The recent suicide of 15-year old BC girl Amanda Todd has provoked an enormous response from the Canadian public—and brought to the surface an amount of internet hatred and cruelty that some seem to be noticing for the first time. Memes of an innocent-looking Amanda with titles joking about her drinking bleach have shocked people for the sheer level of cruelty it takes to attempt humor over something so tragic and serious.
But Amanda’s case is merely the newest and most noticeable symptom of a long-growing trend—the replacement of humor with the cruel and the needlessly offensive. A myriad of “jokes” on the Aurora theatre shooting in Colorado swamped the “meme world” before the corpses had even cooled. It would appear that many people now find it humorous to poke fun at the most devastating and tragic events, without any regard to human decency or shared human dignity.
Humor was, once upon a time, supposed to offend people’s sensibilities for a good reason. Here I do not refer to trash such as Two and a Half Men and other sitcoms which fail to even attain the status of innuendo, but the use of humor to expose a greater truth or perceived truth, regardless of its offensiveness. From Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal,” to the Danish cartoons of Mohammed, to Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert’s biting nightly commentary on US politics, humor and satire often collide to create a useful critique of society. Is it often offensive? Yes. But the reason it offends is that it carries a message that many people will not want to hear.
But now, humor has been degraded into the art of offending people without purpose. The animated television show created by Seth McFarlene, Family Guy, is the flag-waving champion of this new low, well-known for tastelessly savaging people and groups that cannot defend themselves for no reason other than that they can. This show has mocked Ronald Reagan’s Alzheimer’s, Helen Keller’s blindness, people with Down syndrome, abortion, and animal cruelty, just to name a few. Was there any constructive critique behind their depiction of these things? Any message they were trying to deliver to the public? Nope. It’s just hilarious to say things nobody else will—even if everyone else isn’t saying them because they’re too tasteful.
If you strip humor of all sophistication and purpose, then I guess something like Family Guy and its copycats could be considered humor. At the point when someone’s dementia is funny, and a picture of a girl harassed to death with a joke about bleach is funny, and jokes about someone shooting people to death in a movie theatre are funny, the bar is so low we’ve lost it in the gutter anyway.
In a country where we have the right to free speech, you have the right to make these “jokes,” and you should have that right. But don’t kid yourself. You are not some sort of champion for free speech because you made fun of a dead girl and her tragic end. You’re not a freedom fighter because you said something your parents are too classy to think of uttering. You’re just a jackass contributing to the cruelty that leads to tragedies like the suicide of Amanda Todd.