This post is going to hit you over the head. It’s personal and genuine. Weirdly enough, it’s about humor. If you read it to the end, the turn it takes will probably bother you, much like a Twilight Zone episode using electric shocks as language.
More than ever, I find myself in awe with people who appoint themselves as gatekeepers for humor and appropriateness. Personally, I can’t get my foot out of my mouth long enough to start gatekeeping other people’s humor.
Eventually, everyone’s sense of humor will land them in hot water with friends, in-laws, pastors, politicians, the Girl Scouts, and strangers. You can’t control another person’s reaction. My sense of humor is darker than average. It’s a claim I make from truth rather than an idle part of my story. If someone is not addressing me or a person specifically, I interpret it differently than I do other humor.
Two weeks ago, I wrote a new rule named “Hanlon’s Disposable Razor.” It preaches that we all stop assuming we know the intent of humor, especially if from someone who generally isn’t guilty of malicious behavior – and no actual harm results from it. The term ‘actual harm’ is subject to context, as is every single human experience, so don’t start quibbling over semantics or issues unaddressed by this post.
Since then, my social media filled with examples of people failing to realize that they can’t read the minds or hearts of others. “Well, that’s not funny!” seems to be taken as a blanket justification for anger in response to something that someone finds a bit uncomfortable. Adam Sandler’s last ten movies weren’t funny, either, but plenty of people disagree. “You can’t joke about some things,” is another typical gatekeeping statement. It’s rare that the person making such a statement has a smile on his or her face when they say it. Or matching socks, now that I think about it.
I’m not advocating that we run willy-nilly over people’s feelings under the guise of humor. Quite the opposite. Likewise, 7-8 billion people surround you, all with differing takes on life. It’s impossible to avoid all possible topics of contention. Elevating all humor to the level of spiteful is a fool’s errand. As you know, nincompoops are always employed.
Mother’s Day, April Fools’ Day pranks, Avengers spoilers (as if the movie wasn’t terrible enough), euthanasia, illness, falling and breaking one’s arm: all of these can be funny in the right context. They are not amusing to the people currently embroiled in any pain associated with the topics, however. Humor is universally told from the point of view of an imaginary third person. We don’t laugh or joke with the intent of hurting anyone. Not if we’re reasonable, I mean. If we accidentally say or do something without realizing that it’s causing specific pain, it’s not a reason to lash out in righteous anger. Mistakes are going to happen. Compounding the innocent error with anger serves no one.
On two occasions since I posted my new rule, people attacked me for not showing the required gravitas to an issue or for the sin of laughing at a horrible post even as I cringed that someone had posted it. I did what any reasonable person would do: I printed a picture of that person’s face, laminated it, and taped it to a urinal at the bus station. (That last comment was humorous. FYI.)
Now, I’m going to get personal and provide an example that will erase any doubt that all of us sometimes pull back from humor that we find to be misplaced. The difference is that I avoid objections to ‘third person’ humor, generalized humor, or humor that references shared experiences. I have to be personal because it’s not only the only way I know how to write but because it strikes directly to the point I’m making.
The humor we allow ourselves and in others is a direct measure of our depth and appreciation for our error-prone lives.
It is not the content per se that brings problems; instead, it is the motivation of the person creating the humor. Most people don’t require much study. We’re stupid more than we are malignant.
There’s a popular meme of a white cat near a woman lying dead on the floor. It’s comprised of three panels, each with the cat approaching the deceased woman, meowing for attention at her side, and finally, sitting on her hip. “Your cat’s reaction to finding you dead on the floor,” or something similar usually serves as title or footnote to the pictures.
There’s a problem with the meme if you look at it from the vantage point of unintended humor. What many people don’t know is that cats tend to stay near the body of their deceased owner, exactly as pictured in the meme. Many people have their own stories relating to this tendency.
As thick-skinned as I am, if you don’t know this about me, I was in the exact situation pictured. My wife died late one Sunday night, the night before Labor Day, years ago. She lay in another room for hours before I woke up for work. Our white cat, Quito, stayed with her for most of the night. I found him with her the next morning when I went into the kitchen.
Now, imagine the pain that came from that situation.
It’s such a specific scenario that it seems unlikely that it would ever be the subject of one particular meme.
However, it is.
It’s not a general observation or bit of humor: it describes precisely one of the most significant traumas I’ve experienced in my entire life.
The meme or ones similar to it come up on my social media and the internet with a higher frequency than you’d imagine. It’s not ever going to be likely that anyone posts such content with the intent of trying to barb me.
I could, of course, lash out at people, as if they are responsible for my biography. I could casually mention my past, which would needlessly traumatize the person sharing the meme as a joke.
Alternatively, I could get a sharp jab and then move along.
In general, take the short jab and then move along. Not always, of course, because sometimes people do misbehave and troll their fellow human beings with ill intent.
But not most of the time. Move along.
If I can overlook a cat meme accidentally mocking this substantial trauma in my life, you can overlook jokes about pregnancy on April Fools’ Day, funny anecdotes about cancer, or insensitive humor scattered throughout your social media.
It is not an invalidation of your perspective or feelings for others to joke at the heart or fringes of subjects which overlap with your life’s discomforts, losses, or challenges unless it’s done with malice aforethought or callousness. I hope you don’t have many people in your life that would subject you to such behavior.
I’d rather live in a world in which I sometimes cringe at humor than to reside in one devoid of the richness of human creativity and whimsy.
I ask that you strive to assume that my humor isn’t personalized or weaponized to offend, which is a favor I’ll reciprocate. If there’s doubt, we owe it to one another to further give the benefit of goodwill unless the preponderance of evidence tells us that someone is speaking or acting out of spite.
When someone lashes out at me for a badly-timed or placed joke, I’ll repay their impatience and impoliteness with a reminder that I probably have the upper hand in this argument.
Do unto others – and I certainly do. I welcome all humor, from tripping down the stairs to jokes that would cause many to burst out in tears.
P.S. If you heard 1/50th the nonsense that goes through my head or that I say in private, your head would explode indignantly. The truth is, though, that we both know that you undoubtedly have at least a portion of my dark bent in your own head. That overlap is what gives us hope.
Also, I’m in the picture on this post three different times.
Donald Trump is likely to be elected again in 2020.
I’m not going to vote for him. Because I live in Arkansas, my vote is irrelevant.
I voted against him twice in 2016: once in the Republican primary and again in the general election. I’m not a Democrat, but I am a liberal. I did more than most liberals to try to stop Trump, as many Democrats took a detour to argue over Bernie and Hillary. I’ll be surprised if they avoid the same mistake this time. The best is indeed the enemy of the good and some voters can’t stop fixating on irrelevant differences.
“Any functioning adult” was already my candidate against Trump.
Most people don’t like Trump but many will vote for him again despite his critical flaws. They believe he’ll advance an economy or agenda that’s favorable to them. Liberals watch in awe as Evangelicals defend and embrace Trump. It’s obvious that most people know that Trump is no man of faith and probably doesn’t care about most of the issues. As a politician, however, he has outmaneuvered almost everyone at every step. Trump’s polling numbers aren’t great, to be sure, but the economy is in his corner. He’s like the crappy job we endure because it pays the bills. We talk about leaving, but everyone knows we’re full of it. The Evangelicals will eventually face the consequences of endorsing a candidate and person like Trump – but it won’t be anytime soon. Movements which start at the extreme implode. (Take note, Democrats.)
A great number of Americans can’t watch the news, can’t talk to their friends and neighbors, and cringe at the idea that Trump has any position of authority. Worse, a trend that I’ve called the Polite Politics Pandemic has infected the minds of most of his detractors. People avoid any mention of politics or life issues on their social media, their conversations, and in general. They mistakenly believe that doing so makes their lives more manageable.
Just as it has done in other democracies, silence creates a false impression among your circle that you are either afraid of your opinion and the consequences of expressing it, don’t care, or secretly endorse the things that cause your silence. Over time, we find ourselves watching the boulder tumble faster and faster downhill.
Silence, even politeness with a goal of civility, works in favor of Trump.
Whatever your opinion, it is equally obvious that most Americans will overlook Trump’s onerous flaws and endorse him again. Like the last election, many of those voters will be Democrats.
Trump changed the nature of the Republican party and politics in general. Such a person comes along once a generation. Those who are politely silent are counting on their fellow Americans to push him out. The 2016 election taught us that it’s a fool’s wish to expect others to do the expected thing. If you don’t stand up and stand out now, you’re part of the problem. If you can’t find it in yourself to opine now, during a once-in-a-generation aberration, you never will.
Liberals should note that many of their friends and neighbors who once proudly shouted their enthusiasm for Trump have grown silent. Trump’s continued onslaught of profane and outlandish antics has cooled their support. The moderate in most of us eventually finds us again. Expecting most of them to violate their interests and not vote for him again, however, is lunacy. They’ll turn out in the next election whether you do or not.
I’m guilty of confusing a vote for Trump as an endorsement for some of his cruel policies. I can’t separate his policies and his endorsement. Many voters can, though, and we’re going to need a better way to frame it.
Incumbency and a strong economy invariably favor the candidate for re-election. Arguing about whether he’s qualified or a good person misses the point; it’s irrelevant. Politics has lost its facade. Qualifications will now invariably yield to tribalism and charisma.
Trump does not hold the blame for exploiting the election system or for our system of governance which assumed that rationality and normalcy would be prevailing standards. Some have shouted and barked so often that it’s impossible to alarm the bystanders sufficiently to believe that there is a real problem. I’m not asking anyone to snarl and fight; rather, I’m asking that you start by reminding everyone, even those who only passively see your influence, that the Trump America isn’t one you like.
We can do it without screaming. Screaming won’t work, anyway. If a few people get angry at you for simply enumerating your objections to a Trump America, it’s likely that those people don’t align with you or your life, anyway. Good people don’t banish other good people from their lives for honest expression; they banish them in fear of having to confront their own insecurities.
So many put their hope in the Mueller Repor. The biggest problem was its lack of transparency and immediacy. Simply put, such things must be developed quickly and openly. Whether it’s supposed to work that way sidesteps the fact that our democracy no longer finds value in the laborious process of law. Democrats lost the fight and bystanders mostly think it’s because there wasn’t enough meat on the bone. The average voter dislikes corruption, but most expect politics and politicians to be a little dirty. We’re not going to find a smoking gun in the last election unless someone releases footage of Trump killing someone with his bare hands. Anything less is a distraction.
Policy is not going to sway the middle in the 2020 election. Immigration is not an issue that will work for Democrats. Forget decorum, forget the small annoyances of a particular candidate, and stop shouting. Unless a charismatic third-party candidate enters the race late, the only Democrat who could possibly beat Trump will be the one who is standing in the middle with just enough charisma and intellect to know better than to offend voters who are mostly otherwise detached from politics. Stop focusing on how it ought to be and instead focus on the system that we’re left with.
Trump won’t win by much. Thanks to the electoral college and the tribal nature of national races, he won’t have to. If your family and friends don’t know that you dislike Trump and won’t vote for him, let them know. Don’t try to aggressively change their minds. If your life isn’t a shining example, you’re not going to change anyone’s minds. People will only stop to think about you or your opinion if something about your opinion and life speaks to them in a way that Trump’s charisma cannot.
On a personal note, I learned a hard lesson from FiveThirtyEight in 2016. As the interference of the last election became apparent, I learned more lessons from Facebook and the power of social media, watching in wonder as we discovered that they had been used effectively to sway opinion. I worked hard to embrace the lessons. My vote is almost irrelevant compared to the reach of anonymous and effective opinion. I’ve used it, especially in the last year.
Even if we miraculously get a new president in the next election, we now know that chaos and entropy are the wolves which will always be at the door. Trump or his surrogate is inevitably planning his next move.
Stay silent if you will.
Barring a major disruption, Trump will be elected again in 2020.
Silence will cost you more than your reputation.
Worse than an assassin is the self-appointed gatekeeper of humor.
Humor, one of the most authentic human emotions, often treads in the mud.
My sense of humor lurches into the darkness and dwells there. I’ve uneasily enjoyed much of the social fire through the years, watching as people without any real intention of cruelty are publicly drawn and quartered for something they’ve said, or for an action that violated someone’s norms for humor. “Well, that isn’t funny!” Often, they are right. It wasn’t funny. But it wasn’t intended as an attack. It was just stupid or poorly stated. Most such humor harms another person’s sensibilities and those things they find to be sacred. As someone smart once said, “You can tell who is really in charge by what you can’t make fun of.”
Hanlon’s razor is a saying that reads: “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.”
Here’s my take: Hanlon’s Disposable Razor: “If no actual harm was done, never insist that you know the mind of someone who said or did something in jest. Accept an apology, but watch for a relapse.”
Given freely, humor should always be first interpreted as an imperfect and fluid expression of a shared human emotion, rather than a malicious attack on one’s viewpoint. In the larger scheme of human interaction, humor seldom produces observable harm. Weirdly, it often produces anger in the mind of the beholder, an anger that is often disproportionately harsh in comparison to the expression of a badly-worded or executed attempt at humor.
Even though we know the above to be true, we often jab humorously at funerals, cancer, parents, patriotism, sex, and just about every other possible thing common to people. All of them will wound people in the wrong place and at the wrong time.
Age has taught me: sooner or later, we all face the guillotine of error.
Some people seem to stand guard adjacent to the guillotine and wait for perceived breaches of humor and intent.
Because people so often bring their own arguments to these thoughts, it’s important that you understand that my comments bend more toward passive humor, such as when one person sees a billboard written in humor and becomes angry or the refrain is, “I don’t find that humorous.” I’m not pointing my finger at interpersonal humor.
Distrust anyone who is righteous and quick to anger in the face of humor.
Absent evidence, it’s unwise to assume that the accused had ill intent.
The volume of the objection doesn’t always coincide with the magnitude of the offense.
Like all human interaction, mistakes are going to happen.
Given that mind-reading is still out of our reach, it’s wise to take a look at the context and the totality of whomever and whatever you’re about to rail against.
And remember that no matter who you are, you’ve said and done some vile nonsense to other people.
P.S. Once, when I was telling a version of this, someone said that I should call it the “…But Did You Die?” rule. Perspective.
Meet Wally Weasel, The Ineffective Customer Service Helper. He can’t help you, no matter how trivial or serious your issue is.
I created it for one of our local multi-billion dollar corporations, the one with a tangible public relations problem on its hands.
Instead of ignoring a question or problem, Wally Weasel can step in and fix it all simply by saying “Dunno” and making us forget our real problems or what we were complaining about in the first place.
I think I might be onto something here. I pity all the local global corporations.
P.S. Bonus points if you can guess which global corporation inspired this mascot.
Cloakfriend: a social media friend who unknowingly helps you keep your sanity by posting ridiculous links to ‘loonlinks,’ thus allowing you to hide/block those sites permanently.
A loonlink is a link which allows people to share something they didn’t create, likely to be either untrue or at best questionable, without thoughtful consideration, usually at the expense of critical thinking. Most such sites and links were created specifically to antagonize rational discourse. They appeal to the basest of ideas and most social media users despise them.
Sometimes, social media does us all favors. I have at least one friend, for instance, who has helped me to permanently hide several hundred fringe and/or ridiculous sites and pages in the last couple of years, just by using his or her news feed to identify them as they were posted. He’s a cloakfriend.
When I see a loonlink, I use my instincts and without much thought, right-click the options and hide/ban the site permanently. There are too many legitimate websites and new sites to use without stressing about possibly removing a useful one. The truth is that once you begin to do as I’ve done, you’ll find that the same sort of site tends to be shared, regardless of the particular name.
I hate hack pages, regardless of agenda. Even as a liberal, I don’t want to see sensationalism or obvious stupidity, unless it’s satire, informative, or humorous. Or my own stupidity, which I’m obviously blind to. On the other hand, I’m not one to linkshare, as this practice is one of the single biggest reasons Facebook has a problem. If it’s easy to share, it’s prone to abuse by those impersonating idiots.
Anyway, thanks for pointing out all the pages that stink. I couldn’t have done it without you and all my other cloakfriends on social media.
Commentary Comment Criticism
A common refrain is “Don’t read the comments on news sites.” But not for the reasons you’d expect – but because so many obvious non-readers leave comments there.
A couple of years ago, I made a picture for another website. Since it was my picture, I posted it on my own social media. A few people got irritated about it. They didn’t directly share their aggression, though. They snarked and bit at the fringes of their frustration. It’s what people do instead of finding a way to honestly share their uncomfortable opinions.
Because so much time has passed, I’ve learned that the irritation resulted from their displeasure with the word “privilege.” It’s one of those words which people have sometimes weaponized to imply that well-to-do people have become blind to the real world or minority considerations. On the other website, the one which didn’t attribute the photo to a person, the commentary turned dark and sour very quickly. The word has only become more amplified and vilified since then. Memes refuting the absurdity of the implied observation of privilege are immensely popular.
Coincidentally enough, a couple of social media friends recently shared anecdotes about their daily lives. They neatly tied conclusions to their stories. The problem is that they were oblivious to the privilege embedded in every aspect of their stories. I only noticed it because their stories generalized stereotypes about the circumstances of the other players involved in their anecdotes, the bit players serving as the backdrop for their conclusions. Having money, time, and means to travel to a place and have someone else prepare their food, serve them, and attend their needs is a part of the privilege of having resources. I, of course, didn’t mention my observations to them. That sort of honesty draws a bit of anger and retaliation. Most people enjoy the satisfaction of thinking that their success is due almost entirely to merit.
Make no mistake, many people have worked hard and made the right choices. I know several people who deserve respect for the way they’ve played their cards.
As we all know, however, it is possible to do everything right and still lose, though.
For some of us, we know that a single moment, one unearned, can ruin our lives, plans, finances, or health. A body on the floor. A negligent motorist at an intersection. An undiagnosed valve in someone’s heart. Cancer cells in one’s lungs, even after never smoking and living a clean life. A plane falling from the sky on a Saturday morning in September. A call to defend one’s country halfway around the world.
Some feel that their faith or belief in God has favored them. Whether this is true or not, I know several devout people whose lives are infused with compassion and lovingkindness who’ve experienced some of life’s most grievous challenges. Whether it makes people uneasy or not, faith does not equate to favorable circumstance upon us, nor is a lack of it a reason for failure. Grief and good are sprinkled in equal measure upon everyone.
It is possible to feel satisfied with one’s full life. Pride, honor, and fulfillment are natural consequences of threading the complex needle of circumstance in life.
Good people don’t weaponize the word “privilege.”
Good people also don’t fight the necessity of recognizing their luck against the prism of reality.
For some, their mantra is “If you don’t have to think about it, it’s privilege.” For others, “If it’s not a problem to you personally, it’s not a problem.” Also, “The fact that privilege helps you doesn’t mean you didn’t have to work hard, but it does mean that others have to work harder to overcome societal disadvantage.”
These quips are popular because they antagonize the simple fact of privilege and turn it into an accusation as if those with privilege all abuse their opportunities selfishly. These simplistic bumper sticker quips exist precisely because some people snarl and bark when asked to recognize their head start in life.
Fair or not, I feel rich. And privileged. It’s foolish for me to look around and forget how lucky I am. Most of my luck is a result of geography, not effort. I’ve been lucky enough to have decent health and at least access to a massive medical infrastructure to rescue me if not. My youth was violent and poor. I had the privilege of miraculously avoiding making one too many mistakes that would’ve derailed me further. I’m proud of my aversion to the politics and prejudices of those around me when I was young.
Simply put, the majority of my life’s privilege results from where I was born on this planet. The rest falls to demographics, education, and opportunity. I can’t take credit for those things.
I don’t have to curse myself for being lucky, either. Nor should any of us feel guilty. But we should all feel thankful.
Absent some of these factors, no amount of pluck and effort would have propelled me above the station I would have otherwise been assigned.
Privilege. The privilege of being.
If you zoom out above the Earth, you’ll find that your life is one of wealth and privilege. Comparison proves that you are lucky to have been born where you are, with the body and mind you have, accompanied by the geography and economics of opportunity.
If you’re accused of ignoring your privilege, lean into and be thankful for your life.
Starting with the most important point: Dexter will return for another season. I’m as certain of it as Michael C. Hall’s agent was when he recommended to his client that he make “Safe” for Netflix.
Dexter will haunt us again if no other reason than it’s going to be profitable for everyone involved.
Some of us have been fooled by fake promotional posters for the mythical Season 9 of Dexter. It’s easy to fool those who already long for such a scenario to be a reality. As for the studios involved, I can’t imagine that it wouldn’t be profitable for them to have a go at Dexter+ in the near future. I’m betting that it will be sooner rather than later. (Dexter+ is the name I’m recommending that the studios adopt.)
For the neanderthals walking among us, Dexter was a Showtime series featuring a likable vigilante serial killer in Miami.
In a testament to forgetfulness, I watched the entire run of Dexter again. First, I thought there were fewer seasons. Second, it’s undeniable that some seasons had some strange plot twists and contrived storylines. Good tv is forgiven the infrequent gaffe. Rewatching the show provided me with several instances in which I noted that the writers had dropped hints of possible futures for Dexter. None of them seemed relevant the first time I watched. Now that I’ve revisited Dexter, the infinite storylines available to great writers seems endless.
Now that I’m finished rewatching, my mind seems focused on the monumental things I’d forgotten – or had completely wrong. Many fans were incensed at the way the show ended. Lt. Batista never knew Dexter’s secret. Quinn survived, no matter how badly I rooted for him to get shot from a balcony. Debra, of course, is fish food.
I like to imagine Lt. Batista still at his desk, being the kind-hearted stereotype he always was. Debra, being eaten by the sharks in the bay as the currents move her back and forth. Dexter, sitting in his place in the Northwest, fantasizing about his next appearance in a Gillette commercial.
Of this I’m certain: there will be another season of Dexter. Showtime insisted that Dexter would survive the series finale, even as writers argued about whether it was realistic. His son Harrison would now be about to reveal whether he inherited Dexter’s affinity for mayhem. The story can pick up at any point in time, past or present and in any geographical location they choose. The real world still spins and no one substantive apparently suspected that Dexter was indeed a serial killer. His cover story could be amnesia or a mental break which rendered him incapable of returning to the life he was already leaving before Debra’s death. Lumen still lurks in the midwest. Hannah walks the earth, probably still free.
As with all good stories, the biggest obstacle is one of creativity on the part of those tasked with creating a new timeline for Dexter.
Showtime, it’s your turn.
If you think you can shirk your duty to bring us another season of Dexter, you’re as foolish as Dexter was, each time he attempted to live a normal life.
The only trailer for the new season we need is this: Doakes at the boatyard, telling Dexter, “Suprise, m*********a!” No explanation, no cutaway, followed by a fade to black as the word “Dexter” enters and fades from view.
People want creativity and individual content.
That’s what they say, anyway.
What we find is a mountain of shared content, created by other people, and all too often weaponized to evoke a response.
In recognition of that, here’s an eerie picture I made.
It’s either interesting, stupid, or somewhere between, innocuous or ominous, derivative, or creative.
But it’s mine.