Nobody has a sick sense of humor like college students.
We’re the demographic that made “There’s Something About Mary” a hit. We loved South Park. We made a guy who sucks cow udders a superstar.
We are the test audience of traditional good taste, and we push the boundaries whenever we can. Most of the time, that’s a good thing.
But I sensed trouble brewing when April 1st dawned and the bulletin board outside my dorm room celebrated “National Humor Month” with a felt-tip marker and the instructions “Write your favorite joke.”
I was right to be afraid.
The very next morning after the sign was posted, I woke to find it covered in scrawling handwriting, some of which were actual jokes. At first I was impressed–this is the first decoration that lasted more than one drunken Thursday night. Then I read on, and what I read wasn’t pretty.
I expected the bad language, vulgarity and explicit sexual references. What I didn’t anticipate was the blatant offensiveness–or the reaction it would inspire.
One regrettably memorable “joke” targeted the Asian race, while the overwhelming majority of the jests were at the expense of women. You know, like what do a fat chick and a moped have in common? Or various witticisms about blow jobs.
I read these very direct assaults on various groups slightly shocked with one eyebrow raised all the while mildly amused by the gall of some college kids. The administration always has their way with these things sooner or later.
But as the day wore on, the joke board remained, and eventually it evolved into something more. – a blockade to my apartment, for one. Any time I went in or out, I was liable to swing the door into some snickering group. The fact that the board, with all its smut, was still on display astonished me; the fact that everyone but myself found the jokes non-offensive and actually intrigued me.
It became an experiment. I monitored the board via my peephole and the voracious laughter from the hallway. I was amazed to find girls laughing at this stuff. They weren’t revolted. They weren’t degraded. They were giggling. My roommate came in holding her stomach. “Did you guys see that board out there? Some of it’s funny, but some of it is disgusting!” I had to wonder, is there any difference between the two anymore?
At this point you probably think that I’m a prude. What’s the harm in a few jokes? They don’t offend anyone. They’re harmless. Well, I do realize that the point of most jokes is to have fun at someone else’s expense, particularly at the expense of their genitalia if it’s a good joke. But not a single joke on that board made fun of male genitalia, or groups other than women, Asians and baby tomatoes.
I have a healthy sense of humor and what’s more, a strong opposition to any form of censorship, but when I read that board, I felt bad. I felt bad about what many of the jokes said about me as a female and I felt bad that I lived with people who either repeated those jokes or laughed at them. Bigotry is all the more hateful when placed in the context of entertainment. You aren’t supposed to take it seriously, and if you do, you’re don’t have a sense of humor; you’re a square.
I wonder what, if anything, would turn those laughs into outrage. More racist jokes? Cracks about homosexuals? Animal abuse? Child abuse? Even having to ask the question makes me realize all the more clearly how wrong and demeaning it is to ridicule any one group based on physical characteristics.
I may have a sick sense of humor, but my scruples are alive and well. So from now on, I promise, I’ll stop telling that one about the guy with the twelve-inch pianist.