Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Dark Jokes

I'm very touched by this article about Wendy Harmer apologizing to Lindy-Chamberlain-Creighton.  

Wendy Harmer is a comedian, and for part of her routine, she poked fun at the Chamberlain family's tragedy. And she implied that Lindy was guilty of her baby's murder. 

Now Lindy has been declared innocent by an Australian coroner.  Harmer gave a public apology.   She says sorry for her own actions and also expresses sympathy for what the family has endured. It's very nice.

I also like what she says ABOUT her actions and the apology.  In pursuit of a laugh, I too carried a burning stick. 

Harmer isn't the only one out there owing Lindy an apology.  Harmer guesses that there are millions of other Australians who also owe apologies.  I'd say there are millions of people around the world.

I have questions floating in my mind right now.

1. Am I one of the millions?   Did I make jokes about a baby dying?   Did I laugh at jokes?   I can't remember doing so, but my memory is not always reliable.    I hope I didn't.  And if I did, I hope it was back when I was ignorant...when I didn't know much of the story.   I'm guessing (and hoping) that once I knew more of the story, I had more compassion.  

2. Should the apologies have come sooner?  Was validation from a coroner needed before people came forward to say sorry?  Back before it was decided that dingoes do indeed harm humans sometimes, was it okay to make fun of the whole thing?  

If Lindy wasn't labeled as innocent, would it be okay to go back to making fun of the whole thing? 

3. What does this say about humor, especially dark humor?   I don't know if I've joked about the Chamberlain story, or if I've laughed about it.   But I'm pretty sure I've made jokes about other tragedies, and I've definitely laughed at other people's jokes.

Is this wrong?  Or is it just part of human nature?   Is it just our way of dealing with scary strange things?

Should we stop all of it?  Should we stop some of it? 

Is there a line we shouldn't cross? 

Or should we just accept that if we die (or are injured) in a bizarre way, people are going to joke about it?

I like jokes.  I like dark jokes.  So it's hard for me to suggest we stop all of it.

I'm wanting to say let's keep joking, but be sensitive towards other people's feelings. It's hard, though.  Because almost every joke out there is going to offend SOMEBODY.   Sometimes it's because our jokes are very offensive. Other times it's because the listener is very sensitive.  Sometimes they're sensitive to the joke for a very valid personal reason.  

I'm thinking.....

Maybe it's less about dark humor and more about the burning stick that Wendy Harmer mentioned. 

Should so much hatred be directed towards someone when there's no proof of their guilt?  Should we all gang up on them? Should we find so much pleasure in ganging up on them?

And even if they are guilty, is it okay then to gang up on them and be hateful?  Maybe it is...to some small degree.

I think there comes a point, though, when we revel in the hatred of villains because it distracts us from thinking of our own faults.   


  1. Ironic that you should be talking about hate and what should I see on your blog? A widget pointing to a character from McLeod's daughters with the legend "I hate him" !

    Which is just my way of saying that everything should be assessed in its context. A drama series works precisely because it gives us a chance to connect with human feelings, review our own ideas of good and bad, acceptable and unacceptable attitudes, and like all theatre can lead to catharsis of the healthiest kind if good triumphs over evil.

    Through all that Lindy stuff I remember thinking two things, the first was that some of the claims against her were so outlandish that no one could possibly take them seriously, and the second was that people around me were so passionate and polarised about the whole case that she had no chance at all of a fair trial. In defence of the 'guilty' faction, it's probably worth remembering we all rely on 'experts' and the justice system and can't in some ways, afford to believe they are flawed.

    So while I didn't believe she was guilty I cannot tell a lie, of course I made jokes about it. The most popular one I remember was 'they've reopened the Harold Holt case... and are looking for a dingo with scuba gear...'

    One of the greatest risks with satire is that some people will take it seriously. The Harold Holt joke relies on an attitude of 'it's silly to blame a dingo', and taking that to an extreme. Do I feel ashamed? No.

    The Other and I make terrible, often racist jokes. In our defence, we have two rules: The first is that we don't make satirical remarks in front of people unlikely to get satire [which severely limits the audience!] The second is that the meaning behind them is that racist ideas are SO stupid it's hard to believe anyone can take them seriously. So our 'racist' jokes laugh at racism.

    At the risk of attracting hate mail, let me give you an example. Watching an old B&W movie we inevitably find some grovelling black nanny or maid whose sole purpose in life is to lovingly serve some cranky old white woman with no redeeming features at all.

    In one scene, the old white biddy is upset about something and wants to make a phone call. The devoted black maid is running her finger down a column of names in a phone book and I instantly comment [in the privacy of our lounge room] "Look! A darkie who can read!" The Other, always quicker and wittier than I instantly replies "Nah, she's not reading the phone book... she's just dusting it".

    I don't remember anything Wendy Harmer said about Lindy, but she was motivated by a desire to satirise the nonsense being aired about it all. It's very big of her to apologise, but I'd bet my life that 99% of the people hearing her understood that it was satire, and were horrified by the witch hunt attitude of the media.

    And yes, some people are ridiculously sensitive but hate is stupid and although we are bound to get into trouble sometime, it's better to laugh at stupid ideas than support hate.

  2. Fruitcake:

    Cathartic. That's a good word to explain it all.

    I think the jokes are cathartic...at least to some degree.

    As for racist satire. Yeah. There's a difference between that and hateful racist jokes.

    A good example (besides you and The Other) is Stephen Colbert. He has a lot of that type of humor.

    Another example would be the Dame Edna stuff that made Salma Hayak so mad.

    That was very funny; but not if you didn't understand the context.

    Interesting about Harmer. I didn't see the original act; but I assumed from that article that it wasn't satire. I thought she was making fun of Lindy Chamberlain and NOT the craziness of the situation.

    I guess that's the danger of satirical humor. Sometimes it is hard to tell what is what.

  3. P.S- That IS ironic about the McLeod's Daughter post.

  4. and a PS from me... not that I'm competitive... meant to type "Wendy Harmer was... probably motivated by"
    It's inconceivable to me that anything else was intended from her. Is it wrong that she used the situation for laughs? No. It was wrong that so many people were quick to judge her badly - especially for such incredibly stupid reasons. E.g. you would not have seen the headline [yep, headline] that said several people had seen Azaria land on her head when she fell from a supermarket trolley onto a concrete floor. Plus 7th day adventists were a weird cult, what kind of mother would always dress a little baby girl in black... blah blah blah.
    [The old saying here was if you can't read buy the Sun, if you can't think, buy the Herald.
    The 2 newspapers have merged now, so the Sun-Herald offers the best of both worlds; pictures and prejudice].

    Humphries and Sayek... Barry is an Australian treasure. We need at least another dozen as clever as him.

    Don't watch Colbert but might one day weaken because of your mention.

  5. Fruitcake,

    I don't remember hearing of Wendy Harmer until this incident. So I don't know what she's usually like.

    From her apology I would guess she DID feel like she was one of the people who joined the bandwagon of hate and finger-pointing.

    I went to read her actual apology post last night. http://thehoopla.com.au/azaria-thinking/

    She actually mentions satire.

    "I could pass off my effort as an attempt to satirise the witch hunt in the media at the time, but no excuses.

    In pursuit of a laugh, I too carried a burning stick. What was I thinking?

    Such was the fire storm of hatred, all rationality was lost."

    I'm not sure if she means she WAS trying to be satirical, and that's still no excuse. Or if she meant she can't use that as an excuse, because it's not true.