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Jokes - Sometimes Funny, Sometimes Offensive

Brandon Greer, Staff Writer

Nov. 7, 2013

Staff writer Brandon Greer shares his opinion on the fallout from certain types of jokes.

joke art
Telling jokes can sometimes be a precarious undertaking.

There is a time for joking. Without jokes or the opportunity to laugh, life would be very boring. But there are jokes that, we are told by our culture, are not appropriate for certain times: offensive jokes. This is not mutually exclusive to just racist jokes, but any joke that could be found offensive: jokes about hair color; jokes about blind, deaf, or handicapped people; jokes about dead babies; or more off-color jokes that could offend someone. Obviously, it would never be proper to tell such a joke to the face of a disabled person or member of any ethnic group. Disregarding a situation like this, many people say that there can be a time for offensive jokes. I argue the opposite: In any situation, offensive jokes are not appropriate in the slightest, for they are discouraging to the people the jokes are pointed at and they have negative connotations. Before I continue, I want to say that I do not wish to change anyone’s behavior. I just want to make sure we start thinking before we speak ... or joke.

Take, for a relatively non-offensive example, a joke told about a person who is five-feet, 10-inches tall. This is an average height, nothing to be ashamed of, so our culture tells us. If someone says that anyone who is at the height of five-feet, 10-inches is an amoral person, it is a biased comment that has no evidence to it. But if a funny joke is told about a person of that height, and how amoral he or she is, it does not matter if the commentary on people who are five-feet, 10-inches is biased or unfounded. It is a joke, and our culture tells us to not take a joke seriously. It is true, jokes are not meant to be taken seriously; they are humorous statements that we disregard and rarely take to heart.

The common misconception is that if a statement that is prejudiced or xenophobic is stated as a joke, it can in no way offend anyone. This is not true in the slightest; just look at the victims of cyber-bullying across America. Any person engaged in the act would say he or she was "only kidding," as they did not mean to harm anyone. The truth is, our culture needs to learn that the phrase, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me," is not true in all cases. Not all people can laugh off being insulted, and even the ones who do can become anxious over even a joke.

Another issue with offensive jokes is the connotations behind it. If I tell my joke about five-foot, 10-inch, amoral people, my intended message is that I am just trying to be funny, lighten the mood of a situation. My intended message does not in any way reflect badly on those who are that height. However, in the process of communication, my message will not be interpreted the way I wish it to be. Culture changes the way everyone processes a message; not every person can receive a message and decode it in the same way. While my message is intended to be humorous, a receiver of my message might think that because I told this joke that I am intolerant of anyone who is five-foot, 10. The statement can come across as insulting or prejudiced, even though I never meant anyone harm. Despite my meaning or my intentions, my message, once stated, is completely in the hands of whoever hears or reads it.

Am I dictating your life by pointing these things out? No! You can do whatever you wish without worrying about me, Brandon Greer, disapproving of your actions. I have used humor that in certain situations was actually offensive or insulting. But, this article is not just about me, or any one person on campus. We are all students at Lubbock Christian University, meaning that for the rest of our lives, we will bear the name of Christ in our actions just because of the school we went to. It all boils down to this: What label will Christians get if we constantly tell offensive jokes and ignore the consequences? In everything we do, we need to act before we speak.

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