Laughing Matters

27 Jun

I was challenged on twitter today for retweeting a joke about suicide. I’d like to say from the outset that this is not a criticism of that person who had, it appears, good reason to be upset. Personally I wouldn’t call someone out on twitter for being offensive, but I can understand people sometimes feel the need to challenge others, and that’s fine. However, it prompted me to write this because it’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot and every now and then I feel the need to step back from twitter and comment on it at greater length.

I think the subject of what is a suitable subject for jokes is complex and one that is discussed at length if like me your are interested in the subject. I am of the school of thought that there is a kind of category error with jokes: that because they make you laugh this equates to making light of a subject, that they aren’t serious. I think jokes are like art. The best ones make us look at a subject in a new light. They can be deadly serious and we’ve probably all used humour to deal with dark times in our lives. Of course they often set out to do no more than make us laugh, but there are comedians/writers, etc. that use humour to explore the border between the sayable and the unsayable.

I’m a great admirer of Frankie Boyle. I think he’s a brave man. He’s clearly a very moral person, even if you don’t agree with his morals. Sometimes he says things which shock me, sometimes they disgust me. I think that’s his job, to patrol that dangerous territory where most of us fear to stray. I think it’s an important serious job and of course sometimes he will cross the line – although where that line lies is completely subjective. For me, if he challenges what I think then that’s a good thing. I suppose it helps that I think he’s funny.

I generally keep to the safe areas. I can be a bit rude sometimes. I think people who follow me will realise I tweet in all sorts of different ways and don’t set out to offend. But I do know that some subjects are sensitive and I try to be careful, considerate. I happen to think the joke about suicide was a clever twist, without being unsympathetic. It was clearly a ‘character’ tweet, i.e. not the actual view of the person who tweeted it.

You can judge for yourself. Notice that it’s been widely RT’d since it was posted in December 2013.

I honestly don’t think there’s a subject that shouldn’t be joked about; it’s all about context. People may disagree with me, but this isn’t an extreme view, it’s pretty commonplace. I think we all have tragedies, raw moments in our lives where the sort of things people talk and joke about can hurt us. It’s part of life. I think we just have to deal with it. Imagine if your dog really has got no nose, twitter must be a tough place for you at times. If I thought about the ways in which each tweet I write could potentially hurt someone, I would never tweet, I think. (Good, some of you are no doubt thinking).

So, I’m not apologising for occasionally inadvertently offending people because I know that’s never my intention. I accept that if I get called out on something I will assess it and make my own judgment. I once tweeted that a leotard was a stupid lion. Someone pointed out that the word retard is offensive, and on balance I agreed. I deleted the tweet and I’ve never used the word again in a tweet. However, that doesn’t mean that I think the word should never be used in a joke.

I suppose what I’m saying in my muddled way is that our moral landscape is a work in progress, and it’s important to keep testing it, probing at it and reshaping. We should appreciate those who patrol its perilous boundaries on our behalf, while most of us are content to loll about in the comfort of the soft play area.

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