RIDING HOME on the bus some years ago, I overheard a fellow several rows behind me regaling passengers with joke after joke to the effect that female students attending a local university were overweight, unsightly, or both.
I’d already heard a good many of the jokes. I had, until then, even repeated some.
Cranking my head around for a look at the source of the hilarity, I beheld about as overweight and unsightly a specimen as ever took a breath. Said specimen was in no position to joke about others’ looks.
And, I realized, neither was I. With that, I was done with jokes of that sort.
It took a little longer for me to figure out that “not being in a position to joke about it” isn’t really the problem.
The problem is that the only difference between a group guffawing at “humor” of this ilk and a circle of playground bullies taunting an unlucky kid is that the unlucky kid isn’t physically present. It is nonetheless just as wrong-headed and, in the long run, just as harmful.
No matter that the kid isn’t physically present. The taunting will find its way there in one form or another. Humor with a point to make or a target to hit spreads, bolstering the like-minded and helping to make converts of others. If the point is humane, all the better. But an inhumane point spreads and swells just as fast. All it needs to erupt and cause real harm, from discrimination to physical violence to inequitable laws, is for one bully to gain prominence and endorse such talk as “telling it like it is” or “saying what must be said.” And for comedians to offer flimsy excuses like “it’s just jokes,” “lighten up,” and the scoundrel’s perpetual whine, “it’s my free speech.”
That bus ride was the beginning of my realizing that humor targeting appearance, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, disabilities, etc., isn’t funny. It hurts people.
I enjoy writing humor. One magazine even went so far as to make me its humor columnist. But the above-described epiphany meant giving up what I had thought were some great lines. I don’t miss them.
• • •
... where I share thoughts about writing. I don’t consider myself a writing authority, but that doesn’t keep me from presuming to blog like one. Oh, and I reserve the right to digress when I feel like it.