Sense and Sensitivity

Some of you may have heard about Seth MacFarlane’s “performance” at the Oscars recently.

It seems to me that our society is overly impressed with irreverence as some kind of gateway to comedic genius. It doesn’t take genius or even courage to poke fun at the already disenfranchised and downtrodden. If you take a look at humour through a historical lens, you will find that that the vast majority of it is directed at whoever is thought to be inferior within its cultural context, justifying and reinforcing already held attitudes. Look at every major war and all the “humour” that was enlisted to dehumanizing the enemy, some of it produced by the government itself, I believe.

Not all such humour is so consciously or intentionally employed, but it has the same effect in the end. Hearing a sexist joke doesn’t “make” anyone go out and rape anyone, but it sure renders it a little less shocking when we hear about it. What are the comments directed at Salma Hayek but another regurgitated notion of the helplessly virulent man in the wake of feminine wiles? Does it not also makes it just a little more palatable to see so many more men than women winning Oscars or filling CEO chairs. “They’re more for looking at anyways”, right?

Seth isn’t ridiculing the sexist mindset, he’s celebrating it. He is not the socio-political satirist, at least not when it comes to his sexism. When it comes to sexism, he’s the “HUR HUR, I saw your boobs and laugh at your dehumanization without challenging”. It’s not the LOLS, it’s the LULZ. We know their place, and if everyone’s laughing, so how bad can it be?

I want to resurrect some thoughtful point from a post made in response to the Tosh nonsense a few months back. They relate very well to the present discussion.

“If you’re going to make jokes about potentially offensive topics, there’s an easy way and a hard way. The easy way is to just shout out offensive things in the name of free speech and “pushing people out of their comfort zones.” The hard way is to provide an unflinching, in-depth analysis of the way that people deal with these painful topics, to really explore them, in order to make some kind of profound point about them (and be funny).

Most people who make rape jokes (or gay jokes, or racist jokes, or whatever) aren’t smart enough to have anything worthwhile to add to the conversation. They’re hacks. It’s like a little kid shouting “poop!” in the grocery store and then grinning. Truly edgy writing pushes people out of their comfort zones, sure. But it pushes them toward something, some deeper truth or observation about humanity.”

I tend to disagree with the idea that humour makes a message harmless. In fact it’s often quite the opposite, at least with certain kinds of humour that contain a social message and have a target. We’re not talking about rape jokes specifically here, but reducing women to LOL-sex-objects is something that makes it easier by normalizing it and making it just a little less unpalatable.

Sometimes humour is just humour. Sometimes humour is the viral sheath that sneaks that little kernel of social belief past your conscious defenses. Once there, it wraps itself in a protective layer of “it’s just a joke” until you decide to pass it along.

There is a popular fantasy held by the most privileged aspects of society that they are some kind of embattled minority, put upon by “PC” kryptonite wielding mobs. This kind of “humour” is just the extension of that misguided perception, and acts as a further defense against detection and analysis of  it’s meaning.

A few cases of shaky-kneed corporate HR departments with a heavy hand and bad aim who don’t really understand the issues, and they’ll ride that gripe until the wheels fall off, but if you’ve got centuries of marginalization, subjugation, rape and murder, you’re just trying to make everyone feel guilty and probably feeling sorry for yourself. Oh, and the worst thing of all… you have no sense of humour! This is somehow apparently worse than being an asshole.

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again. Speaking your mind against disapproval is only a virtue if you have something thoughtful, intelligent, edifying or at the very least, truthful to say. Without fulfilling that condition you’re just making a lot hot air, and basically just wanking.

In Seth’s case it’s not even against the grain. The fact is that he is really just catering to the masses. People with this particular mindset act like they are the embattled minority they want to think they are. Many of them really know it too when you get down to it, revealed when they get frustrated and haul out their handy dandy ad populum arguments.

So, who’s actually being “over-sensitive”?

I’ll give you one guess.

Posted on February 26, 2013, in Feminism, Social. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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