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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

How is that NOT funny?



All my life I’ve been surrounded by people who enjoy a good laugh, from my own family to some of my closest friends. In that regard, I feel pretty fortunate because I know some pretty down-to-earth people. But every now and then my sense of humor does not agree with someone else’s. I’ll find that it’s only myself and my best bud Dan laughing uproariously in the movie theatre when the serial killers hacks down the little boy or in “The Strangers” when one of the main characters accidentally kills his own friend by blasting his brains to bits because he had no way of knowing he wasn’t one of the strange, masked killers. Is it just that my sense of humor is macabre, or does it go deeper than that?

Ricky Gervais, a favorite comedian of mine, is often vilified by certain human rights groups for his material, which is regularly seen as offensive. If you ever get the chance to watch one of his stand up sets it is easy to see that no subject is off limits for him. In the HBO special, “Out of England” there’s one bit in which he talks about using an autistic boy who never got out much to aid him in his gambling. He had promised the boy’s mother, who was in tears as her son continued to wave at her as they were walking away, that they would only be going to the zoo; but in fact as they got into the cab he informed the driver that they would be going to the casino. How did he come up with this idea? He saw “Rain Man” of course! He also has jokes about homosexuality, obesity, cancer patients, and he even slips in a joke about the Holocaust. What! You can’t make jokes about the Holocaust! Or can you? Watching this program, which I must say is extremely funny, made me think about comedy on a deeper level than simply what’s funny versus what isn’t.

Recently, renowned comedian Gilbert Gottfried came under fire for a joke he made referencing the recent earthquakes in Japan. The harshest criticism coming from the fact that it was deemed “too soon” and that such devastation cannot possibly be funny at all. Suppose there was a time span which had to be adhered to in order to make a joke about a tragedy appropriate? Would people be okay with that? Some might, but not everyone. Although its cliché, the fact remains true to this day—you can’t make everybody happy. So isn’t better to make some people happy? Shows like “Family Guy” often use dictators like Hitler and Castro as comedic devices, but this probably stems from the fact that they were (or in Castro’s case are) grade A jerks. The events concerning the world during the 1940’s certainly aren’t funny but when you manipulate specific parts of them they can be? Is that fair?

People barely raise an eyebrow when Seth MacFarlane and his crew of writers regularly lambast dictators and other famously cruel people. Yet if a religious group were to get offended and call them to task for portraying Jesus as a marijuana smoking, girl chasing, action hero, or even portraying Muhammad, which is considered by many Muslims to be something one should never do in any way, we tell those people to lighten up. We throw around terms like “freedom of speech” in defense of our actions. Whether you personally adhere to a religion or not is of no concern to me but there is a double standard when it comes to the kind of issues comedians are “allowed” to tackle in their material. So I ask you: what is so wrong with making a joke about surfing on the waves of a giant tsunami?

Here’s my point. Sensitivity, class, tact, decorum are all admirable qualities for a person to have. Likewise, so is having a sense of humor or an ability to laugh during difficult situations. Who hasn’t tried to diffuse a tense moment by cracking a joke? Does Lisa Lampenelli’s joke about how she “blows more black guys than Hurricane Katrina” make the plight of the people of New Orleans any worse? Surely not, but it does make you laugh. At least it makes me laugh. Maybe people should just lighten up.