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?