Humour Me, Please.

The Handsome Sidekick started playing the new South Park game, The Stick of Truth, the other night. I was reading, but in the same room, so I would look up now and then to see what was happening. In typical South Park fashion, it’s rude, racist, anti-Semitic, and sexist. It’s immature. It’s full of toilet humour. It’s offensive.

And it’s laugh-out-loud hilarious.

When it comes to humour, I think the reason South Park does it well (and why I enjoy it) is because it’s satire. It’s ridiculing the people who really do believe that black people are more likely to be thieves. It’s pointing out how laughable are our stereotypes and prejudices. It’s also poking fun at the very genre of videogame of which it is a part. Yet I know it’s controversial and offensive to some people, and I understand that it makes many uncomfortable. Does that mean we should censor it completely? When it is it ‘too much’, and when should we start gathering the pitchforks and lighting the torches and demand that social justice be rightfully dispensed? What is it, exactly, that we’re expecting should happen, in these games, or in other satirical comedy, and are we asking too much from it–or indeed, altogether the wrong questions?

I’ve touched on this before with regards to feminism but it occurred to me while watching The Stick of Truth that it’s the same for other -isms. I wonder if we’re becoming a little too sensitive when it comes to being offended about race or gender or disability or cultural identity. I don’t want to use the words ‘too politically correct’ because I think that has been a way of excusing bad behaviour, and that’s not what I’m trying to say.  

We get offended, because these prejudices are highlighted, and we worry because people are saying out loud what others are thinking to themselves, but by doing so, we’re missing the point. We need people to make fun of all these things. We need the humour. Sometimes it’s going to be offensive, perhaps, and that is the point. Are Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park really racist, ableist, sexist anti-Semites? I can’t say for sure, but my guess is ‘no’. They’re doing these things to shine the spotlight on them. They’re using comedic hyperbole to show us just how illogical these perspectives are. We need that.

Instead of worrying about the nature of humour like South Park or other comedians who offend us, we should be more concerned about the insidiousness of prejudice which slips into conversation, into our cultural identity, even into our legislation. There are so many other battles which need our attention, and for which we really need our energy. Take, for example, the recent legislation in Arizona, which, had it been passed into law, would have allowed people to refuse service or business to gay and lesbian people. That law was vetoed by the governor, but this article lists several other bills in other states where politicians and interest groups are essentially seeking state-sanctioned discrimination.

Then there is Bill O’Reilly’s argument that there would surely be something wrong with having a woman president of the United States (despite the fact that there have been several other women who have held the position of president or prime minister in other countries and the world hasn’t yet spontaneously exploded because of this). I would link to the video, but I think it’s so delightful, I’ll embed it for you, so you can watch:

And these are the issues about which we should be vocal. These are the things which are going to affect people’s daily lives. And when we’re offended by anyone–in a comedic or real life context–instead of throwing our arms up and raging about how insensitive that person is, we should first ask ourselves why it is we’re having that reaction. Is it due to a sense of disbelief at the audacity of the person or is it out of a sense of righteousness, because we know better than to use that word/say those things? Are we ‘white-knighting’ for the cause, or are we doing it for ourselves?

Racism, ableism, sexism, discrimination and prejudice of all kinds: we need to talk about them. We need to joke about them. We need to sometimes stop taking everything so seriously, and realise that it can be funny because we’re looking in the mirror, and we appear a little ridiculous. That’s not to say that there won’t be times when people go too far; it’s not to say that people shouldn’t be pulled up when they make mistakes. Of course they should. But they shouldn’t be attacked because of it, and we should realise that by having such stringent rules and taboos about speech won’t stop prejudicial thoughts. Only meaningful, balanced discussion will.

Granted, that can be difficult. I don’t even know how to begin, with some people.  If someone truly believes that those humans with darker skin colour are more violent or less intelligent, or if someone truly believes that those on disability pensions should simply ‘get a job’, it can be very, very difficult to make a case to the contrary. Those who use poor logic to come to a conclusion can be very resistant to any other kind of logic. You can present facts and very well-considered, solid arguments, and sometimes, people will simply refuse to entertain other ideas than their own. It can be the case, when trying to demonstrate why a particular belief or statement is sexist or homophobic, that the best intentions and the most flawless reasoning just won’t cut it.

But you know what can work well in that situation?

Humour.

15 thoughts on “Humour Me, Please.

  1. How very true. Sometimes I feel the world has gone mad with the PC brigade. Something is bound to offend someone somewhere. We can’t go anywhere or do anything without someone shouting about the wrongness of it. And the daftest thing about that? They were nowhere near us.

    • I think in part it is a backlash to the kinds of prejudice and discrimination which has been bubbling to the surface in the past decades. The Handsome Sidekick and I were talking about the kind of nostalgia we feel for the late 80s and early 90s when we were in our teens and the fact that the world seemed simpler. Obviously some of that was due to the fact that we were teenagers😀 But also because we were white, middle class teenagers. And I think it’s easy to forget that we have come a long way so that it’s easier for people who are not in that position.

      But we still need to laugh.

    • Thank you! I checked out your blog and it looks very interesting. Great to see some different perspectives, especially in the area of politics in India, which is something I know very little about.

  2. So true. I love South Park now, although I was offended by the cursing and racism portrayed when my children were younger and brought the show onto my radar screen. The show is always topical, always right on the edge of the latest craziness, making a point by being so outrageously true to life. I also had felt, in the past, that it was awful how the Internet opened up a whole new world for vocal, in-your-face racism, sexism, ableism and prejudice of all types because it hurt my heart and boggled my mind to know how many people still subscribe to such flawed logic. Yet, I now realize that it is more awful to work and play and live with such fellow human beings, not knowing how they really feel. At least if it’s out in the open we can respond to it and do our part to communicate that it is not okay, it is not right and it will not be tolerated. Only then, might hearts and minds be changed. Shows like Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show and Stephen Colbert’s Colbert Nation are also doing their part through satire. It is a great medium to effect change. Wonderful post.

    • We started watching it a while ago, and there are times when I’ve just found it a bit ridiculous, but I do enjoy that they’re willing to push the boundaries, and not be polite about it. In some ways, that’s hilarious. Also, let’s face it, it’s really immature humour, mostly, and I sometimes need that😀

      You’re right about the internet opening one’s worldview up to all these different perspectives… where some people are coming from… I just don’t know. I really enjoy both the Daily Show and The Colbert Report, when I can see them. They’re very clever and often highlight issues which aren’t getting a lot of attention in the mainstream, and that’s something so very important.

      Thank you, and thanks for taking the time to discuss it!

  3. I still have a hard time watching South Park. In theology school a couple of my dear (male) classmates would watch it and laugh their heads off, and I just didn’t get it. My hubby thinks it’s hilarious, too, and he doesn’t get why I don’t like it.

    I think South Park can feel like too much because it’s so true to the real evils that fester in people’s minds and hearts. The real people and voices it reminds me of make me so angry–but I see also that humor like this can be a really powerful (and sometimes the most effective) way to point to those who take their prejudices seriously and say, see, your way of viewing the world is so awesome that it’s espoused by South Park. Yeah.

    On the other hand, I’ve seen people carry South Park humor into real life as if it’s funny to do so, and the point of this grotesque humor seems sorely missed.

    • I agree that there are people who take the offensive humour way too far… although of course, they would argue that ‘too far’ is just a matter of perspective. I don’t know. I think to ridicule someone’s belief when it’s based on flawed logic is fine, and where they’re (South Park, I mean) emphasising the way society sees things, like for example how the black boy in their class is called ‘Token’, I find that amusing, because that really is the case in so many sit coms and dramas. I don’t know if it will change mainstream tv or movies, but here’s hoping.

      But there is a comedian I was watching recently, and he had some really good points to make and was quite amusing at times, but at other times, just really… mean. And I think that’s where I draw the line. You can be acidic, harsh and really pithy in your observations and really make people think, but wander off that fine line, and you’re just being a bully.

  4. I’ve never watched South Park, so I speak with no authority on that show, to say the least. I have to agree that we get a little too worked up over the whole PC thing. It can become tiring. Thanks for such an intelligent look at this issue.

    Hugs from Ecuador,
    Kathy

    • Well, the humour is pretty base, so it’s not for everyone. And they do get a bit silly. But at least they’re willing to poke fun at simply everyone, which I love.

      Aw, thank you! And thank you so much for coming by to read and comment on it!

  5. I plan to read all of this, but I comment right at seeing the Stick of Truth, all I am hearing is about this game. What is it? I must have!!! What would life be without south park, ok back to reading LOL

      • I think you should!!! I love their humor frankly I think they do it up just right. They are making fun of how politically correct or should I say stupid we have gotten.

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