Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Brutal Humour

The Buckwheat Groats are a rap duo whose song "Take Yourself Out Tha Game" advocates suicide to the loser who is listening.  The first comment on the YouTube video - as of right now - is someone who finds the idea of advising people to kill themselves really upsetting and distasteful.

Now, it is obvious to anyone that the Buckwheat Groats are a comedy group.  Their other songs are equally ridiculous.  At the same time, "Can't you take a joke," is a pretty lousy comeback to someone who is genuinely hurt or offended.

We shouldn't stifle creativity just because it could offend people, but we should tell people not to be upset by something that may remind them of their own very painful experiences.  It's easy to think that humour is just humour when you find it funny and easy to think it is offensive when you don't.

Progress requires both those are transgressive - to find our faults and find new ideas - and those who are reactionary - to push back against new ideas and thus raise the hurdle they have to get over to be implemented.  That these two forces butt against each other and cause each other emotional pain is a sad consequence of the only way that things can be.

It isn't the comedian who is bad or the person who is offended by the comedian.  It is that the world is drenched in pain and getting better is the most painful thing of all.


  1. Some comedian, I can't remember who, was talking about comedy's role as transgressor and said that a transgressive joke ought to be as good as it is transgressive. A bad joke about, say, rape* (or as is usually the case, an entirely bankrupt joke) tries to use rape as a punchline with the implicit assumption that rape is inherently funny. But rape isn't inherently funny. It's inherently horrific. A good joke about rape uses the transgressive nature of the topic to unsettle the listener so that they are caught even further off-guard than normal when the punchline comes.

    Screwtape talks about this too. The kind of bad joke I mentioned above he mentions as a consequence of the general attitude of flippancy.

    "Only a clever human can make a real Joke about virtue, or indeed about anything else; any of them can be trained to talk as if virtue were funny. Among flippant people the Joke is always assumed to have been made. No one actually makes it; but every serious subject is discussed in a manner which implies that they have already found a ridiculous side to it."

    I think that's what I'm getting at. Transgressive jokes don't necessarily trivialise the subject they transgress. Flippant transgressive jokes do, by encouraging the listener to treat the subject transgressed as funny.


    * but say it good.

    1. That's fair in a way, but it doesn't really address the problem I've got here. Most jokes are bad jokes and many people who take offense are just people who enjoy being offended. But even if there could be an objectively good joke it would still objectively hurt people. The best we can hope for is to lurch through agony.