When does a joke cross the line?

I heard that the essence of humor is making fun of someone or something. I think being unnecessarily cruel for a laugh is bad. But also I find taking everything so seriously that no one can say the smallest thing for fear of offending is also bad. Where is the balance between the two extremes?

In the recent cause célèbre, I took it as a joke. I took Roseanne Barr was not saying that Valerie Jarrett was an ape, but look like the Kim Hunter character in Planet of the Apes. I don’t understand how this was over the line when W was caricatured like a chimp all the time. Obama had huge ears. Or Condoleezza Rice was depicted with huge lips. Abraham Lincoln was seen as a gorilla. Sure these things are not the nicest of things but have happened for a long time and been part of public life. In no way was this violent like the Kathy Griffin picture with a severed head. (Picture link: http://www4.pictures.zimbio.com/mp/_jD15cq53Ell.jpg )

What happens is a joke becomes a serious treatise that must take 5 hours of cable time to parse and feign outrage. “We see from this the following ten things. …”  “America needs to move beyond saying things like this.” “Breaking News Flash the Real Reason the Chicken Crossed the Road.”

Why can’t people give back as good as they get? The jokes just about write themselves if you want to pick on Roseanne Barr.  Let her keep her job and ridicule her.  Use creativity to fire a salvo.  Society is a better place when we can civilly joke with one another. (Do you want to hear my latest Richard Easton joke?)

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49 thoughts on “When does a joke cross the line?”

  1. OmegaPaladin:
    Valerie Jarrett is an enemy agent and a traitor.  I hope she dies a slow, lingering death as she watches everything she every loved burn.  I’d like to deport her to Iran from low orbit, onto the Iranian nuclear complex.

    Couldn’t have put it better myself!

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  2. Robert A. McReynolds:
    The only thing Rosanne got wrong was Jarrett’s family is from Iran, and thus highly likely to be Shi’a.

    This is misinformation, easily checked. She was born in Iran because her parents were there for work. Her father was a physician and both parents were born and educated in the US. Furthermore, while I’m not an expert on citizenship law, it’s my understanding that people born of American parents abroad are considered natural born Americans. There are probably more to the rules than I know about but that’s the gist of it.

    I’m no fan of Jarrett; big fan of truth. Unfortunately, lots of folks on our side aren’t.

    Edit: I know Robert was kidding; most who say it aren’t.

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  3. Update: Forgot to mention a comment she once made to BHO in the WH as documented in a Halperin/Heilemann book (both lib journalists btw).

    “I love living your life.”

    Can you imagine the consequences if a Trump aide made a similar remark?

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  4. I took Roseanne Barr was not saying that Valerie Jarrett was an ape, but look like the Kim Hunter character in Planet of the Apes.

    When I heard about Rosanne’s tweet, and heard she had apologized for making fun of Jarrett’s looks, I immediately wondered if she meant something like this, as well.

    And it angered me greatly that even pundits on our side just thoughtlessly parroted the claim that the insult was racist.  They didn’t even stop to wonder whether they could be wrong.

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  5. Owen Findy:

    I took Roseanne Barr was not saying that Valerie Jarrett was an ape, but look like the Kim Hunter character in Planet of the Apes.

    When I heard about Rosanne’s tweet, and heard she had apologized for making fun of Jarrett’s looks, I immediately wondered if she meant something like this, as well.

    And it angered me greatly that even pundits on our side just thoughtlessly parroted the claim that the insult was racist.  They didn’t even stop to wonder whether they could be wrong.

    Does anyone think Bryan looks like Col. Sanders? (Be careful Ratburger.org is a little known subsidiary of ABC.)

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  6. Owen Findy:
    And it angered me greatly that even pundits on our side just thoughtlessly parroted the claim that the insult was racist. They didn’t even stop to wonder whether they could be wrong.

    They’re not on our side.

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  7. 10 Cents:
    Does anyone think Bryan looks like Col. Sanders? (Be careful Ratburger.org is a little known subsidiary of ABC.)

    Yes, if you mean the young Col. Sanders.

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  8. drlorentz:

    Owen Findy:
    And it angered me greatly that even pundits on our side just thoughtlessly parroted the claim that the insult was racist. They didn’t even stop to wonder whether they could be wrong.

    They’re not on our side.

    I actually think it goes far beyond that. They’re afraid.

    I don’t blame them either because I will never again discuss Trump in the middle of a four star restaurant in a blue state. It’s a waste of good wine and make-up.

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  9. EThompson:
    I actually think it goes far beyond that. They’re afraid.

    You’re right. They’re scared to lose those gigs. Now they’re reduced to being the pet right-wingers on lefty media. Their masters will soon tire of them.

    EThompson:
    I don’t blame them either because I will never again discuss Trump in the middle of a four star restaurant in a blue state. It’s a waste of good wine and make-up.

    At least it was white wine, right? You should spend more time hangin’ ’round places like this.

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  10. Aaron Miller:
    Either way, the most remarkable aspect of the story is the TV network’s eagerness to cut its own profits.

    Yes.  This is the aspect that drew my attention.  Willingness to cancel it’s #1 show?   Doing so gives a reason to pause when commenting.   To me it is an indicator that there is more to this incident/decision than we are being told.

    Back on topic.   I don’t know where ‘crossing the line’ actually exists in general, but I recognize it when I read or hear it.

    That said, I don’t know exactly what Barr’s comment, which is now being characterized as a ‘joke’, was really saying.   I thought the muslim brotherhood part was about VJ looking arab aka muslim-like and the planet of the apes part was about her family’s communist heritage.   But what do I know.

    Back, sort of, off topic.  Free speech is free speech.  She did  not cuss or use what my grandmother would call coarse language, so I’m good with what she said.  Well, unless I got the parts/meaning of the ‘joke’ backwards.  Then, I’m just not sure how to take it because I had absolutely no idea the VJ was mixed race.  Is she?

    Only aspect of the situation, which occurred after the original comment, and which made me think that the original comment had in fact ‘crossed the line’ was the follow-up tweet stating the original comment was a ‘joke’.   Humor is the number one * excuse given to deflect an allegation of rudeness.  A very poor excuse.   Thus, when Barr said her original comment was a ‘joke’, I immediately thought, oh, so you were being deliberately rude.  Tsk. Tsk.   I mean because, even if one agrees with the sentiment, it wasn’t funny.

    *corrected an oops

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  11. TempTime:

    Aaron Miller:
    Either way, the most remarkable aspect of the story is the TV network’s eagerness to cut its own profits.

    Yes.  This is the aspect that drew my attention.  Willingness to cancel it’s #1 show?   Doing so gives a reason to pause when commenting.   To me it is an indicator that there is more to this incident/decision than we are being told.

    The network’s decision could possibly be defensible on economic grounds, given that advertisers and viewers might retaliate if the show remains on the air. It may have been rated #1 but the dollars come from sponsors. If sponsors pull out (likely because of fear of customer ire), the #1 rating is meaningless. Corporate America (cf. Starbucks) has shown itself to be cowardly in the face of accusations of racism.

    TempTime:
    Only aspect of the situation, which occurred after the original comment, and which made me think that the original comment had in fact ‘crossed the line’ was the follow-up tweet stating the original comment was a ‘joke’. Humor is the number excuse given to deflect an allegation of rudeness. A very poor excuse.

    I disagree with this assessment. It decidedly was a joke, meaning it was in the form of a joke and some people probably found it funny. Jokes remain jokes even if they are in poor taste and even if they aren’t funny to me. As I noted in a previous comment, poor taste is Roseanne’s brand of humor. It’s not my taste but there’s no denying that Roseanne is (a) a professional comedian and (b) many people think her bad taste is funny. De gustibus non est disputandum.

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  12. Aaron Miller:
    Either way, the most remarkable aspect of the story is the TV network’s eagerness to cut its own profits.

    Which leads me to believe many companies immediately backed out of advertising commitments.

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  13. Good point. Was there an organized campaign to scare advertisers? Or did they preemptively withdraw this time, like companies defending themselves from the mere threat of lawsuits with “inclusion” programs and such?

    If the latter, then the Left just won a major victory in the culture war. When threats are internalized and don’t need to be spoken, that’s a big step deeper into tyranny.

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  14. Aaron Miller:
    Was there an organized campaign to scare advertisers?

    There doesn’t have to be. My niece works for Chiat Day and spends all her time developing ads that appeal to the most important cash cows in the consumer market- Millennials. She jokes that she’s glad she is only 25 yrs old, a female, and a graduate of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Although not a “person of color,” she speaks both Mandarin and Japanese fluently so her lib credentials are almost immaculate.

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  15. drlorentz:
    I disagree with this assessment. It decidedly was a joke, meaning it was in the form of a joke and some people probably found it funny.

    I understand your thoughts differ, but I don’t think it is readily able to be characterized as decidedly a joke  so long as some folks did not find it funny.  I did not intend my assessment to be read as encompassing all opinions or to indicate no one thought it was funny.   It is simply my opinion that it was not funny.  Well, mine, and perhaps the American Broadcasting Corporation (not that their opinions actually make a twit of difference to me).

    Regarding the ‘form of a joke’, not understanding this part of your comment.  But, that’s OK,  maybe I just missed it.

    Nonetheless, funny or not, I don’t dispute her right to say it.  I just have problems with near immediate apologies after saying something unfavorable about someone.  For some reason I doubt the sincerity of the apology.   It is recognized others have different opinions/tastes.  No quarrel here.

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  16. Aaron Miller:
    If the latter, then the Left just won a major victory in the culture war. When threats are internalized and don’t need to be spoken, that’s a big step deeper into tyranny.

    Completely agree.

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  17. TempTime:
    I understand your thoughts differ, but I don’t think it is readily able to be characterized as decidedly a joke so long as some folks did not find it funny.

    If you reflect on this sentence, I think you’ll want to revise it. It’s a good guess that this could be said of any joke: some folks will not find it funny. Thus, if the criterion for something to be a joke is that everyonehas to agree that it is funny, then jokes do not exist.

    I didn’t find Roseanne’s tweet funny but that doesn’t stop me from recognizing it as a joke. The thing that makes it a joke is that it has the essential characteristics of jokes, not that everyone agrees it is funny, which brings me to the next point…

    TempTime:
    Regarding the ‘form of a joke’, not understanding this part of your comment. But, that’s OK, maybe I just missed it.

    Long before the Roseanne joke, Scott Adams had a good explanation of what this means. More recently, but still well before the Roseanne incident, Adams explained how jokes work in the political context. It is a Periscope whiteboard talk so it might suffer as audio only.

    As they are both highly successful professional humorists, I have to lend credence to Adams and Roseanne. Moreover, regardless of whether you accept Adams’s specific prescription for joke creation, you must be aware that there are such things as criteria for what constitutes a joke, that professionals in the field agree on (at least) some of them, and that they are independent of whether or not the joke appeals to any specific person.

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  18. No argument that opinions abound.

    I think it is becoming clear that we are looking at this situation from different perspectives.       That said, I do understand that if the intent was to evoke laughter or amusement, then, yes, it was a joke from the ‘get go’.  But, if it was ‘just a joke’, why the need for apology?   Or asked another way, if there was an apology, then was the intent a joke?  (both questions are rhetorical)

    The success or professional status of either Barr or Adams simply holds no authority for me in terms of what is humor; appeals to arbitrarily designated authorities never has been a successful argument with me.   I’m just that way.   I’m not challenging their position or yours, I am simply stating my position is different.   But it’s all good.   I think Mr. Adams would likely say we are  simply watching different movies.  🙂

    Either way, I think we are way off topic here.   Thus, I shall move on.

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  19. Yep.  I did get off topic.  @10cents, sorry.  Just got a little carried away attempting to prevent being misunderstood and forgot about the topic.

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  20. TempTime:
    Yep.  I did get off topic.  @10cents, sorry.  Just got a little carried away attempting to prevent being misunderstood and forgot about the topic.

    You were on target. I enjoyed your comments.

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