Saturday, December 8, 2012

When does a joke go too far?

I've mentioned before that my dad and I like to watch sitcoms together. One I've recently started watching with him (and some on my own) is Wings, which follows employees of a small airport in Nantucket. Not necessarily the Nantucket of the famous R rated limerick, but Nantucket nonetheless.

Don't ask me about that limerick. Just don't. Please. (source)

In the episode I watched today, one of the major characters, a guy named Joe, gets a visit from Sandy Cooper, a woman who had a crush on him in high school. Joe is afraid of Sandy, because he claims while they were still in school, she locked him up and forced him to reenact a prom date with her. Years later, when they see each other again, Sandy claims that the whole thing was a joke. And everybody believes her -- including Joe. For awhile, anyway. Later in the episode, it becomes clear that Sandy wasn't joking when she once again kidnaps Joe, now engaged to someone else, and forces him to act out a wedding to her. But still, nobody believes Joe when he claims that she is nuts. She's just joking, they insist. And can't Joe take a joke?

Obviously this is a pretty extreme (and comedic) example. But in our modern world of text messaging and internet forums, it's pretty easy for a joke to get out of hand. Sarcasm is much more difficult to understand via text, when you don't have things like facial expressions and body language to help people along. I've seen numerous internet discussions get way out of hand because someone made a joke that someone else took out of context. The people who make the joke, of course, always blame the other person, saying that they were "just joking" and how on earth could anyone possibly miss that? Yet plenty of intelligent adults miss jokes all the time.

The other day, my mom sent me an e-mail full of pictures. Each picture represented something else, and you had to guess the word that it meant. For example, a picture of an alligator standing over a gurney was supposed to represent the word "gatorade." As in "gator" and "aid." Yet I never would have gotten that. Why? Because when I see a gurney, the word "aid" is not even in my brain. I'm thinking about the word "gurney."

There's an old saying that if you get 5 people in the room and ask them about a painting, you'll get 5 different opinions. Why? Because people are all different. We all associate different people, things, and events with different thoughts. And if one person gets a joke and another doesn't, it doesn't mean that there's anything wrong with either of them. It means they're interpreting things differently due to different life experiences. So before you say something or react to something negatively, think about the people you're speaking to. Are they really stupid or ignorant, or are you just seeing things in a different way than they are?

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