The end of courtesy?

I try hard not to blog (or Tweet or email or call) while angry. I just know my mouth and brain aren’t at their best and that I’ll ultimately regret some or all of what I say. So when a post organically arises from a situation that caused me to be angry, I let it flow onto the page and then let it sit. I’ll come back to it later, after I’ve cooled down and edit or purge, as appropriate. That’s what I’ve done with this one. It’s been percolating for a few weeks, actually, but I think it’s time to just let it out.

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This might be one of those helpless wondering, wandering, impotent-rage, inarticulate kind of rants that really don’t have a purpose other than to relieve the pressure in my chest. I doubt very much that the reach of this blog is pervasive to the point of spreading this thought to enough people to make a difference. And I don’t even precisely know what difference I hope to make. I just know that I need to get something off my chest.

All my life, I’ve loved to laugh and enjoy a good joke as much as the next person. I tease and cajole and crack wise along with everyone else. But I’ve also always been a sensitive person, feeling very sharply the types of so-called jokes or humor that come at someone else’s expense. And I’ve never mastered the art of being the type of “good sport” that permits myself to be the butt of jokes that humiliate, demean and judge, letting it roll off and not bother me. “Oh, come on, lighten up!” is a phrase I absolutely loathe.

It’s all over the place, in tv and movies and everywhere on social media. And, to me, the stuff on social media feels so much more personal than other media sources. So, as I’ve waded out into the treacherous waters of “outside my comfort zone” this year, into the blogosphere and Twitter and Facebook, I’ve tried to be cautious, selective and smart about the people I connect with. Yet, because everyone is free to post and Tweet and re-tweet what they like, there’s no shielding myself from the harsh words people fling into the universe disguised as “humor”.

Whether it’s couched as humor, irony, satire, sarcasm or political commentary, a sadly high percentage of the posts and tweets I see on blogs, Facebook and Twitter are really just meanness and bitterness sprayed indiscriminately without thought to who might get splashed.

The type that hurts the most, for me, is the style rooted in judgment, that dissects a person’s worth by exposing frailties, that ridicules difference and erects barriers that exclude the “joker’s” target from community. These comments range from irritating to devastating, but all are mean-spirited. And I don’t think there’s anything funny about it.

Belittling people for the way they look or live, humiliating people and stripping their dignity in the name of fun is repugnant. And criticizing their naturally defensive reaction to such attacks as overly sensitive or poor sportsmanship, is cowardice, in my opinion. And excusing it as “only a joke” does a gross disservice to the personal growth and human dignity of all involved.

But even the type of humor that isn’t as overtly demoralizing, but dressed as social/political commentary, is harsh. Perhaps even more harsh, in a way, because it indicts an entire population and therefore is perceived (or at least portrayed) as “nothing personal” and therefore shouldn’t be taken personally…unless you’re guilty.

For example, it’s quite popular to skewer people who go shopping on Black Friday as heartless, evil capitalists because they are conspiring in the ruination of holiday tradition and enjoyment of those who work in retail. Or there’s the much-talked-of “war on Christmas” and demonization of commercialization of the Christmas season. Or, the never-ending struggle between liberals and conservatives…always a great source of “funny” insults and epithets, with members of each camp being lampooned as the lowest forms of life and labeled as the devil for their ideology.

Regardless of your feelings on the substantive issues, my point is about the manner in which the views are delivered, not the viewpoint itself. I greatly respect the right of everyone to hold and express an opinion on any public concerns. But delivery matters.

The snide, self righteous, sneering brutality of many of the comments, ostensibly designed to make a point with a chuckle, is so much more destructive, in my view, than the behavior complained of. Because, ultimately, if it’s truly political commentary, then communication with the aim to educate and change should be the goal, not humiliation. But no one learns anything positive and transformative from being crushed by stone-hard verbal missiles flung at their heads. And I don’t believe in humor as punishment. I don’t think “they deserve” to have their feelings hurt or dignity bruised because “they earned it” or “they are evil”.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that kindness, courtesy and funny are not mutually exclusive. It is perfectly possible to be funny without being vindictive. It’s possible to be funny and make a point without sharpening the point into a dagger. Funny and smart, funny and unconventional, funny and incisive…all of these and so much more make for amazing humor and satire. And none of them require the sacrifice of someone’s dignity to achieve their humorous goals.

At the risk if being trite, my question is why can’t we all be a little nicer? Why does everything have to be harsh and shocking and brutal?

Maybe my sense of humor is dated and too narrow. Maybe I am missing what’s funny about a lot of what I’m seeing. But it feels abrasive and sharp, like sand in a strong wind, cutting whatever is exposed and sticking in creases, making sore spots. To each their own, but I don’t find anything funny in hurting other people to make someone else feel better about themselves. That just makes for two sad people and no happy people, despite any laughs that ensue.

Well, I said this would wander and vent impotently, and it has. As so often is the case, I don’t have a happy-ever-after ending for this post. I hope that if you’ve read this far, you’ll give some thought to what you laugh at today and decide, if it’s funny at someone else’s expense, to think about the issue, rather than laugh to encourage the so-called joke.


1 comment so far

  1. Maison Bentley Style on

    Stands up and applauds… xxx

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