignity.

After all, there are plenty of jokes that are funny without having to ridicule others. So why resort to ridicule at all? Why is a snide, unkind joke more gratifying than a harmless one? What is the twisted part of us that enjoys it? Why do we have such a powerful urge to stick the knife in?

17 comments:

Suburbia said...

Tricky one Nick, like you in private sometimes you can get away with it but only with people who we know well who know that we are not prejudiced

Nick said...

Suburbia: Exactly, you have to be with people who know the joke is innocent and there is no underlying hostility.

Wisewebwoman said...

My humour tends to be along the side of the ridiculous, like the Movie Meme making its tracks across FB today - substitute the word "Bacon" for one word in a movie title. I, of course, created "Casabacon".
Now that makes me laugh even thinking about the marquee.
As to poking fun at others? Not my style at all, I tend to imagine the mocassin thing.
Even as a child, with the whole audience howling around me, I never thought the slipping on the banana peel funny. I just felt the pain.
XO
WWW

Scarlet Blue said...

Yes, I've been very naughty in private, but I do it with an expression on my face that I hope says that I know I'm wrong!
Sx

Nick said...

www: Movie meme, what movie meme? You must email me your FB address.

Must admit as a kid I always found slipping on banana peel hilarious, but then it was obviously a film and not real life.

Scarlet: Indeed, the right expression is essential. I wouldn't like to be misunderstood.

Rummuser said...

Schadenfreude is camouflaged as humour. I think that it is basically our escape mechanism to handle our own shortcomings.

Los Angelista said...

Laughter is good medicine, but our idea of what's funny is what's a bit warped. Sense of humor is learned--if we don't see others laughing at differences in a mean way, we'll never grow up doing it. That said, I find people laugh sometimes because they're uncomfortable. They don't know what to do/say so they laugh.

Nick said...

Ramana - You're right, schadenfreude (pleasure derived from the misfortune of others) is precisely what's going on. And yes, it must be a way of dealing with our own difficulties.

Liz - Very true, we learn to ridicule other people through example. And I agree, laughter is often a cover-up for awkwardness.

Cheerful Monk said...

Most of my jokes about other people involve politicians. I think that's healthy. :)

Nick said...

Monk: That's very healthy. And there's no shortage of jokes about politicians. Their ineptness is infinite.

Grannymar said...

I grew up laughing. We learned to laugh with others and at ourselves, not taking ourselves too seriously. It works for me.

Liz said...

I wonder if it's survival of the fittest instinct that makes us subconsciously want to put others down.
I make a point of laughing at myself - before others get the chance!

Nick said...

Grannymar: It's true that some people take themselves too seriously. I've never seen myself as much more than a well-meaning bumbler, somehow stumbling through life without too many blunders.

Liz: Laughing at yourself before anyone else can is a good tactic. There's certainly plenty to laugh at in my case!

Nick said...

Liz: I think it's not just survival of the fittest, but survival of the person who's seen to be the fittest, which requires the belittling of other people.

The Old Fossil said...

Nick, don't you think that part of the irony is that the person often gravitated to as the fittest is the person who doesn't put the other down, but pokes fun at himself or herself? The bully often has only short term influence, whereas the other shows a certain type of self security that is quite attractive.

Maxi said...

A joke at the expense of someone else is never funny.
Blessings - Maxi

Nick said...

Fossil: That's true. The secure person has no problem with putting themself down. And they don't need to sneer at others.

Maxi: Well, it can be, but with a very guilty aftertaste. I can't say I'm always squeaky clean on that score.