The Weekly Ringer

The University of Mary Washington Student Newspaper

Thought You Knew: Tasteless Jokes Shame America

4 min read

There’s an epidemic sweeping UMW: an Insensitivity Epidemic.

Recently I’ve noticed an alarming trend among many of my peers; no one takes anything seriously anymore.

Rather than accept that certain subjects are, and should remain, off-limits, some members of our UMW community feel the need to blur the line between right and wrong in the name of earning a few laughs.

When did it become okay to publicly discuss things other than “American Idol,” how great the ’90s were or how scary life is after college?

It seems like everything is one big joke and those of us who aren’t laughing become the punch line.

Are we really this jaded? Is nothing sacred anymore?

I blame the media. “Comedians” like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert make a living by mocking the important issues plaguing the world. Outlets such as “The Onion” publish articles that poke fun at every subject imaginable without even alerting readers that it’s satire.

Do you know how terrible I felt once I realized the video report “Breaking News: Woman Crying On Train Platform” was nothing more than a joke at the expense of women crying on train platforms everywhere?

I am a woman who has cried on a train platform. Do you think “The Onion” even cares that this appalling joke made me feel bad about myself?

“The Onion” should be ashamed of itself.

No, America should be ashamed of itself for allowing this to continue.

Just last week I stumbled upon a blog post in which a thin, privileged white woman shockingly dared to compare her life to the that of Precious from the movie “Precious,” closing with the crass one-liner, “Never mind—even Precious got laid every once in a while,” as if incest-rape is a laughing matter.

It took nearly 45 minutes for my rage to subside and my hands to stop shaking long enough to leave a comment, but I had to say something. I couldn’t sit back and watch someone mock a defenseless fictional character for a cheap laugh. She’s already been through so much.

I should grow a thicker skin and stop taking things so seriously, right? Or maybe I should ignore subjects that upset me.

That’s what I thought you cold-hearted villains would say.

Now that I’ve presented the problem it would be unfair not to offer a solution.

We need to agree on topics to avoid at all costs, unless we’re having serious conversations with stern expressions and lots of sighing.

I’ve come up with a few suggestions to get the ball rolling, but I hope we can work together to develop the official “List of Topics We Won’t Joke About. Ever.” to present at the April 14 Board of Visitors meeting.

Here’s what I have so far: death, tragedy, disaster, poverty, disease, war, religion, substance abuse, terrorism, any social issue on which there are two distinct viewpoints, white-collar crime, feminism, the weather, Salad Creations, “Celebrity Apprentice,” seersucker, Zune mp3 players, light bulbs, liquid, Feng Shui, fantasy baseball, chairs, what constitutes art, Monopoly, lizards, whether or not taffy is delicious, infinity and John Mayer.

There is no way to joke about these things without offending others, so I propose that we stop joking all together. Knowing this list could prevent just one person from feeling emotions ranging from “mild discomfort” to “really offended” is all the convincing anyone should need.

How can you sleep at night knowing your laughs come at the cost of another person’s happiness?

No one deserves to be offended by strangers who seem to voice their harsh opinions just to get a rise out others and make their own lives more bearable, if only for the promise of a rare moment without despair and the weight of being alive resting on their slightly hunched shoulders (they know they should sit up straighter, but sometimes it takes so much to sit up at all).

When you see someone fall down, you don’t point and laugh; you help them up, give them a hug and tell them everything will be okay.

Consider this your hug. We can overcome the Insensitivity Epidemic as long as we’re willing to help each other up every once in a while.

There is no room at UMW for comedy that questions norms and pushes boundaries. It is, after all, our God-given right to never be exposed to anything that could offend us.

Let’s play it safe from now on.

Let’s make 2011 the year we finally get serious about being serious.

The next time you need a laugh, remember there are only two true kinds of comedy: knock-knock jokes and Dane Cook stand-up routines, edited for basic cable.

Everything else is just cruelty.