Friday, August 3, 2012

Cut the C$#@: When Good Jokes Go Bad

When Jokes Go Bad
Samantha Salis
After spending a wonderful day at Disneyland, I sat in the backseat of the car next to my friend while her father drove us in his brand new BMW: a shiny silver convertible that just screams “I got a big bonus!” It had been a great day, and we slumped in our post-Disneyland state of euphoria.
            The father brought up his car in an attempt to jokingly put down my father’s old Porsche---explaining to me the reasons why BMWs are better. But there is a reason why I will never forget this conversation that at first seems so 1% and trivial.
“Do you know how many Jews died to make this car?” He asked me.
It was one of the few times in my life that I had ever been completely lost for words. A heavy silence was suddenly interrupted by my friend’s quiet voice.
“Dad,” she said. “Sam is Jewish.”
Well if you didn’t know before, you know now that I am a proud bagel-eating, penny-pinching Jew. Also if you didn’t understand the “joke”, it was in reference to the ovens that burned the millions of dead bodies of Jews who were killed during the Holocaust.  

Funny stuff, huh?

Yeah, not so much.
And it was from this day that I realized that the average human being does not have the self-control to appropriately poke fun at the stereotypes of another. 
You give them an inch and they’ll take it a mile. 
I think that members of the same culture/religion certainly can bond over their stereotypes. I can joke with Jewish friends about our controlling Jewish mothers or the fact that all of our fathers are lawyers. But I believe there is something much less charming about a stranger making a generic jab at my religion.
“Oh, you want to make fun of my ‘Jew-nose,’ huh? Well honey, let me tell you about what I have to say about the size of your ______.”
To be honest, I believe that as a general rule, you should not make jokes about a person’s race/religion/sex, etc. until you know them well enough as a friend. Upon meeting someone or as a simple acquaintance, making a racist joke gives me the immediate first impression of ignorance, laziness, and overall lack of intelligence.
I am all for having a sense of humor. I do joke around with my best friend about her being Asian, hitting the library time after time; I also joke about possibly being related to Lenin (just because I am Russian). But in general, I sense a real problem in drawing the line between funny and offensive, between being witty and actually hurting someone’s feelings.
You want to talk about my Jew gold? Fine. I am all for flaunting how hard work can lead to financial success. You want to talk about my nose? Fine. I like my nose. Everyone has different degrees of tolerance, those are mine. But, more universally (and rightfully so), if you dare make any “joke” about the Holocaust? It's time to do some introspective, deep thinking. If you're smart enough to know what people went through in the Holocaust? Not a single joke would exist about it, because there is no humor in such a tragedy. You don't have to be Jewish to realize the Holocaust was astonishingly horrific. And, you don't have to be Jewish to have bad jokes made about your people-- history presents a whole slew of suffering. So, next time you want to make a joke directed at a specific type of person? At the very least, be aware of your audience. Laughing at the suffering of a people doesn't make you witty or funny. Using the shield of it being a "joke" doesn't let you off the hook either. Making jokes about Mexicans being poor, African Americans being hung from trees, Jews in ovens, or anything of the like is not a joke. These things actually happened. These people suffered in ways most of us could not even begin to imagine-- in ways no one should ever have to. And, for reasons that boil down to ignorance and hate, the same characteristics that birth the jokes I'm asking you not to make. 

The "Is This Real Life?" Column, Samantha Salis:

Sam is a Psychology Major and Political Economy Minor at UC Berkeley. She is a dedicated young woman, ambitious and sharp as a whip. Our dear Samantha tutors high schoolers and works at a Psychology lab at UC Berkeley. Even with this busy schedule, Ms. Salis creates the time to divulge to us her insider perspective on the world around us, backed with thorough research. Enjoy!


Anonymous said...

What about "too soon" jokes? Is there ever a time when something that is not funny at one point in history, can now be accepted as funny in present context?

Samantha Salis said...

I think this is also a great topic---I plan on writing my next article about this. As a sampler, all I can say is: think before you speak. See how you would feel if [insert loved one] had been involved in the particular tragedy you wish to joke about (and someone else made a joke about it). Also ask if the joke is worth it, considering your audience. I am sure you can find other things to joke about.

Hope this helps! Check back next Friday for a more detailed response.