When the Joke isn’t Funny

By Tammy Plunkett

Rare are the days that you can open your social media channel of choice and not be faced with a topic that forces you to pick a side. Without even venturing into the world of politics, we are bombarded with opinions on if a Christmas song should be banned and if homophobic tweets should cost someone the opportunity to host the Oscars. Political correctness has become a villain to some and a rallying battle cry to others. Whatever the topic, don’t be fooled, these posts are meant to divide us.

Social Media and Divisiveness

We as humans are a tribal species. We need to belong. Even the non-conformists associate with other likeminded people on the fringe. All these posts that seem as innocent as making fun of the pumpkin spice latte drinking basic white girl are meant to separate people into US and THEM and ultimately RIGHT and WRONG.

For those of us that work with people who are lumped too often in the “wrong” column, the war on political correctness can get our hackles up. It’s one thing to make fun of my choice of eating avocado on toast, it’s another to make fun of a person who is born a certain way. Poking fun at the gluten-free diet is cute until it’s the only life-saving option of a child with an autoimmune disease like Celiac Disease.

Political Correctness

It seems simple enough at first. Political correctness means to treat and speak of all human beings with dignity and respect regardless of their race, gender, sexual orientation, health, creed, religion, age or ability. So, what’s wrong with that?

Those in the against camp feel that the overreach of political correctness is impeding on free speech and costing innocent people their careers (or art) when things are taken out of the context of time and place. And they are not always wrong.

However, there is a new popular narrative that says people just can’t take a joke anymore. That we all need to just lighten up and not be so quick to feel offended… or feel at all. But, when I hear those words it rarely comes from the mouth, or keyboard, of the oppressed. Sarcasm has long been considered veiled hostility and gaslighting is a favorite tool of the bully.

It’s No Joke

I decided to write this blog when a family friend (an Anglo-Saxon, Christian, white, middle-class, man) shared this meme on his Facebook account. He knows my son very well and is aware he is transgender. Yet, I can only assume he saw this as just a funny joke. In one fell swoop, this casual share on social media made it wrong to be respectful of people of colour, Muslims, gender diversity, and people who care about the environment.

If I try very hard, I can see how a privileged white man can find that funny. I can also see how a closeted youth can find it devastating. There are people in our society who are desperately trying to come to terms with who they are on the inside. They are mustering the courage to tell their parents or a teacher or a best friend that they are different. They hopelessly want to know that they are okay, that they matter, and that they will be accepted despite their differences. When they see memes and jokes poking fun at their deepest reality it pushes them farther into the closet and deeper under a blanket of despair. It also tells them who they cannot trust with their reality.

It saddens me that people are so starved to hang on to their privilege, so desperate to belong to the cool tribe, that they’re okay with throwing someone else under the bus to hang on to the good old days.

My challenge to you, the next time you are tempted to share a post on social media that pokes fun at a group of people, take a second and ask yourself if you are sharing it to make yourself and your tribe right, or make the others and their tribe wrong.

2 thoughts on “When the Joke isn’t Funny”

  1. You make a good point about the tribal nature of humanity and the us versus them mentality. I don’t think humorous posts are necessarily meant to divide people, however. I think humor is a great way for people to express themselves and when we see something that we think is funny, we share it because we think it’s funny or because it says something we are trying to express, and we shouldn’t discourage that. If we see something we think has crossed the line, I think we should try and have an honest conversation with the person who posted it to help them better understand our situation. The world is a harsh place and I think we should all develop the strength to stand up in the face of someone who is making a joke about us or people like us, rather than let it upset us or push us “deeper under a blanket of despair.” It’s impossible to eliminate jokes or bullying, but it is possible to learn how to stand up to things we disagree with and display our strength of character.

    1. I agree, Jason that humour is a beautiful part of the human experience. I am by no means suggesting we never make a joke or funny post! And I agree that having a conversation with someone to show them how they have crossed the line is also great for those of us who have the strength and position of privilege to have those conversations. I don’t think it’s the onus of the oppressed to stand up to their oppressors though, and it is a lot to ask of them. If we can all take responsibility for what we put out in the world, we can make it a less harsh place <3

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