Featured Image: Detail shot of “L.H.O.O.Q”. by Marcel Duchamp, 1919, readymade. I’m sure this was found to be pretty offensive originally. I think it’s kinda funny. Duchamp, you little rascal, you’re such a weirdo.
Warning, if you’re sensitive to topics like 9/11 and rape, I do discuss them here, so be warned. 🙂
This is probably the most nervous I’ve been to post a blog post, so I thought I’d start it out with an awful dark joke, just to set the bar as low as possible: I thought about starting this argument out with a joke about Hitler, but I do Nazi how they are funny, Anne Frankly, I don’t think anyone should make jokes about the Holocaust. (Yeah, that joke works better if you say it out loud. And even then it doesn’t really work.)
Dark and offensive humor is highly controversial, to say the least. YouTuber PewDiePie came under fire for making statements that were found to be a little too Nazi-esque for people’s taste. He lost a deal with Disney and many news outlets tried to rip him to shreds. However, he seems to have gotten more subscribers from the incident due to his unwavering position that what he said falls under freedom of speech. However, many have said that the First Amendment doesn’t apply for hate-speech. The question of hate-speech has been discussed many times, but often it devolves to a screaming match. “RACIST!” screams the left. “THOUGHT POLICE!” screams the right.
Humor only further clouds the spectrum of hate-speech. When a comedian makes a joke about the Holocaust or rape, there’s always a barrage of criticism, often well-intended. A lot of people feel that we shouldn’t joke about things that may bring back trauma or desensitize us to tragedy. However, others argue that humor falls within free speech, and thusly can talk about whatever the comedian wants to discuss. They also point out that if someone feels offended, they don’t have to listen to the comedian.
However there is another viewpoint, that isn’t discussed as often: dark/offensive humor serve as an avenue for social commentary. Humor by nature has to be surprising, otherwise people don’t laugh. That’s why timing is so important. It’s why anti-jokes like “why did the chicken cross the road?” work (or used to work). We expect there to be a pun or something there and we try to anticipate it. But the chicken just wants to get to the other side. We laugh because our expectations were subverted (I chose this joke, because I know that it’s already dead and thus I risk nothing by breaking it down.)
To break down another joke and forever render it unfunny, the Sarah Silverman Program has an episode in which Silverman, for the 6th anniversary of 9/11, puts on a play reenacting the event. She, however, keeps getting distracted while driving to the play, and keeps running over bearded men, thinking they were Osama bin Laden. I’m not exactly sure of Silverman’s intention with the joke, but it seems to me that it was commentary on the War on Terror and racial profiling. Silverman, like the American government, overreacts to a traumatic event and causes harm to innocent people in an attempt to insure safety and/or get revenge.
Louis C.K. made a much darker and more controversial joke about a topic that hits much closer to home for a lot of people. During a stand up routine, he said that if he were given a time machine, he wouldn’t kill Hitler, but rather he would rape him, as it would prevent him from committing any crime. The act would completely subjugate Hitler, rendering him unable to commit the atrocity. In this joke, C.K. manages to navigate the complex effect of being raped, especially as a man. It’s emasculating and can destroy a person’s identity. C.K. forces his audience to consider the reality, while at the same time making them laugh. He’s doing something quite powerful: showing us a grim reality that we usually ignore while making us laugh.
Some have said that this is offensive to people who have been raped, and I would assume it definitely could be, however, I don’t think that’s the audience he’s trying to reach. They already know what that trauma does to a person. He’s trying to illustrate it for other people. I definitely don’t think that his intention was to hurt those who have been raped.
That being said, I can see how this isn’t for everyone. It’s difficult, and probably isn’t funny for many people. And I also know that not all dark humor works this way. Some of it actually is damaging and distinguishing the good from the bad can be very subjective. But for those of us who enjoy dark and offensive humor, like myself, I think there’s a lot to be gained. Humor can make us question our assumptions in the world. It can open our eyes to a new reality all while making us laugh.
The Louis C.K. joke was from HBO’s Shameless in 2008. Silverman’s joke was from The Sarah Silverman Program, season 2, episode 10, Patriot Tact.
P.S. the Nerdwriter did an awesome video on this topic. I would recommend it for anyone interested in the subject. Child molestation is mentioned and joked about, so viewer discretion is advised.