This morning I woke to a couple stories trending. One was Chris Evans and Jeremy Renner apologizing for their comments about Black Widow being a slut in the new Avengers movie, because she had a thing for both their characters. The other was about several Native American extras who walked off the set of Adam Sandler’s latest movie, The Ridiculous Six, due to racist elements about the set and names of characters.
I’ve been writing a bit about sexism and racism lately as they relate to stories and writing and culture.
What is it about humor, that suddenly, anything goes? It’s only a joke, right?
Or is it?
WORDS ARE POWERFUL
Words have a lot of power. I used to be a lot more careless with my words, especially with humor. I’d make fun of friends as a joke, I’d say ignorant and stupid things, I’d tell racist and sexist jokes, and was very sarcastic. Sarcasm has its place, but it can be overdone, and I overdid it. I mostly wanted people to like me, and I felt affirmation when I made them laugh.
The biggest evidence of my ignorant humor was the day in college theater, when I called my gay cast member a “faggot” in a derogatory way, to be funny.
Mouth open: insert foot here!
The guy was very gracious toward me. But I realized then, that I was making light of something which he may have received from someone else as an intentional and hurtful insult.
It really wasn’t funny.
The thing is words like “slut” or “whore” or “faggot” are very strong, negative words. To be honest, we use strong words far too lightly. We call a hamburger “awesome” and damn people to hell for cutting in line at the grocery store. We say stuff we don’t mean, basically, and are lazy about articulating what we actually mean: “This hamburger was well-prepared, and I really enjoy it” or “I don’t appreciate you being so inconsiderate that you cut ahead in line.”
We’re pretty lazy in our humor too. Just make fun of someone or talk irreverently about sex and you’re golden.
In comedy, nowadays, you can make fun of whatever or whoever you want, and it is supposed to be okay, because it is all in good fun, and everybody shouldn’t take things so seriously…
Maybe, you should take it more seriously.
A BIG DEAL
There are girls in the world who slept with a couple guys in high school, and some haughty other girl, who was compensating for her own insecurities, started calling her a slut, and then she became known as the school slut, the easy ride, or whatever… And that became a label for that girl for the rest of her life. Words define us, and un-called-for labels can change an entire life.
It’s not really that funny.
Racism is still a big deal in our country. I don’t know the details about the content of Sandler’s new movie, but from the sounds of it they are making fun of the classic stereotypical Western, and part of that includes the portrayal of Native Americans.
But the thing is Native American cultures were horribly represented in old Western movies. They were stupid (think Disney’s Peter Pan for a classic example), and always the bad guys. They were often lumped together, as though all Native cultures were essentially the same. It’s not as much a laughing matter as some might think. They were mistreated in the real Old West, and in cinema they were stereotyped and demonized.
MAYBE FEWER LAUGHS IS OKAY
I don’t think we should take ourselves too seriously. But, I also think that some of the things we define as comedic, are really offensive and harmful to the people at the butt of the joke, and make light of some big issues in our society.
I don’t get as many laughs as I used to. But that is okay. I think I am slowly starting to find that humor doesn’t necessarily equal a good thing. And feeling like other people like me because I made them laugh, does not mean they do like me, or even if they do, that it is worth making light of serious things.
I like to laugh, but if someone else is being put down for the laugh, I am not as convinced it is worth it as I once was. I still am probably too sarcastic, but I am working on it. Anyway, I would rather build people up and, if I am going to make fun of someone for a laugh, I will try to start first with myself.