One Day, We Will Make Offensive Jokes

Yesterday, my friend told me an offensive joke. It went like this:

Q: What’s something good about Islam?
A: It encourages Muslims to die.

I laughed. It was a terrible joke, and I laughed.

I’m currently visiting my family, and soon after my friend told the joke, my parents walked into the room. I started to tell them the joke – but stopped.

My parents probably wouldn’t laugh. They might laugh a little, then chastise me – and that scared me. I didn’t want to see my parents not laugh at this joke.

Why? Because my parents really, really hate Islam.

When I was about to travel to Turkey last year, my Dad sat me down and told me all about how Muslims are taught rape is normal and that I need to be very careful because they don’t have morality and that they would be happy to do terrible things to an innocent foreign girl. My parents believe Muslims are the biggest force of Bad in the world right now, that their faith is a disease, and that even moderate liberal Muslims are still dangerous because of their beliefs. My parents speak publicly and write popular articles about the dangers of Islam and terror attacks are a natural and normal cause of regular, everyday Islam.

They probably wouldn’t like the joke – because it was too close to being true. They don’t advocate for actually killing Muslims, but their hostility towards the religion might be misconstrued for it. If they laugh at the joke, people might think they actually do want Muslims to die.

But when I laugh at the joke, nobody is going to think I actually want Muslims to die. I can do it safely – and they can’t.

This is why I feel suspicious of some groups that strongly oppose offensive jokes – they have the suspicion that every person is like my parents – that every human “actually wants” all the terrible things to happen. This is why they believe telling offensive jokes carries weight, and this is why they strongly oppose those offensive jokes. Telling an offensive joke, even privately, isn’t ok, because it “contributes to global racism/sexism/discrimination” – but it can only do that if it’s influencing the people who tell and hear the joke to ‘actually believe it.

According to these groups, nobody can be so far distanced from a bad idea that they can make a joke about it, and that feels like an ugly assumption to me. I personally hope we can get to the point where everybody is comfortable making offensive jokes – but we’re not there yet. People like my parents aren’t there yet.

4 thoughts on “One Day, We Will Make Offensive Jokes

  1. I wouldn’t say “nobody can be so far distanced from a bad idea that they can make a joke about it”; rather the supposition is “nobody can be certain their entire audience is so far distanced from a bad idea that they can all hear a joke about it”.

    That also can’t be categorically true, but I think it’s more often defensible. IIRC psychopaths often report believing that non-psychopaths don’t feel empathy either and are just “faking” it for social reasons. If you give that possibility some prior credence, then when you see your social group laugh at overtly-hostile jokes in private, everyone else’s interpretation might be “this is funny because it can’t be serious”, but yours will be “finally we all get to drop our masks a little”.

  2. I don’t see why offensive jokes are bad.
    Most stereotypes‚Äč I hope weren’t true are true and most of the time nobody gives a shit until someone jokes a group that’s the most popular once you joke with them they say your racist your insulting offensive and a asshole! They make no sense there no such thing as racism! The only race is human everything else is color ethnicity and area background information. Everyone is human and different I hate when they make everything a agenda and turn peace to shit and terrorism! And political bullshit I forgot to mention.
    I don’t think offensive jokes are offensive I think it’s a polite public insult and everybody who gets offended should be calm and laugh instead of being a miserable asshole about it.

  3. I think on many points you’ve hit on something in modern culture; subjectivity and the ability to distance emotion from a concept and see it as ridiculous, is very very difficult. There are some words, some concepts, that are so closely tied to a real intent or emotion, that you can’t see it as ridiculous. Just like the joke with your parents. It wouldn’t have flown the right way and been seen as what it was meant as. There is a recent concept that speech/language including jokes can equate to violence, or harm. Interpretation on the part of the individual is not emphasized, it is the joke itself that bears the blame. Funny, how a bunch of sounds tied together, a string of verbal behaviors, could be seen to have that kind of weight instead of the brains that communicate or receive them. I expect you might get some flack for this one, seeing as you bravely touched on a hot spot, a sensitive area, in culture. Especially now. But your point does stand for something. Something hard for some people to see the merit in. My 2 cents.

  4. This reminds me of a conviction of mine on a related though very distinct phenomenon. I strongly feel that on average, the hurtfulness of teasing/insulting jabs is inversely proportional to the strength of the implied statements. This is because milder jabs are more likely to seem closer to the truth and therefore hit home for me harder, whereas inflated, over-the-top insults are easy for me to laugh off because they’re so obviously unreasonable. IME apparently not everyone shares this feeling.

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