Where is our society’s sense of humor going? Why have we suddenly moved into what I see as a “mean streak”? Or have we always been there and I’m just seeing things recently that piss me off? Three things came to my attention this week which caused me to ask myself these questions.
It started last week when I was reading the NJ.com Radio message boards. I read them regularly being a radio geek, and there are occasionally interesting posts, though the board really is not that active. A debate erupted there over the inherent entertainment value of NJ 101.5’s Jersey Guys. If you haven’t heard their show – it’s not hard to imagine. Sophomoric, right wing humor, with little basis in fact. Craig Carton – the “star” of the show to Ray Rossi’s sycophant, is little more then a shock jock wanna-be. He stirs shit up just to get rise out of people – that’s the act. In the past year he’s been at the center of three controversial incidents at the station. The first in which he stirred things up in the Muslim community over their gathering at Hightstown high school, as well as their yearly outing to Great Adventure. The second was his remarks about Mary Jo Codey – acting governor Dick Codey’s wife who admitted to post partum depression and mental health issues. The third involved his rather pointed opinions on Jun Choi – running for Mayor of Edison.
In all these cases, he used a public event to stir things up. He used ethnic accents and stereotypes, and he made fun of people who didn’t agree with his views. The problem I think I have with this – is that he crosses the line from funny to mean spirited. His stereotyping goes over the line – characterizing the people he villifies in a nasty light. For example – on The Simpsons the character of Apu is Indian American – and the stereotype is not lost on anyone – but it’s done in good fun, and he’s portrayed in an intelligent light. Carton just crosses that line of good fun and I’m left shaking my head, wondering how someone can be so mean. The answer is of course – it’s for his own personal gain – whether that gain comes in dollars for his salary (tied to the station’s ratings) or notoriety (again, bringing the station ratings). It just seems that to use it to that level is just mean spirited. I don’t know, it’s something I’m left wondering. But at least thepeopel affected by his nastiness are adults.
So the second thing that came to my attention was a t-shirt that gives away a key plot point in the new Harry Potter book (“It says XXX happens on page XXX – there, I just saved you $15”). I first saw mention of it on MuggleNet, and then I saw it on Gigglechick’s site. Mugglenet had a spoiler warning up right away, but Gigglechick did not (she eventually added it – more on that below). In the comments section on both blogs – some people debated the humor of the shirt pretty vigorously. It got pretty heated on both sites, and I have to say it really bothered me. I see the humor in the shirt – it’s an obvious play on this new spoiler culture we seem to have evolved into since the advent of the internet allows us to see information about the books, TV shows and movies read so readily that it IS laughable. I guess the reason the shirt struck me as mean spirited though – is that the Harry Potter books are kids books (though adults read them). It might take a kid (let alone an adult like myself with limited amounts of free time) a month to finish the book – or maybe more. Or maybe the kid’s gotten turned on to the series recently and is working their way through it. If that kid – wide eyed with wonder about the series saw that shirt on some teen in the local mall – it would just ruin it for them. It would ruin it in the most mean spirited way I know – and that is just sad to me. It’s sad that our society has come to such nasty humor. Yet – people defended it in droves – saying it was jus hilarious and they’d love to wear the shirt because it would just drive other people crazy. Key words: drive other people crazy – aka stir things up. Humor out of controversy – attention out of nastiness.
The third thing that I saw happening this week involved some podcasts. I know – most folks probably don’t know this subject from Adam but it was what finally drove it home for me yesterday. There is an excellent podcast called “The Bitterest Pill” which is hosted by a working actor and stay at home dad named Dan Klass. Dan is intelligent and also cynical. His humor is along the lines of a low key David Sedaris with a little bit of Ira Glass (from This American Life) and Harry Shearer thrown in for good measure. It’s funny in that smart, clever way that you find on public radio. Week before last the NY Times published an article on podcasting and described Dan as an “addict.” Now – Dan describes his fans along with himself this way because it’s an obvious play on the title of the podcast and nothing more but apparently the author of the article took it the wrong way and actually thought he was a real addict. So he called the NY Times to ask for an apology or correction – which they did. It was a little bit of controversey in the podcaster community so it got a bit of attention for a few days.
So enter this other podcast this week called “Keith and the Girl.” They can be funny at times – but they are not one of my regular listens. They decide that they are going to tear apart Dan’s podcast for humor. No really – this was their act – to play parts of the podcast, and to tear apart Dan’s act – in an attempt to be funny. This was the third thing that to me – seemed mean spirited. It was a cheap way to get laughs and, I might add, stir up controversy and publicity for the show. It was sophomoric humor to the nth degree. Rather then try and come up with a “bit” like a parody of his show (which probably would have been funny) they just chose to rip him apart for his humor and his handling of the NY Times situation. So here’s the thing – the humor once again springs out of a mean spirited well. Using one person’s vulnerability for their own personal gain.
So here’s the thing that ties all of these incidents together for me. It’s not just their collective mean spirits – it’s the collective dismissiveness of the people who chose to propagate the joke. In the case of the Jersey Guys – anyone who calls them, and tries to talk sensibly about the subject at hand, is the made fun of and summarily dismissed. The discussion becomes a one sided defensive attack on not only the subject of the joke – but of anyone who chooses to disagree with it. In the case of Gigglechick posting about the t-shirt (to give her credit – she didn’t create the joke itself) – her response was eventually “fine…spoiler alert. boo-hoo.” Like the sulky child who doesn’t get their way and is scolded for their actions – she lapses into defensiveness as her joke. Finally Keith and the Girl – I haven’t heard their reponse to the storm – so we’ll see what comes up. What’s also common in all these instances is the absolute defensiveness that all of these folks’ fans take with them. On the NJ.com radio forum – the Jersey Guys fans are just as nasty as they are in defending them. Intelligent conversation and analysis of the situation is unheard of. The same goes for Gigglechick’s fans in her comments section, as well as on Keith and the Girl’s comments. It just sets off a nasty firestorm to even try to get them to see your point of view. There is no concession. It is only nastiness.
Maybe I’m just too sensitive, but it all seems much worse then it did ten to fifteen years ago. Or maybe it’s just more visible because we have the internet – which allows instant response. I don’t know. But I can tell you that I don’t always like it.