So, this last Saturday was International Women's Days, and my newsfeed on Facebook was full of several sentiments just like the one you see above. After the author receives many scathing rebukes for what is a rather overprivileged and oblivious sentiment, he complained that "for the light hearted disabled: this is a joke".
Facebook allows us to connect with all kinds of people, but most people eventually end up using it as their own personal biographical epic. The fact that Facebook even gives you the ability to create your own freakin' clip show certainly doesn't help pop that particular illusion. So within their tiny personal spheres folks chew their own tails believing that offensive things are really masterpieces of edgy comedy that the rest of us simply aren't hip enough to get.
The opposite is true, and in order to maybe better the Internet a little today I'm going to hand you some basic guidelines regarding whether or not your post is actually a joke.
Remember the Context: Here's the thing about Facebook... it's a blank page. I use mine for dick jokes, to prove I can cook chicken thighs like Colonel Sanders was my real dad, show off pictures of my daughter, gush about Doctor Who, and share liberal propaganda. There are no ground rules for your Facebook but the ones in your own head, and no one can see those rules because the day we have internet telepathy will be remembered by the lizard people who come after us as The Ape Wars.
Remember when Daniel Tosh went viral in a bad way because he responded to a heckler who said rape jokes were never funny with, "Wouldn't it be funny if she got raped right now?" Whether you think that reply is funny or not, the thing to remember is that someone went and saw Daniel Tosh, who is professionally mean to people who make YouTube videos, at a comedy club and then decided to speak up in a forum where hecklers are usually barbecued over the hottest words available to people who are masters of language at their angriest.
At a comedy club everything should at least be assumed to be a joke, and whether you think the joke is funny or not there is a set of behavioral rules that you not treat the performer the same way you would treat a random guy at a party because it's a different context. Facebook has none of that. No one is automatically going to assume that you are joking.
You Have to be REALLY Obvious You're Joking: Written humor is really, really difficult. You're robbed of all the power of tone of voice and body language. What's left are words that have to stand on their own without any explanation whatsoever, so you have to make them count.
Every time I write a story about sexism in gaming, or about Christianity, or about the nature of rape culture I have a small group of people who are rather well-versed in the subjects that I used to run the pieces by before publication just to get another perspective. These days, I've done it enough to predict how a pretty diverse group of people will react to any given subject I speak on, but that's because I taught myself how to look at pieces from an outsider's perspective. Before you hit "post", it's important to think not how much you like something but how others will like it. That's why it's called "sharing" and not "annoying".
This story continues on the next page.
Pissing People Off is Not Necessarily an Indicator of Good Work: A lot of comedians pissed people off. George Carlin, Andy Kaufman, and of course our own late lamented genius Bill Hicks. Well done comedy stabs at the heart of the worst of the status quo like a rapier, and the status quo doesn't like to be stabbed for some weird reason. Remember two things; Machiavelli's The Prince is hilarious if you read it as the Colbertian satire it was intended to be and also that the Medicis broke his freakin' arms for annoying them.
Bad comedians see the end result (angry people), and think that if they accomplish that then they must be geniuses like Hicks and Carlin. No. First off, angering people is not hard, especially when you use sexism, racism, etc. that tends to bring out a lot of raw emotional baggage. Second, enjoying watching people get mad at you is not a hallmark of a great wit; it's a sign of borderline personality disorder. Compare the number of people with mental illness to the number of great comedians and your odds of being the latter are not good.
Be Funny: Anything can be funny. ANYTHING. I've laughed at jokes about murder, cannibalism, dead babies, cancer, war, torture, slavery, genocide, horrid diseases of the genitals, orphans, necrophilia, child molestation, civil rights abuses. and how slow lorises are tortured for YouTube videos. None of those things are in and of themselves worthy of anything but dedicated action to make sure they never happen, but in the mouth of a skilled comedian we can be made to laugh at them without lessening their import. Know why? Because laughing makes the hurt go away for a while.
Once, late at night and very drunk on Facebook I was communicating with two friends, one of which is a rape survivor who had recently seen the man who raped her put away for decades of imprisonment. Good show, but she understandably has scars.
Yet this night she posted "I have this weird thing in my head where I'm replacing band names with the word 'rape'. Rape n' Roses. Rape Kids on the Block. REO Rapewagon." She and I and another friend kept this up for almost a hundred comments because it was obviously helping her deal with something horrible she had gone through in a lighthearted, funny way.
"I have a bad one," I said.
"What?" she replied.
"No, it's really bad. I don't want to say it," I said, building the joke.
"How bad can it be?" asked our friend.
"Unrefrigerated Taco Bell meat bad," I said.
"DO IT!" she demanded.
"OK... deep breath... Y KANT TORI RAPE" I typed.
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I was worried. That was Tori Amos' first band, and she was raped at knife point when she was young. That was taking the joke way too far. There was silence... then comment after comment of LOLs, bwahahahaha, and other indicators that I had scored a laugh! Nailed it.
In this one very specific situation I told a rape joke to a rape victim about another rape victim and it annihilated. However, think about what kind of reaction I would get if I just typed "Y KANT TORI RAPE" as a status update? Would I honestly be justified in saying that people just didn't get it because in another context it was gold? No, because funny is subjective, and hard, and before you attempt it you might want to work on finding out what it is.
Bitching about women and the toilet lid being a reason to deny the inequalities women suffer in the world certainly isn't it.