Constitutional Hill

When a joke is not a joke

There are not many people who would happily agree that they are humourless. (Idols judge Randall Abrahams may be one of the few people who, in public, at least, pretend to be humourless.) This is why people who unthinkingly perpetuate racist, sexist or homophobic stereotypes often defend themselves by depicting their critics as humourless.

Comedy can be squeezed from the most shocking and bleak events. Earlier this year the Cape Town Holocaust Centre hosted a play, The Timekeepers, about a flamboyant gay German and a conservative elderly Jew befriending each other while working together repairing watches for the Nazi’s. On the night I attended the performance, the audience at first responded uncomfortably to the humour in the play. Like others in the audience, I too at first shifted around uncomfortably. Can we really laugh about these things, I wondered? But as the actors skilfully won us over (with the help of a clever script), the laughter became louder and more sustained. Humour, in this case, became a powerful weapon to affirm the humanity of the victims of Nazi atrocities.

But humour (or what is presented as humour) can sometimes be used by the economically, culturally and socially dominant as a vehicle to endorse harmful stereotypes and to promote prejudices (often invisible to them) about groups who are less powerful and influential in our culture. It can also be used to assert control over what we may and may not think and say.

In such cases the unstated aim of the supposed humour is often to re-enforce the idea that the prejudices and stereotypical assumptions on which the “joke” are based are normal or natural and therefore entirely harmless. “This,” implies the person who makes the so called joke, “is just the way the world is and if you do not find it funny you are a dour and self-righteous prig, one that is too stupid or too lacking in joie de vivre to laugh at yourself and at your own oppression.”

If you happen to not be part of the economically, socially and culturally dominant group, you will probably find it hard to mask your own prejudices by silencing others with the defence that you were merely joking when you expressed these prejudices. You just do not have the power to dictate what is funny and what is not funny. Your view of the world is not the dominant view, so if you tried to assert your dominance by dictating what should be regarded as funny and what is not, you will only dig a deeper hole.

However, those whose prejudices, irrational beliefs, interests and assumptions form the basis for how the world is structured and how knowledge is produced and legitimated, often hold immense sway in society. Because of this dominance they often manage to control the discourse and to make their own prejudices, irrational beliefs, interests and assumptions appear normal and inevitable.

For such people, invoking a supposed superior sense of humour is therefore an excellent strategy to delegitimize those who challenge their prejudices, irrational beliefs and unexamined assumptions. One way to do this is to decry others who criticise you as humourless and to justify your sexism, racism or homophobia on the basis that you were “only” making a joke.

On the one hand this “it’s only a joke” defence is a powerful tool in the hands of those who benefit the most from the normalisation and entrenchment of cultural prejudices and stereotypes. It helps to assert their power to decide what all of us are legitimately allowed to think and feel and when we are allowed to laugh and when we are not. On the other hand, it reassures everyone who holds the view that these stereotypical beliefs and prejudices are true and therefore not stereotypes or prejudices at all, and are worthy of jokes.

This phenomenon was recently on display in an article published on the front page of the Cape Times, a Western Cape publication presenting itself as a serious newspaper. The article, reporting on the results of a household survey, stated: “If you want a tidy house for the rest of your life, never make a Western Cape woman your wife.” This was obviously a play on the 1963 song by Jimmy Soul entitled: “If you wanna be happy for the rest of your life, never make a pretty woman your wife”.

After reading the article, I jotted down an email to the editors pointing out the sexist and patriarchal stereotypes being perpetuated in this introduction. In a puerile response the editors basically said: “It’s a joke, get over it.” (Translation: “Shut up you humourless cow. How very dare you tell us that we harbour any prejudices”.) This kind of response often reflects unadulterated hubris on the part of the person who made the “joke”. It also often reflects the unquestioning belief of those who use the joke defence that they are the final arbiters of what is funny and what is not.

People whose world view is dominant and who benefit from the way in which society is structured and how “knowledge” is produced, often resort to the joke defence in an attempt to re-assert what they believe is their unquestioning right to control the discourse, and thus to control what those who are not like them are allowed to think and feel.

The joke defence is not unlike the retort often used against people who criticise racist statements and actions by white people. When you call out somebody on his or her racism you are often told that you are “over sensitive” or that you should stop playing the “race card”. Those who use the race card defence do so in order to silence others who dare to complain of racism and racial discrimination. It is used to re-assert the right of the culturally dominant group to be the final arbiters on what constitutes racism and what not.

Decrying others for using the race card, therefore, often amounts to no more than an attempt to re-assert cultural white baasskap. It is often aimed at taking back control of the situation in order to shield the racists from criticism and exposure. It is often no more than an obvious attempt to deploy the power of “whiteness” to dictate what may and may not be spoken about.

Those who invoke the race card defence to try and silence those who criticise racism are really saying: “have the right to decide what is racism, but you ­– the possible victim – never do. In my own mind I am, after all, die baas van die plaas.

People who complain that others “play the race card” often contradict themselves and play the race card themselves when white people are criticised, or when the notion of whiteness is exposed and critiqued. According to this bizarre view, only those who complain about the racism of white people can ever play the race card. According to this belief, white people who complain about racial prejudices in black people are merely using their power to decide what is racist. Apparently they never play the race card because they are the ultimate arbiters of what constitute racism. It is a textbook example of how white privilege is deployed in our discourse.

Similarly the defence that a clearly sexist article was just a joke (albeit one that relied on a harmful stereotype about the appropriate role of women in heterosexual relationships) relies on the power of patriarchy. It asserts the right of the editors (either men or, if not men, then women who accept the oppressive gendered nature of relationships much like hostages with Stockholm Syndrome sometimes accept the authority of their capturers) to decide what is funny and what is not. The article in the Cape Times obviously normalizes patriarchal and oppressive gender roles. It is based on the assumption that women do the housework and men marry women partly to enslave them into doing their housework for them.

In our society housework has a low status and where it is done for pay, the remuneration is low. (In excessively gendered relationships such work is often done for free.) Many men still expect women to do the housework and work hard to maintain the traditional exploitative gendered structure of intimate relationships. Men who help with housework are often ridiculed as hen-pecked and depicted as feminized and therefore less worthy of respect, as less powerful. (This is an indispensable source of hilarity for some sexist comedians.)

Many women in South Africa still find themselves in such exploitative relationships in which strict gender roles are enforced, sometimes through violence or the threat of violence and sometimes through the power of “tradition” and societal expectations policed or promoted by the kinds of people who seem to be editing the Cape Times. The article in the Cape Times took this state of affairs for granted, as if this was the most normal thing in the world, and made fun of it. The “joke” was not aimed at challenging the idea that housework should be done by women or to critique the way in which gender roles are used to exploit women to do work for little or no reward. The “joke” was based on the assumption that we all agree that it is perfectly normal and acceptable that wives do the housework while their husbands edit newspapers.

When they were caught out, they had to re-assert their power by invoking the joke defence. This is all about power. Who has the power to decide what is sexist? And what is a joke? A first step in challenge this insidious working of patriarchal power is to unmask it, even at the risk of being called humourless by those who wish to protect their own power.

  • Herman Lategan

    Dankie, puik blog, I agree with every word.

  • http://www.ozoneblue.co.za/ Ozone Blue

    I’m sick and tired of the race card, and specifically pathetic people like you, Gillian Schutte and Herman Lategan’s self-loathing and pathological obsession with RACE.

    When is a joke not a joke? I assume when you are doused in petrol in set on fire.

    “Johannesburg – Two Chinese women are in critical condition in hospital after robbers poured petrol over them and set them alight in Mahikeng on Sunday. A Chinese grocer stood helplessly and cried as he watched robbers douse his sister and sister-in-law with petrol and set them on fire. As the two women screamed and cried, the robbers went around the grocery shop and poured more petrol, razing it to the ground. One of the women was so badly burnt that she had to be transferred immediately to Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital. The grocer, his employees and some customers escaped from the burning shop unscathed. The police arrived at the scene and found the 40-year-old grocery store owner inconsolable.”

    http://www.iol.co.za/news/crime-courts/women-set-alight-during-robbery-1.1572041#.UiW8s9c88VY

    But keep on stoking the race fires and turn a blind eye to the real issues, cause sooner or later they will come for you too.

  • Brett Nortje

    Au contraire, my liewe Pierre – I have observed that those who timidly bleat about others playing the race card are too weak to tell them ‘Shut up! Sit down! Fit in. Or fukk off.’ So, they try to sugar-coat what they feel. Is there ANYTHING to admire about someone who whines ‘Oooh! You’re playing the race-card now’?
    “Decrying others for using the race card, therefore, often amounts to no more than an attempt to re-assert cultural white baasskap.”

  • http://www.ozoneblue.co.za/ Ozone Blue

    Brett. As long as you don’t laugh at Idi Amin, Mobutu Sese Seko, Charles Taylor, Robert Mugabe or Julius Malema.

    ‘Racist’ scene gets fish ad cut

    “The commercial features a white man playing
    different characters to demonstrate how truth can be bent in order to mislead. The character uses his fingers to show inverted commas to indicate that sometimes “fresh fish” is not really fresh. In all the scenarios the “lying” character is
    white, except in one scene where his face is blackened and he speaks in a thick African accent.”

    “The black character is depicted with derogatory intention, speaks with a thick accent and recalls a stereotypical black dictator. “To achieve the desired result of showing a corrupt official, there was no need for the man to be made out to be black,” the ASA said, ruling that the advert was discriminatory and offensive.”

    http://www.iol.co.za/tonight/tv-radio/racist-scene-gets-fish-ad-cut-1.1573278

    And I fully agree they should be taken seriously.

  • Brett Nortje

    Oh, I agree fully with Pierre that humour should be banned to avoid misunderstandings. Jokes have got me into plenty of kak.
    Adverts should go, too, since they have a history of delegitimising gay people. More so, and worse than humour. Vat nou vir Nataniel. If I said to you ‘Nataniel lyk soos ‘n eier met make-up op!’ you’d know it was a joke, right? Listen again, when you see the Checkers ad claiming ownership of Nataniel come on. Mock gay accent.
    Do all gay people lisp, hey? Checkers?

  • 1Zoo1

    What the fuck is “whiteness”?

  • Simon Smit

    the problem i have with this article is the author tends to create scenarios hypothetical in nature, using anectodal evidence, which he then uses to “prove” his arguments.

  • http://www.ozoneblue.co.za/ Ozone Blue

    It is the biggest crime against humanity ever.

    It is the evil blue-eyed devil culture that has lead to the phenomena of the self-loathing White liberal. It is self-reflective, it is confident. It goes back to Plato in ancient Greece right up to Zezek in modern day Slovenia. It invented the wheel, antibiotics, electricity, plumbing, sewerage disposal, televisions, rugby, roads, cars, nutritional supplements, Nietzsche, Karl Marx, Freud, hippies, John Lenon, anti-racism, feminism, Satre, Didera, Facebook and the Internet and also unfortunately Gillian Schutte and Pierre De Vos.

    It is pretty fucking evil. Can’t you see.

  • 1Zoo1

    It begs the following question of all this utter crap.

    What is blackness? What is Indianess? What is Chinesess? What is Arabianess? What is Icaness?

    If you want to separate “whiteness” from everything else what is everything else?

  • http://www.ozoneblue.co.za/ Ozone Blue

    You obviously should have watched the Zizek youtube I posted on “asian capitalism”. Just like Mngxitama waxes on about “black socialism”.

  • 1Zoo1

    I’ll give it a look

  • 1Zoo1

    Onto the joke thing.

    Professor, you must be an awfully boring dinner guest.

  • Andy

    “Humour, in this case, became a powerful weapon to affirm the humanity
    of the victims of Nazi atrocities.” I just wonder how on earth humor, in the
    context of Jews, can be humanized? Do you have any vague idea of what these
    people had to go through in the Holocaust? I doubt that one can humorize the
    worst fate any group of people like the Jews must have suffered. Have you ever
    visited Auschwitz or Dachau to even have a notion of a feeling of the atrocities
    these people had to suffer? And don’t forget Mr de Vos, there were many homosexuals
    who died in the Holocaust too, purely because they were homosexuals. Is this
    something to laugh about and find “funny and humorous”? Strange sense of humor
    I dare say? And why must the “… humanity of the victims …” be affirmed anyway –
    were they animals or apparitions when they died? Needless to say, there is something
    like entertainment, culture and art – but there is also a line of tastelessness
    and tactlessness one should not cross.

  • Brett Nortje

    OK, now FNB has a lisping adverteur as well. Must be an epidemic?

  • Brett Nortje

    A white woman’s life is worth 18 months correctional supervision:
    http://www.iol.co.za/news/crime-courts/correctional-supervision-for-ex-cop-1.1574402

  • Ana

    Thank you, Mr Pierre De Vos! An incisive reminder of the micropolitics of power in everyday life – jokes being no exception. I could quibble about a more nuanced unpacking of power being needed – one that does take into consideration the widespread & insidious nature of racism, sexism while not automatically slotting all women, black people, etc into predetermined positions of victims, etc etc… But judging from the comments below, nuance is unlikely to work.

    On the other hand…. Perhaps some nuance upfront might go some way towards minimising the knee-jerk backlash that people unthinkingly occupying positions of power always seem to experience when challenged…? We gotta have hope!

  • Percy Higgins

    Judge de Vos, your point is?

  • Brett Nortje

    So, Maggot, more information is coming to light about the last I-hate-die-boere egg you laid.

    A man has been hounded to his death – the media has begun doing its job belatedly. You have more egg on your face. Rapport and Burger too. Our boycott is working, but still they default to censorship:

    http://www.rapport.co.za/Suid-Afrika/Nuus/Dis-n-spul-leuens-20130907

    ‘Dis ’n spul leuens’2013-09-07 23:59

    Julian Jansen en ­Jeanne van der Merwe

    Flippie Engelbrecht, die gestremde seun wie se hartseer verhaal soveel harte die laaste paar maande geroer het, was sieklik lánk voor hy na bewering deur ’n Bolandse wynboer aangerand is.
    Dié opspraakwekkende onthulling kom enkele dae nadat Johnny ­Burger (62), eienaar van die plaas Rietvallei naby Robertson, homself geskiet het – blykbaar omdat hy nie meer die spanning en skande van die hangende hofsaak kon verduur nie.
    Burger en sy plaasbestuurder, Wilhelm (Dozi) Treurnicht, het saam tereggestaan op aanklagte van die aanranding op Flippie.
    Die saak het geweldige emosies in die Breëriviervallei losgemaak – veral weens die bewering dat Flippie epilepsie ontwikkel het en blind geword het tydens ’n operasie ná die aanranding en boonop ook sy hande verloor het toe hy tydens ’n epileptiese aanval in ’n vuur geval het.
    Drie onafhanklike bronne wat Flippie Engelbrecht al jare lank ken, het egter die afgelope week aan Rapport gesê Flippie het reeds lánk voor die beweerde aanranding epilepsie gehad.
    Marietta Adelaar, ’n pakstoor­bestuurder op ’n buurplaas van Rietvallei, sê die Engelbrecht-gesin was haar bure toe sy in 2006 op die plaas gaan woon het.
    Sy sê sy het by meer as een geleentheid, beslis vóór die beweerde aanranding op 25 Januarie 2008, gesien dat Flippie aanvalle kry.
    Nog twee kennisse van die Engelbrechts, wat nie geïdentifiseer wou word nie, het aan Rapport bevestig Flippie het epilepsie gehad vóór die beweerde aanranding.
    Dit is nie net die verband tussen die aanranding en Flippie se epilepsie wat nie klop nie.
    Carina Papenfus, die Engelbrechts se regsadviseur, het die laaste paar maande verskeie uitsprake oor sy gesondheid gemaak waarvoor Rapport geen onafhanklike bevestiging kon vind nie.
    So beweer Papenfus dat Engelbrecht enkele dae ná die aanranding vir sy hoofbeserings geopereer is.
    Hospitaaldokumente wys dat Engelbrecht eers in 2009 in die Tygerberg-hospitaal opgeneem is vir breinbehandeling.
    Papenfus sê Flippie het in 2009, sowat ’n jaar ná die beweerde aanranding, sy hande verloor toe hy in die vuur geval het terwyl hy ’n epileptiese aanval gekry het.
    Rekords van die Worcester-hospitaal toon egter dat hy sy hande eers op 29 Augustus verlede jaar geamputeer is. In ’n video-opname wat deur ’n onafhanklike ondersoeker namens die Burger-familie gemaak is, vertel Sarah Papp, ’n plaaswerker, sy het Flippie ná die amputasie in die hospitaal besoek.
    Sy het hom gevra wat gebeur het en hy het geantwoord iemand het hom in die vuur gestoot.
    Papenfus beweer ook Flippie is blind gelaat deur ’n operasie wat hy ondergaan het ná die aanranding.
    ’n Verslag van die Pionier Skool vir Blindes op Worcester, wat opgestel is toe Flippie op 29 Oktober 2009 vir plasing geëvalueer is, vermeld egter dat Flippie se ma sê dat hy “op ’n vreemde wyse” blind geraak het nadat hy vir ’n pitsweer op die wang dokter toe is. Swelling het ingetree en sy toestand het sodanig vererger dat hy na die Tygerberg-hospitaal oorgeplaas is, aldus die verslag.
    Papenfus wou nie kommentaar lewer op die teenstrydighede nie en het gesê hulle “is nie van plan om in die media te litigeer nie”.
    “Ek persoonlik dink dit is baie gevaarlik om minderjarige kinders se vertroulike mediese rekords op die voorblad van ’n koerant te sit as jy net die helfte van die rekords in jou besit het,” het sy gesê. Op die vraag of sy enige mediese rekords het wat ’n ander weergawe staaf, wou sy nie kommentaar lewer nie.
    Sy wou ook nie dat die koerant kontak maak met die Engelbrecht­gesin om die teenstrydighede aan hulle te stel nie. Sy sê die Engelbrechts is “om veiligheidsredes” na ’n geheime adres geneem.
    Die teenstrydighede in Flippie ­Engelbrecht en Papenfus se weer­gawe van gebeure sal boere in die ­Breëriviervallei, wat reeds diep ontsteld is oor Burger se selfmoord, net verder die harnas in jaag.
    “Daai vrou (Papenfus) het Johnny Burger na sy graf toe gestuur. Die boere is kwaad,” het ’n vrou wat nie haar naam wou noem nie, voor Burger se begrafnis aan Rapport gesê.
    Papenfus verwerp enige insinuasie dat sy en die Freedom Trust Burger skuldig bevind en veroordeel het nog voordat hy verhoor is.
    “Sy selfmoord word regoor die land gesien as die daad van ’n skuldige gewete.”
    ’n Huisvriend van Burger sê egter Rietvallei was “onder beleg deur ­Carina Papenfus”. “As jy haar Facebook-blad en Twitter-rekening volg, sal jy sien wat ek bedoel.
    “Johnny Burger het nie selfmoord gepleeg oor hy skuldig of berou gevoel het nie. Hy het gedoen wat enige ander ouer vir sy kinders sou doen – in hierdie geval oor hy die aanvalle wou stop. Niks meer en niks minder nie.”

  • 1Zoo1

    Don’t expect a retraction.

    This has now entered popular parlance. “White farmers always assault, injure, torture and murder their black slave workers”. The ANC wants the blacks to hate the whites again. Next year’s elections are going to be the election of hate for minorities – are you ready for it?

    I wonder though, could charges be laid at Flippie and Papenfus’ doors for culpable homicide? You take your victim as you find him, and Flippie is supposedly devastated by the farmer’s suicide.

    If the farmer was guilty, surely Flippie would be pretty chuffed, or at least indifferent? It looks like the poor boy has been used and abused by his family and Papenfus, and now a man is dead because of it.

    This story is going to end badly.

  • Brett Nortje

    I have full confidence Maggs will do what he can to restore the balance in the scales of justice (inasmuch as he posted the link to this story….)
    Simple sine qua non test….
    If those participating in a suicide can be convicted of murder then how about someone who drove a person to suicide? Interesting question.

  • Brett Nortje

    After 2 years of searching I think I have found a blog I enjoyed as much as Jaco’s blog on ‘thoughtlessness’ and Hannah Arendt!

    http://praag.org/?p=10067

  • 1Zoo1

    I suppose it would come down to intent. If you intentionally drove the victim to suicide as part of a plan then I would think murder is conceivable.

    But here it looks like culpable homicide if anything.

    Nice dog by the way.

  • http://www.ozoneblue.co.za/ Ozone Blue

    Wow Brett. I do not like Dan Roodt but the moron he has really nailed it here.

    “It is therefore ironic that Schutte should describe herself as a “post-structuralist-deconstructionist”. Does she even know what she is referring to? The very basis of any “deconstruction” is the existence of more than one meaning, even the uncertainty, indetermination and radical plurality of meanings. Just over ten years ago a small group of us Afrikaner thinkers had a private seminar with Jacques Derrida, the father of deconstruction, at the École des hautes études en sciences sociales on the boulevard de Raspail in Paris. I remember Derrida as a modest, soft-spoken, amiable figure who reminisced about his single visit to South Africa. He liked Potchefstroom and even told me that “Heidegger would have felt at home there”. Derrida was full of gentle irony, self-doubt and respect for others, even the Other, as he so often termed it in his more political writings.

    Schutte, by contrast, is a third-world ideologue, possessed by a terrible certainty. She has more in common with Robert Mugabe or Idi Amin than Jacques Derrida. Like so many others strutting about our campuses today, she has no real culture but the fad of the moment. The more politically correct such fads are, the better. Her meretricious pseudo-intellectualism has all the charm of Winnie Mandela’s expensive sunglasses and jewellery, being the brash expression of a corrupt and power-hungry soul. Ideas are but slogans, brands, to market yourself to another kind of mob to the one that wanted to lynch the Cape winemaker.”

    LOL. I can still remember that weekend when Derrida was watching the currie cup here in the pub with us!

  • Brett Nortje

    “I have often thought that South Africa today has much in common with Nero’s Rome. Our country has become murderous, corrupt and decadent. Innocence has died. Approximately a thousand children are raped every day, including babies, and nobody says a word.”
    Then:

    “South Africa is profoundly amoral. It lacks a moral or ethical code to define right and wrong.”
    And
    “Did Johnny Burger, the Cape winemaker, commit suicide to save his honour? In a country where “trial by media” and populist passions have come to influence courts and the judicial system, Burger probably correctly surmised that he would not receive a fair trial. His suicide reminds me of the death of the patrician Latin author Petronius who, having got wind of Nero’s henchmen being sent to kill him, preferred taking his own life while drinking wine and having musicians perform for him.”

  • Brett Nortje

    Thanks. I’d love to see Bullet hanging on Sam Vice or Schutte.
    (OK; they can wear a bite suit – I’m not a complete psycho!)
    Do you note Maggs’ family does not look at him the way Bullet looks at me? They look more like my old pitbull when I force her to take her meds….

  • 1Zoo1

    Imagine being invited to dinner with Vice, Schutte and Prof?

    Not enough booze in JHB to get through that amount of PC-speak.

    I have 2 GSD’s myself – awesome dogs.

  • Brett Nortje

    Ewwww! I’d rather imagine a dinner where Pierrot is the entree and Vice and Schutte are the main course. If not my Malis then someone like Bokassa. Pierre is one of this clique as well:
    “Croucamp and Schutte want to reduce us to silence, however. Theirs is the monologue of totalitarianism, of censorship, of “There is only one truth and it is mine”. They pontificate in the name of power, the corrupt power that is ruling, nay, pillaging, South Africa.”
    I’ve worked many German Shepherds. I even did the protection work at a Shepherd club. I like the workline GSDs especially. I guess I just went for the Malinois because I found them on the net while I was sitting with my old Dobermann Icon keeping him company as he went to the happy training field.

  • http://www.ozoneblue.co.za/ Ozone Blue

    But Brett. We are achieving the prefect fascist capitalist state. One where even the “opposition” and the ruling party agree on what must be done.

    http://www.politicsweb.co.za/politicsweb/view/politicsweb/en/page71654?oid=403501&sn=Detail&pid=71616

    And as you can see it is all about race and has very little to do about class. Lets take for example the following statement:

    “To do this, we must accept that the legacy of Apartheid remains entrenched in our country. Its evil hand continues to divide us into groups of haves and have-nots, often based on the colour of our skins.”

    Apparently if we erase the 3 mil white blot the 45 mil black poor would magically disappear! It is like Mantashe’s 1% white cream on top could somehow evaporate the rest of the Irish coffee.

  • 1Zoo1

    Dinner would be too strained in case you said something with might fall into some kind of category of “offense”. If I were at such a dinner, I think I’d end up going a bit overboard, like an evangelical Satanist in Rhema Church ! :) :) :)

    It could turn out to be incredible fun when looked at like that!

    My GSDs are more family dogs as I have lighties. A good friend has a couple like yours and they’re fantastic dogs – and active as anything!

    BTW I see, completely under the radar, Obama’s CDC investigation into firearms control backfired on him spectacularly. Your guys need to call a presser and give the press all the details of the CDC’s results – the quicker the better.

  • Melissa Ward

    A great starting point is to define exactly what a joke is. According to http://www.thefreedictionary.com, in context, it is “Something not to be taken seriously”.

    On this note when will a joke be considered not to be a joke? Is it against the law to make a joke? On what grounds do we classify something said to be serious or a joke?

    A joke will no longer be considered a joke when it is indeed a serious matter being masked by the label of “it is only a joke”. Take for instance the comedian Trevor Noah; in his show “That’s Racist” he makes a comment, “so fake”, stating that blonde women are fake. He is stereotyping and degrading a human being, but still people laugh and find it funny. I believe that it is a serious matter and should not be considered a joke.

    It is of utmost importance to establish when a joke is seen as a laughing matter and when it is seen as serious (even if the seriousness is just implied). Once a joke is serious it can indeed be against the law. According to Section nine and ten of the Bill of Rights all human beings have the right to equality and human dignity. Thus if someone discriminates against another person on certain grounds or violates that person’s dignity it is seen as an illegal act and that person may be prosecuted.

    The difference between a joke and being serious is separated by a thin line. A famous quote states “There’s always a little truth behind every, ‘Just kidding’”. We need to establish a point where there can be distinguished between a joke and something that is not a joke.

    It has become a habit on shows, advertisements, in schools, etc. to make an offensive comment and later merely say “I was just joking”. Does this latter reply rectify the prior comment? Can this comment not still be seen as degrading, harmful and a factor promoting prejudice?

    I feel that it is not merely enough to say “I was just kidding” after making an offensive comment. There has to be a prohibition on making a comment that can in any way cause harm to someone’s rights. We need to realize the depleting effect our words can have on other people. Saying that something was a joke does not rectify the words that were uttered.

    It is also evident that in some cases certain sexes, religions or races believe that they have the power to decide what is a joke and what is not. This can immediately be recognized as an infringement on the equality right. Our country needs to form a basis on which jokes can be considered lawful or not.

    Maybe we should reconsider the importance of the phrase “Put a guard in front of your mouth”. We need to think before we speak. Consider the consequences of what you are going to say. If what you are going to say may cause harm to someone else, rather keep quiet.

    I do believe that there is a clear difference between a joke and something that is said to be a joke, but is clearly not. The clear distinction needs to be made to ensure that a joke will always be “Something not to be taken seriously”!