Thursday, August 11, 2016

Vox: Jokes Are Never Jokes

   I'm sad that Vox is going in a bad direction.
   I had a few e-conversations with Ezra Klein back in the early days of political blogging, and I really liked the guy. And I hoped for the best with respect to Vox. But it seems to be turning into just another batch of left-of-liberal clickbait. Maybe it's just me.
   This piece starts with an obviously false, PC-friendly theory of humor by some random English Ph.D. which--predictably, given the political climate in English--argues that jokes about "socially unacceptable" things are never just jokes, but always "serve the social function" of "normalizing the unacceptable thing." Seriously, without reading the dissertation, you could predict this conclusion with fair certainty if you know anything about the political orientation of English departments.
   Is the point plausible?
   It is not.
   Most of my jokes have the approximate form "so's your butt." There's no reason to think that things change suddenly and inevitably when the topic is something "socially unacceptable." In fact, as lefty academicians have themselves noted, sometimes people do things specifically in order to be "transgressive." If I tell an edgy joke, I am not thinking about changing the borderline of the socially acceptable, I'm thinking about crossing it. Furthermore, jokes often seek to do basically the opposite of what the Vox piece says--they seek to point out that something considered unacceptable ought to be unacceptable. But mostly humor--even about socially unacceptable topics--is indifferent to social change. Here's a joke:
Q: How many dead prostitutes does it take to change a light bulb?
A: Not six, because my basement is still dark.
Is this joke an outrage on the grounds that it seeks to make murdering prostitutes "socially acceptable"? No. Does it seek to make murdering prostitutes "socially acceptable"? No.
   The left tends to like to control what people say. One aspect of this is that it likes to exercise tight social control on humor. (Think about why this joke is funny: How many feminists does it take to change a light bulb? That's not funny.) This Vox thing is just part of that general project, employed ad hoc against Trump.
   IMO the better theory of all of this is that Trump was sort of joking. It was one of those jokes that seek to establish the joker as a member of a certain group--"Second Amendment people" in this case. Maybe it was more kidding on the square. I dunno. But whatever it was, it's stupid to grab onto this dumb theory simply in order to use it ad hoc against one thing Trump said. There are better ways to explain what was wrong with it.


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