Crude Jokes for Less Crude Times

A while ago now, I was sitting at home flicking through satellite channels when I settled on CNN, which I have come to prefer to the BBC. The latter is a channel dominated by technological achievements in the digital world (namely Artificial Intelligence) and usually leaves me depressed.

The former is usually more upbeat, and focuses on the upcoming US presidential election, which I find – as most that are familiar with Donald Trump would attest – more entertaining than even movie channels.

It was time for ‘The World Right Now with Hala Gorani’ on CNN. Gorani was discussing the usual world affairs (the aforementioned election, Syria, Brexit), when, just before the end of the show, they decided to squeeze in something supposedly relaxing. The Edinburgh Fringe Festival hosts an annual competition for the world’s funniest jokes and Gorani related a certain quip that competed this year to fellow CNN correspondent Samuel Burke – “Hillary Clinton has shown that any woman can be President, as long as your husband has done it before”.

Gorani was smiling as she told this joke, but Burke quickly got serious – “kind of sexist though, isn’t it?” he said.

He looked concerned. I was surprised; after all it was just a joke! I could just imagine this guy watching the movie Borat or the popular animated TV series Family Guy. The joke was crude, and it is one of those that has to be appreciated for its bravado in tackling socially taboo subjects like race, sex (either the act or the genders), Aids and so on. But I was also impressed that Burke was able to abstain from even a slight grin.

Now, let us fast forward a certain number of days (I am not sure how many) – Burke is again on CNN offering comments on another subject for another show. The Rio Olympics had just ended, and England, with its moderate population of about 60 million, had produced enough world-class athletes to achieve second place overall. India, with over a billion in tow, came in at 67th. This was a great triumph for the country, especially when contrasted with their pitiful performance at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, where they came in at 36th.

And Burke, as he dutifully narrated this piece of trivia, so as to stress the Brits’ devastating failure at that Olympics, used the type of juxtaposition that was uncharacteristic of such an apparently broadminded person as he. He said that Britain’s performance at the Olympics was so bad that they finished behind Ethiopia and North Korea. I couldn’t believe how incredibly offensive the statement was, especially as it was coming from a guy that found a joke that was supposed to be wry so offensive.

I tried to give Burke the benefit of the doubt – maybe he was only referring to Ethiopia’s low score at other Olympics, and it had nothing to do with our well documented insolvency. But the fact that he mentioned two nations well known for their perpetual state of poverty, when there are various other less destitute countries that generally fluff the Olympics who outperformed Britain that year, struck me as damningly hypocritical.

TV holds great sway over how people think. It is the world’s most powerful propaganda tool. As such, TV news journalists (and others too) are expected to be careful about what they say. Political correctness plays a big role in modern society. More than all other generations before us, we are much better informed of humankind’s past history, and are most affected by it. We know a great deal about the Holocaust, slavery and the role of women in past societies. So, it is far less offensive to make a joke that hurts the feelings of a white guy than that of a Jew, an African-American or a woman.

But 2016 is the year that many in developed countries are starting to believe that there is too much political correctness going around. They feel suffocated by the whole phenomenon, especially as it keeps going against their natural instincts. After all – and this is just some people’s view – the white man has been having the upper hand in all fields of life because he was stronger and smarter; like in Darwin’s survival of the fittest. There is a sense of pride that goes with one’s history, even if that pride offends others. Take Oliver Cromwell, for instance; he was an English leader who made England the most feared military power in Europe, and one of his means of doing this was by ridding Ireland off thousands of its innocent Catholic civilians. The Irish now despise him, while the English voted him the 10th greatest Brit that ever lived.

And that’s why I admire jokes that make fun of these types of tensions. Because it is at those moments that I believe people are the least phony. I find Family Guy completely sincere because it does not pretend to have the higher moral ground, and for that reason, it does have the higher moral ground. People should be as racist, and anti-racist, as they really are. But where pretension rules, where people become politically correct for the honour of seeming liberal, society is hindered from being able to find out where the gaps in its structure lie.

The aforementioned joke is only funny, and not sexist, if and only someone is not sexist. Think about it. Let’s say it is the 19th century, and someone told a similar joke. The audience, who has never heard of women voting, let alone one leading a country, would probably reply, “Well, yeah sure”. Now, we respect women, we believe that it is only natural that they have the same rights that men have. Then the joke becomes funny. To imply that a woman can only become something, after her husband has done it first, is simply ridiculous. It celebrates our liberalism.


By Christian Tesfaye
Christian Tesfaye is a film reviewer whose interests run amok in both directions of print and celluloid/digital storytelling. He can be reached at christian.Tesfaye@yahoo.Com

Published on Oct 04,2016 [ Vol 17 ,No 857]



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