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"In Defence of laughter" - Context & Caveats


Artwork taken from a famous moment in

The written piece that this serves as a response to outlines various uses of humour and defends its use when dealing with more sensitive topics, championing it as a healing tool meant to help us, as a species, cope with that which would otherwise crush our souls. I wish to start by saying that I fundamentally agree with that assessment. I wish to continue by saying that there is a right way and a wrong way to make these jokes. The original piece is a broad defence of the practice, and I'm worried that without context much of the sentiment therein, however reasonable it might sound in a vacuum, could be used by a whole host of people (as much of it already is) to justify being a twat.

Those among us who hail from England are no doubt familiar with the repurposing of the word "banter". Formerly used to refer to any form of conversational back-and-forth, it is now commonly used to mean a series of insults in humour's clothing. I live in rural England (the West Country, for those familiar with the term) and here 'banter' has represented the limit of many of my peers' understanding of what humour is, probably for as long as I've lived here. Many people here think nothing of levelling abuse at complete strangers, which can range from what I'd call 'stock' insults to walking up to people in the street to dick around at their expense, all the way up to throwing stones at people.

...no, seriously. That's actually happened.

The people here do this with impunity, fuelled by the misguided belief that since a lot of people do it, it must mean that everyone is fine with it. Their only basis for considering it harmless is that the practice doesn't bother them, and rarely is any attempt made to understand those who react negatively to it or just don't find it funny. This complete lack of empathy allows them to basically drain other people's moods in order to raise their own spirits - like the Jester class in Darkest Dungeon, only much less beneficial and WAY less justifiable

A line-up of Darkest Dungeon character types, with the Jester doing his thing on the far left

This represents the extreme worst case scenario should the defence of humour be taken too far, and also a reality that I, along with many others, have had to grow up in - people ruining each other's days while remaining adamant in their minds that they are doing nothing wrong, even after being confronted about it. Many of you probably don't need to be told this, as this attitude runs rampant on the internet with alarming ubiquity.

Now, here's the tricky bit: it's no secret that there are also many people who will hide behind the idea of being offended as an excuse to try and censor, silence or discredit others. This has led to the widespread dismissal of the term 'triggering' as an excuse employed by intellectual cowards who just want to pretend that something doesn't exist, as well as the overuse of the word 'entitled' to describe people who raise any kind of complaint. Once again, the well is poisoned for everyone by a handful of people due to the disturbing black-and-white approach the internet at large has to everything.

Games media personality Matt Lees spoke in one of his recent videos about the difference between a joke containing offensive content and people "just being precious". Though just an off-hand comment, the fact that this distinction exists holds true. This distinction has been muddied over the years by many people starting arguments about what constitutes 'being offensive' in an attempt to deflect criticism of both the people telling jokes and those who overreact to a genuinely harmless goof. Despite this, there are still some reliable rules of thumb that can be used when making light, as well as when reacting to someone else.

When making a point:

The Joker shoots Barbara Gordon in the spine and undresses her, to 'prove a point' that anyone can be driven mad in the space of 'one bad day'

This is a veritable minefield, as very few people seem to 'get' satire and irony on the internet (and even fewer know what it actually means). Here's some very basic rules that should sort out roughly 67% of the confusion.

When doing satire: always keep Poe's law in mind, and ask yourself: are you just doing the thing you're claiming to be making fun of? If so, you've fucked it sunshine.

When being ironic: Poe's law is king again, but in particular one should be sure that something in the joke gives away that the teller is taking the piss. These tells include glaring holes in the logic of what's being said, the inclusion of exaggerated stereotypes, self-reference, and the inclusion of statements so absurd that no real human could possibly believe them.

When delivering irony, one should take care not to sound too sincere or go into too much depth. The deliverer may also conclude the joke by turning to the audience and mouthing the words "I'm taking the piss".

Also, if at the end of the statement one or more people (including the teller) bursts out laughing (known as 'corpsing') then chances are that it's because it was a joke.

the end of 'The Killing Joke', where both Batman and The Joker laugh while something deliberately ambiguous happens

General rules:

If your joke is at the expense of a group or groups of people sharing one common trait (sexism, racism, homophobia, etc.): Tread fucking carefully, sunshine. Contrary to what you might think, there is no defence for making these jokes*. Note that this does not apply to a shared belief or practice, provided that said belief or practice is being lampooned for a valid reason such as causing actual harm or being provably flawed (i.e. not purely because you disagree with it).

*Satire clause: Jokes that clearly satirise, mock, or point out the absurdity of attitudes towards these groups are not at the expense of said groups, and therefore do not fall under this umbrella. It should be noted again that simply not meaning what you say does not constitute satire.

If the entirety of your joke is that you are acting like an arsehole: You are acting like an arsehole. Stop.

If your joke is written: Bear in mind that there are fewer cues available for people to be able to tell what your intent was. Word it carefully and you should be fine.

If someone tells you that they think you've crossed a line: Don't then double-down and arrogantly defend what you've said or done without making any concessions. The purpose of a joke is to lift spirits, and the fact that it's had the opposite effect should fucking devastate any comedian worth their salt.

If someone tells you that they think you've crossed a line, but they're being a right dick about it: Tell them that they're being a dick, but maybe make the concession for those who aren't who didn't want to say anything.

If someone tells you that they think you've crossed a line, but the line itself is unreasonable: You are not obliged to bow to the request, provided that you can cite where they are being unreasonable. 'Unreasonable' here may refer to people complaining because they disagree with you, or more accurately because what you've said or done doesn't fit with their belief system, as well as because you brought something up that they are evidently trying to pretend doesn't exist. You are also permitted to make a light mockery of the request - they probably need it.

If someone tells you that they think you've crossed a line, but the line itself is unreasonable AND they're being a right dick about it: Full force authorised. They gave you no quarter...you do not owe them mercy.

The Joker again, because I like The Joker

I do not have all the answers, friends; that's why I ask so many questions. There may well be flaws in my guidelines, and mileage may vary vis a vis how closely you'll want to stick to them. This will always happen when we try and discuss grey areas in black-and-white terms, and the blog I've written to stop the message of "In Defence of laughter" from being abused may ironically be abused itself. People could very easily find loopholes and workarounds as they always have by turning the conversation to 'what I really mean' by the things I say. And the fact is, there is no concrete definition of what I say. I don't have an answer for you. It's midnight. Leave me alone.

Basically, there's some people who get offended who should be appologised to, and some who need a wake-up call. Some jokes are in the best possible taste, and some are just fucking dumb. There are many states in between in both cases and there is no blanket defence for either side.

Huh...weird how 1437 words later, I finally have the concise summary I was looking for when this was no more than a comment.

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About VeryImportantQuestionone of us since 3:55 PM on 07.06.2015