Shining a light on the importance of humour that crosses a line.
By Braxton Rayan | Canada
I am proposing the trendiest new social media challenge of the season. All you have to do is share something--a meme, a tweet, a video--anything that made you laugh or even just put a smile on your face. But what you chose to share has to be something you never shared before because you were afraid of offending someone. That’s right, tell me you were a smug, humourless poser, without telling me you were a smug, humourless poser. No, this is not a silly pop culture piece or a trendy listicle, this is a candid reflection of our generation and its complex relationship with comedy.
Most of us have a great sense of humour. Whether you’re the class clown or the quiet kid, we’ve all wanted to make someone laugh. Laughter brings people together. It fosters new friendships and can fix fractured ones. It’s the very fabric of any good relationship because if you can laugh with each other, you can live with each other. Although trite, laughter is the best medicine. Laughter is infectious, almost intoxicating. It’s an important biological function. A 2016 study by Georgia State University demonstrated that incorporating bouts of simulated laughter into an exercise program significantly improved the mental health of older adults. Essentially, our ability to take a joke could have a profound impact on our physical and mental health. Then why does our generation hate to laugh?
Yes, I know that’s a provocative question, but I believe it’s a necessary characterization. We need to have a conversation about who gets to decide what’s funny and what’s not. Social media has become an incubator for whiny, miserable purists who sit up on their high horses and dictate how the rest of us have to feel. Anyone armed with a phone and a connection to the internet can destroy someone’s career or cancel a show simply because of hurt feelings. Younger social media stars face death threats and a barrage of hateful comments whenever they post something mildly ignorant, something we all have been guilty of. Social media has also allowed us to instantaneously condemn things that we disagree with as “offensive” or “harmful” under the guise of an obscure username. More often than not, posts are taken out of context or even deliberately misquoted or manipulated to fit a certain narrative. We have even gone so far as to feeling offended for people who themselves would not be offended.
Take the character Apu, the Indian convenience store owner on the long-running sitcom, ‘The Simpsons.’ The character was originally voiced by Hank Azaria, a white actor who has voiced several other characters on the show. In January 2020, Azaria stepped down from the role after an onslaught of outrage from critics who claimed Apu’s “stereotypical Indian accent” was offensive. As a South Asian myself, I can unequivocally confirm that the people of India couldn't care less about the whole ordeal. They have much more pressing matters at hand. In fact, initially, Apu’s character was recognized as a groundbreaking representation of an Indian character on a major network sitcom. As Lisa Simpson put it in one episode, "something that started decades ago and was applauded and inoffensive is now politically incorrect. What can you do?"
So, what can you do? First, we need to understand that society never stops evolving. What our generation might think of as harmless today might not sound so innocuous to a more progressive and culturally different society a decade from now. It should not be surprising that what people said and how people thought twenty years ago is different from how we think today. Then, we have to learn to take a joke. It’s as simple as that. We’re not all going to agree with each other about everything, and that’s ok. What you might find offensive, I might find funny. For a generation that lauds itself as the epitome of diversity and inclusivity, we seem to be ignoring the importance of diversity of thought. The idea that we can come from different backgrounds and have different ideas but remain united in our common goals. Society has never been more polarized. Tribalism has resulted in deep, ingrained divisions that could take generations to repair. Laughter plays a fundamental role in repairing those divisions and bringing people together. So let’s laugh more. All we have to do is accept humour that crosses the line because crossing the line is the only way we make it past the finish line.
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