There was a (small amount of) commotion last week about a tweet from a West Midlands police officer, using the official police twitter account, in which he showed a joke cartoon of a ‘new seatbelt design’ that would ‘cut down on accidents’. The story (and the cartoon) were reported on The Freedom Association web site as scores of people registered their offence at the cartoon.
The story got me wondering about such things which are meant to be silly, jovial, ‘a laugh’, and wondered about the philosophical position.
You see, in the past I (and Mrs C) have regularly chuckled at jokes about mother-in-laws – these were the staple of 70’s and 80’s comedians like Bob Monkhouse and Les Dawson – and yet I am very fond of my mother-in-law and I know Mrs C feels the same way about my mum. I’ve even re-told the joke to my M-I-L.
The jokes were meant as just that – jokes – and not an attack on mothers-in-law or an assault on women in general – it was just humour. My wife is blonde but she regularly posts blonde jokes on Facebook – again as a chuckle, not to announce that she (and a significant percentage of woman-kind) are dumb.
Then there are jokes about people with red hair, or no hair, the Irish, the Scots etc.
There was an email going round at work recently that was a clever play on words making a joke out of Asian names – it was sent to me by an Indian colleague, copied to at least a dozen other work colleagues from the Middle East, India and the Far East. So, could I be considered racist if I laughed at it?
As a Brighton & Hove Albion supporter of more than 35 years, I’ve been sent dozens of jokes and quips through the years about Brighton and Brighton fans. As Brighton is proudly the gay capital of Europe you can probably guess the gist of many of the jokes. But I don’t take offence, I’m not hurt or damaged by it, even when it’s sent directly to me.
And this is the problem I have; how, why and when does a joke become offensive?
Answers on a postcard (or a reply below) please . . .