Thursday, July 10, 2008

Tasteless Insensitivity

If you followed this blog a few weeks back you will have found this post and the comments it generated. It has been a previous theme here, but is worth coming back to because it has obviously touched a nerve; how 'sensitive' should we be with our humour?

Here's my position. Firstly, I should be slow to anger and therefore slow to take offence. I find that in the Bible. Secondly, I should judge other people in the best possible light and assume good, not evil, motivation. That too, is biblical. Both are also common sense and make the world a more peaceful place.

Here's a joke:

A vox popper is standing outside a shop in central Europe and says to a group of passing people, 'Excuse me, what is your opinion of the current meat shortages?' It happens that the four people who have been approached are Russian, Chinese, American and a Jew. The Russian replies, 'What is meat?' The Chinese,' What is opinion?' The American, 'What is shortage?' The Jew, 'What is excuse-me?'

Offensive? Does it change your opinion to learn that I read it in a national newspaper and the columnist said it was told him by a Jewish friend? And notice that, out of sensitivity, I removed references to the gender of the characters in the joke. We all have axes to grind. I seem to think it is OK for jokes to pick on old stereotypes but not to make new ones?

Does your opinion of my dementia joke change if you learn I have experience of growing up with an aunt with severe learning difficulties, a grandmother-in-law with Alzheimer's and a father who underwent a quite dramatic personality change after a stroke yet lived for ten more years until a second stroke which took five days to kill him slowly. 'Did you hear about the stroke victim with learning difficulties who developed Alzheimer's?' sounds to me like a line that needs a punch. Probably not to all. I'm aware that I may be slightly unusual.

I used to work in insurance. I investigated and compensated (where appropriate) people for industrial accidents and illnesses. In the West Midlands, where I was, we had a lot of heavy industry and a number of claims for industrial deafness, white finger and pneumoconiosis. One poor guy got all three. The plaintiff's solicitor, describing his client, said, 'He gave a cough, his hand fell off, he didn't hear it fall.' I think it might have gained his client more compensation as the defence team laughed its own heads off.

All occupations that involve dealing with people suffering in some way develop humour to cope. I'm a minister. You think we don't laugh about funerals? A hearse rear door that wouldn't open wasn't amusing at the time but has since entertained me greatly. Likewise a hole too small for a coffin. Black is cool. We dress our comedy that way.

The team were accused once, on a summer camp, of someone during an organised outing damaging a coach seat with a knife. We were asked to pay for repair. I suggested that, if it wasn't a huge amount of money, for the sake of goodwill with the coach company, we should pay up. My co-leader told this joke.

A man was sitting next to an unattached, and stunningly elegant, woman at a banquet. He leaned over to her during the main course. 'After this,' he said, 'If I paid you £1000, would you go to bed with me?'

'I believe I would,' she whispered back.

During coffee the man proposed once again, 'Would you go to bed with me for £25?'

'What do you think I am?' she snorted.

'Madam,' he said, 'We've established what you are. Now we're negotiating the price.'

We had no further discussion. We didn't offer compensation to the coach company.

Humour. It's how I see life and make sense of it. It may be why I don't have breakdowns, am not a workaholic and continue to be moderately effective in public ministry after 24 years. If you feel it's inappropriate please stop visiting here. To some extent insensitivity is the tax you pay on quick wittedness. I try to be balanced about laughing at misfortune and having my own misfortune laughed at. I chronicle it for that reason.

In public, where the audience cannot select attendance, I am more circumspect, OK slightly.

Enjoy. But nobody is asking you to stay if you don't. Do comment.


Andy said...

Those that use humour always, always, always run the risk of offending someone.

It's like the number 1 instruction that you get when you decide to employ humour in your life.

Should we be aware about offending someone with our humour? Yes, I think we should but that shouldn't stop us using humour. But we have got to be prepared to deal with the consequences.

Sometimes humour can touch a raw nerve in people and reveal hurt or anguish...that can be hard to deal with.

I enjoy reading your blog. It is laced with the lemon drizzle in a lemon cake. Sometimes you can just about taste it and other times you take a bit and it is so obvious. People should know by the contents of your blog that they are getting humour.

Keep it up...if you are OK dealing with those that get offended/ or where it exposes hurt/pain.

I guess Ministers have expert skills in dealing with that sort of stuff anyway...

ROFL at the American's reply to the question....

Mike Peatman said...

The change is humour on TV over the last few years is interesting. In the 'right-on' 80s, out went sexist jokes, Larry Grayson / John Inman campness etc. Now it's Ok if it's ironic.

When does irony start to reinforce the stereotypes it is attempting to subvert? Hmmmm

Keep risking the jokes, Steve. Once in a while it goes wrong, but reconciliation is a wonderful thing!

Ali said...

Amen to all that. I'm staying

fotofill said...

I am shocked that anyone could find you insensitive. They obviously haven't read my blog! I onced dared to tell a friend in 1980's that I liked "Allo' Allo'" She told me it was racist and reinforced stereotypes. I told her what I said then what I would say now. Bollokcs.

Keep writing.

Claire said...

I think it would be different if the attitude was "how shall I be outrageous today?" But as others have said, your blog is thought-provokingly humorous.

Perhaps once in a while, toes may inadvertantly be trodden on, but I'm sure that you would be gently nudged about such things by your faithful public readership. Debate in all things, and all that. But isn't this the point?

Debbie K said...

I love your sense of humour and really enjoy your blog. As you quite rightly say, if it offends don't read it. For those of us that enjoy, keep it up. You raise really good issues that make me think.

Anonymous said...

and if the gays, catholics, prayer book society members etc don't like what they hear in the Church of England they can always leave . . . .

Jonathan Potts said...

Strange coincidence: within about a minute of reading this post, I saw this post, where the the blogger (Brian Maclaren) saw it necessary to pre-emptively point out that some people might find the title of the video "Where the hell is Matt?" offensive. What? Who? Why?

I also remember once reading next to the "U" sign on a children's DVD "contains mild peril". Yikes!

St said...

I think I have erred. I will add, when I get a moment, a few lines of warning on the heading bar. Perhaps:

Contains mild liberal theological bias.

Comments box may contain nuts.

Not everything the author writes is necessarily what he thought yesterday.