Even though it’s just barely 2018, multiple tragedies have occurred. One of the most recent ones currently is the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida, which took place on Valentine’s Day. But despite the disaster that had just happened, despite the lives that were lost of both young and old, it was only a few days later that I heard jokes about it, and people laughed. I was in utter confusion. How could somebody make a legitimate joke about something like that, something that just isn’t funny? It is true that there’s countless variables to consider about making jokes though, so where does one draw the line between funny and offensive?
Stanford Psychophysiology Laboratory conducted two different studies, and both presented clear evidence that jokes help people cope with disturbing content or stress. This makes the Florida jokes a little less offensive to me. I hear plenty of people that joke about killing themselves too, but I know they would never do that. Humans also can make what someone else might perceive as an offensive joke for relatableness and to make their friends laugh. In fact, I often feel bad that I can’t laugh at a joke like others my age laugh at. Am I “Negative Nancy,” a mood killer? Sometimes, I truly believe I am being too sensitive, too serious. But, I also believe that you can easily take a joke too far. According to Virginia Commonwealth University, four psychology professors from different colleges, Julie A. Woodzicka, Robyn K. Mallet, Shelbi Hendricks, and Astrid V. Pruitt, state that jokes can present harsh and degrading material, but are said in such a way to make people take them less seriously.
I feel like this desensitizes people to the subjects of a joke. When one hears a joke about something serious, because it is said humorously, they might think the actual subject is a joke, and that’s my main concern. I don’t think anyone thinks something like a school shooting isn’t serious, but I worry jokes about it can destroy the proper sympathy any decent person should have about the subject. Some, such as Joshua Taylor, a contributor to Arbiter magazine, argue that people will laugh because they know the joke is wrong, but that doesn’t make the joke “right” all of the sudden.
On the topic of possibly hurtful questions, you may ask, “How do I know when my joke is funny then? How do I know if somebody is being too sensitive?” There’s so many variables to the topic, so yes, it’s difficult, but I think the best way to realize things like this is to wonder if somebody that falls under the topic your joke is about would laugh. Sometimes you can make a joke about something and somebody who is experiencing that will laugh because they can relate, but in other situations it can be wounding, not because that person is too sensitive, but because nobody likes to have their insecurities or uncomfortable experiences poked fun at.
The severity of the joke’s topic also comes into play. The way people rate the severity will vary, and you’re definitely not going to please everybody, so don’t try too hard. Nonetheless, something raw like sexual harassment might be less funny because an actual experience like that is not funny whatsoever. Jokes can have a negative effect on people, and have the full potential to create desensitization that makes one unsympathetic, too optimistic in some cases, uncaring, and unaware of the solemnity of some catastrophes. Once again, keep in mind that not everyone is going to like your joke. Still, it won’t hurt to think before you speak or find something different to joke about; sticks and stones may break someone’s bones, but words can also hurt them.