April 04, 2011

At the time of the space-shuttle jokes, it was claimed that they were circulated among a small group of unfunny, callous, and warped individuals. Yet the jokes spread all over America and to other countries. There is no independent evidence that these people were anything other than ordinary citizens who in their everyday lives were caring and helpful to others.

Another explanation was that the jokes were a response to a fear of danger. True, those in dangerous occupations such as soldiers and police officers frequently resort to “€œgallows”€ humor. But unless you ride in a space vehicle, why would you and the other joke-tellers be anxious?

When Princess Diana died in a Parisian car accident with her Muslim paramour Dodi Al-Fayed, British liberal media pundits called the resulting jokes a coping mechanism, a way of dealing with grief. But while some in Britain wailed, keened, and came close to rending their garments at Lady Di’s death, later surveys showed that most people were indifferent to yet another simple casualty of French drunken driving. They had no need to “€œcope,”€ a word whose usage insults the grief of those who actually have to persist after the death of a family member or close friend. Why should anyone care deeply about Diana”€”a mere picture on the television? Besides, the jokes were worldwide. I found Diana jokes on the Internet in French, German, and Spanish that depended on wordplay in those languages. Others used distinctively American and Australian forms of English, and many appeared in English on Dutch and Danish websites. It was a great international joke-fest. Those who invented, told, and circulated these jokes did not seem distressed by her demise.

Did you hear that Diana had blue eyes? Yep, one blew out the left window and the other out the right window.

What do Lady Di and Pink Floyd have in common? Their last big hit was The Wall.

Lady Di finally lived up to her name.

Sick jokes involving sex, ethnicity, blasphemy, aggression, and politics liberate us momentarily from an irksome verbal constraint. They amuse because they sneak around the social rules that stifle how we speak. Sick jokes have always been with us, but disaster jokes date only from the latter part of the twentieth century and the advent of TV news programs that try to fool us into thinking we are present at the disaster scene and ought to experience the same anguish that those on the spot are feeling. This is a lie whose message is rendered incongruous by what follows”€”advertising jingles and banal quiz shows. Such incongruity leads to jokes. The television liberals have invented a new language cage for ordinary folks to use when speaking of distant disasters. In doing so they have called into being a new species of sick joke: the disaster joke. Unlike natural disasters, this new mess is entirely manmade.

 


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