Humor is a funny thing (pun intended). What might tickle you does nothing for me and vice versa. It’s extremely culturally sensitive and assumes both sender and receiver share similar values which enable both to “get it.” We connect with certain types of humor based on our upbringing, education, life experiences, and even social status. Humor is powerful. There are few things in life more intoxicating than being able to make people laugh. While a key to a man’s heart may be through his stomach (though I wonder sometimes wonder if “stomach” isn’t a euphemism for something else), I am convinced that women love a man with a great sense of humor (obviously I’m not funny enough – at least not yet, anyway). But it can also be dangerous.
Humor can be extremely volatile, especially when it goes beyond mere word play or wit. We’ve all heard or perhaps even shared, on occasion, jokes at the expense of others. I would be lying if I did not admit these jokes are sometimes quite funny. But where do we draw the line between a funny observation and something patently offensive? And shouldn’t I be mature enough to know when I might be potentially crossing that line?
Recently, two political cartoons came under fire for their allusions to the president and black stereotypes. Maybe you’re familiar? One of the cartoons, which appeared in the February 18 edition of the NY Post, shows a chimpanzee shot dead by two police officers with the caption reading, “They’ll have to find someone else to write the next stimulus bill.”
A second carton, distributed a few days later, shows a picture of the White House, but instead of the lawn being covered in grass, it’s covered by a watermelon patch – the joke being there’ll be no Easter egg hunt this year, now that a black family occupies 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
In both cases, the author/sender of the cartoon defends their actions by claiming a level of ignorance or in the case of the Post, that it was merely parodying a recent news event. But is either of those excuses legitimate? While it might be true the Post cartoon followed a recent incident where police shot to death a chimp after it attacked its owner’s best friend, it’s hard to believe the creator of the cartoon or the editor who published it was not aware of how black people were often portrayed as monkeys and how this political cartoon could be construed as a jab at the president. While the president should not be immune to criticism, the editor at the Post should not have been surprised at the vehement reaction.
The second cartoon is a little more problematic. As I explained earlier, it shows a White House lawn covered in a watermelon patch. The mayor of the Southern California suburb of Los Alamitos thought it was funny and decided to pass it on. Unfortunately for him, one of the recipients was black, wasn't so forgiving, and didn’t see the humor and saw the racial stereotype embedded within the joke. I will be honest with you, despite the fact it reached for the lowest common denominator, I thought it was humorous. I'm also black.
Though he ultimately resigned, my problem is how the mayor, Dean Grose, had no idea how it could be perceived as racist. Is he that ignorant of history? And if he really didn’t know the stereotype of blacks and watermelons, what was so funny? I find it difficult to believe he would have found the humor in the cartoon had it shown a strawberry patch instead.
If I’m smart enough to know that some people might see it as funny, I should be smart enough to know the reasons why some people may find it painful and offensive. Isn’t it funny we all can’t see it that way?
Well, I gotta scoot…