TRIGGER WARNING: There’s something in here to offend everyone.
Q: What do you call 100 lawyers at the bottom of the ocean?
A: A good start.
Does that bother you? Most lawyers will say no, at least to the extent that they aren’t bothered by the fact that they’ve heard the joke a thousand times already. But there will be some who are offended, who believe that this diminishes our worth. Bullshit. It’s a joke.
What if we replaced “lawyers” in the joke with, say, feminists or, God forbid, lesbians? Does it change from funny to unacceptable, outrageous? The answer likely turns on your sensibilities. If you feel deeply about the target of the joke, the joke becomes unfunny.
You can explain your reaction by wrapping it up in rhetoric about historical prejudice, insensitivity, anecdotes of horribles that happened to a suspect class, or just string together empty, meaningless words that convey some vague impression of butthurt, but ultimately it comes down to one undeniable point: you can’t take a joke.
I’m Jewish, and love Jewish jokes. How wrong I must be to be able to laugh at the foibles of my identitarian groups. Don’t I understand anti-Semitism? Am I unaware of the Holocaust? Jews are being killed for their beliefs, and yet I tolerate jokes about us? Yes. Exactly. Being able to laugh at the things that make us funny, and there is something about all of us that makes us funny, diffuses the anger and hatred that builds up. It normalizes us. It humanizes us. It lets us laugh at ourselves and at each other.
Nobody murders another person when they’re laughing at a joke.
But you don’t think it’s funny? So what? Humor isn’t whatever meets the fragile sensibilities of every person on this planet. No joke plays with everybody, but that doesn’t mean that others can’t laugh because you don’t think it’s funny. You hate the joke? Don’t laugh. Hang out with others who share your sense of humor, assuming you have one, but don’t hate others because they laugh at things you don’t.
Unsurprisingly, the most unfunny places in American have become its college campuses. Instead, it’s where humor goes to die at the hands of the perpetually offended.
Today’s “snowflake” college students need “safe spaces” in which to take refuge from things like “microaggressions,” and while screaming about how delightfully “tolerant” they are, the slightest bit of intellectual, academic, and even comedic discomfort will suddenly send them into a paroxysm of self-righteous indignation and hurt.
What if our snowflakes suffered paroxysms of laughter instead?
Humor is dying on campus – and it isn’t funny. Increasingly, jokes can’t be told, or laughed at, at least not without fearing backlash or a verbal lashing from the campus thought police.
As the old saying goes: “Grow thicker skin.” Or better yet: “Grow a pair.”
But instead, students, with the help of administrators, have infantilized themselves in what’s becoming the “safe space” era of college. From the padded walls of an insane asylum, we’ve reached the padded walls of a campus classroom, and now the inmates run the place.
I heard that Chris Rock won’t play universities anymore because of the backlash of offended students. Chris Rock is a very funny guy, and if you’re a college student, you won’t get to see him if this is true.
Maybe you’re okay with that, as his humor offends chipmunks and misgendered eunuchs. And if so, you’re probably okay with denying all the other students who lack your sensitivity to small rodents the opportunity to see Chris Rock as well. Because it’s not funny. It’s hurtful and insensitive, and it promotes hatred.
April Fools’ Day satirical articles in the University of Virginia’s Cavalier Daily wereretracted after a backlash with accusations of racism. One mocked “themed” frat parties accused of racial undertones (think “Taco Tuesday” or “Islander Fun”). The other mocked police brutality. The headlines were: “Zeta Psi hosts ‘Rosa Parks’ party” and “ABC officers tackle Native American student outside Bodo’s Bagels.” The latter was a jab at a violent arrest of a black student at UVA by alcohol enforcement officers.
Distasteful? Maybe. Funny? A little bit.
Not your flavor? Fair enough.
But rather than having a backbone, the Cavalier Daily self-flagellated itself: “We are embarrassed that our empathy for these immensely serious issues [in the black student’s arrest] was undermined by this piece. We had no intentions of victimizing another underrepresented community in the process.”
What a bunch of gutless cowards. Of course they had no intention of “victimizing another underrepresented community,” nor did they do so. Because it was a joke. No, you cry. No, their intent (which should be obvious to every moderately sentient being) doesn’t matter, as it was an expression of hatred!
No. You promote hatred. In your misguided effort to promote tolerance, you’ve twisted and contorted reason to your outcome, just as people who hate lawyers, or Jews, or lesbians, or any other group, do. You’re angry. You’re indignant. You search under rocks (but not Chris Rock) for reasons to be offended so that you have a purpose for the day, a target for your umbrage.
You need a windmill to tilt at, a cause in need of a champion. You need to be that champion, as it makes you feel as if you have a purpose. And so you search for something to hate. You are a hater.
It’s not that your purpose is necessarily wrong, or bad, even though it’s extremely likely that you are far more overwrought about it than anyone needs to be. There are bad things happening in the world, and these things can use the help of thoughtful and caring people. But not all the time. Not every second of every day. And not in the most convoluted and distant minutiae, where the merest hint of potential offense is so overwhelming that you can’t see anything but hatred.
I represented a friend, a lawyer, involved in a brutally nasty child custody battle. Both my client and her adversary were lesbians. When she called me on the phone, she would announce herself as “it’s your favorite lesbo.” It was damn serious business, but still we could laugh at the ironies and ourselves.
And if you don’t think that was funny, you’re gonna hate the things my black and Hispanic clients say to me. Or even worse, to each other. But they don’t. And I don’t.
If what you’re aiming at is a society that’s moved beyond prejudice, then you’ll find it when we reach the point where we can all laugh at each other and laugh together. There is enough substantive pain in the world in need of your attentions that you don’t need to check under every rock for a reason to be offended. If you need something to hate, hate the real stuff, not the funny stuff.
And if you think American Sniper is an offensive movie, when is the last time you watched Dumbo in your Safe Place? Don’t cry. It’s a movie, and watching it at worst reminds us where we came from so we know where we’re going.
Get over it. Have a sense of humor. If you can’t possibly muster one from your hole of indignation, then at least stay out of the way of the rest of us who enjoy a good laugh.
That’s our history. We won’t be past it until we can laugh at it. Laugh. It won’t kill you.