Thursday, February 28, 2013

Ugly humor and cold nights

“How noble the law, in its majestic equality, that both the rich and poor are equally prohibited from peeing in the streets, sleeping under bridges, and stealing bread!” -- Anatole France

Until I looked it up just now, I mis-remembered this quote. I thought it went something like “The poor and the rich have an equal, guaranteed right to sleep under the bridge.” The point being that it satirically presented sleeping under the bridge as a venerable privilege that the rich simply choose not to exercise (but could any time they wished), and hence, the poor have nothing to complain about. For their own reasons, poor people choose the bridge (as opposed to the street, or to a mansion if they felt like buying one, which they apparently don’t). Fairness in action.

I want to draw a strained analogy between this and bigotry, especially bigoted humor, such as the infamous sexism of the recent Oscars. Some people suggested that the avalanche of sexist jokes was just equality in action, and feminists were guilty of granting women a right over men, a right to never be the target of a single joke. The problem with this argument is that, like the argument about bridges, it’s made in a vacuum that ignores the reality. Just as we do not see rich and poor people in equal (or even proportional) numbers deciding that tonight would be a nice time to sleep under the bridge, so too do we not see any kind of parity in the insulting-humor department. Yes, in principle, Seth MacFarlane could have made digs at men for being men, which has occasionally occurred on Family Guy. But he chose not too; big surprise.

Additionally, when men are the targets of jokes, it’s not really the same thing, and no, this isn’t a double standard. Suppose you managed to temporarily relocate Warren Buffett to a bridge as his shelter for the night. Is he really going to have to sleep there? Even if so, is he not going to bring an electric blanket? And does he not have thousands of lines to call on, other homes, friends and relatives to help? There’s no sting in the bridge-“giving” action. Likewise, you can’t sting me with the usual words and jokes and comments, because I am shielded by white male privilege  To actually hurt you have to get more personal – this is a weakness common to all humans, so it being my only weakness (in this context) clearly puts me a leg up. It means I can expect to get thusly stung much less often. I don't even have to worry about ever having to "grow a thicker skin"!


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