When I was young I used to read volumes of Truly Tasteless Jokes (https://www.abebooks.com/servlet/SearchResults?sts=t&cm_sp=SearchF-_-home-_-Results&an=&tn=truly+tasteless+jokes&kn=&isbn=), of which there were at least five volumes. The first of these was actually a national bestseller. This led to various spin-offs like Gross Jokes (https://www.abebooks.com/servlet/SearchResults?isbn=9780821712443&n=100121503&cm_sp=mbc-_-ISBN-_-used) and a variety of Filthy Dirty Jokes compendiums (https://www.abebooks.com/servlet/SearchResults?isbn=9781879582675&n=100121503&cm_sp=mbc-_-ISBN-_-used), including several designed for kids (https://www.abebooks.com/servlet/SearchResults?isbn=9781926700458&n=100121503&cm_sp=mbc-_-ISBN-_-used).
Most of the jokes found inside were terrible. They were stupid and vulgar just for the sake of being vulgar. Many of them were cheap, predictable, crudely unimaginative, racist or sexist–even outright heartless and cruel. And yet, within every single category, no matter how otherwise objectionable we might find the topic, there were always a number of genuine laughs. I read these books when I was a teenager similar to how, in the generation before, people might listen to the much higher quality antics of Richard Pryor and George Carlin, the Smothers Brothers, Redd Foxx, or any and every other well known comedians who released their acts on vinyl. The act of reading or listening to these things was generally private, or with the volume turned low with friends over (my father had a fine collection of comedy albums when I was growing up and I listened to every single one of them, repeatedly). And we always had tales to tell, or jokes to take credit for ourselves, assuming that no one we knew had ever heard them before. It was briefly joyous, these moments of laughter usually at other people’s expense. We learned not to take everything so seriously. When, exactly, did this stop?
Ricky Gervais, shown above, is a wonderful professional trouble-maker. Many people today find him offensive. I would imagine that he loves this. He has had quite a bit to say on the subject:
Plenty of comedians are on Gervais’ side in this discussion, although many are too shell-shocked by the potential backlash against offending someone that they keep their mouths shut. But comedians are only the highest profile examples of people blamed because they irrationally offended others by what they said.
The younger generations always find something to offend them throughout history. This comes, usually, less from a place of actual moral outrage than from some strain of superiority that wishes to write off the past as irrelevant to the world of today. Of course this is absurd, is the same excuse lazy school children use when telling their social studies teacher that history doesn’t matter, that nothing before their birth was important. It is from this self-absorbed tense that all offense comes from.
Of course there are legitimate things to be offended by:
And yet, Ricky Gervais makes a comment about this too which, since all of us right now are online in these chat spaces or zones where there are numerous assholes or “trolls” scanning around desperately trying to offend people for their own amusement, since all of us have some familiarity with these horrendous realities, why is what Gervais says so true?
We can moan about “political correctness,” which is a grit-toothed intolerance in its own right, pretending to fight against bigotry and prejudice all the while imposing a different variation of the same thing upon society. But do not make a mistake about who and what are PC, because there is more than just a tame liberal outrage over hurt feelings widespread throughout civilization. Taking the United States as an example, we have an equal and opposite right-wing PC–“Patriotic Correctness,” that sneering, intolerant outrage over someone not worshipping the flag or standing for the national anthem. Many of these people are religious too, yet do not seem to realize that they are guilty of idolatry, worshipping symbols, those waving, musical golden calves. But the anger over seeing or hearing someone doing something you find morally objectionable has the same sort of shrill outcry. There is the same over-the-top reaction by each extreme:
There really is very little difference. One might get self-righteous and try to defend the value of this side or that side, paste up self-justifying blather like
Each side, again, defends their own free speech to the exclusion of the other. It leads to things like
There is merely an ideological divide on what partisans believe is offensive and what should be free.
And so no one really has a moral upper hand. It is the same censorious values that energize right and left wing cults. They are for outlawing things they personally find offensive and seem unable to laugh off. Oh, sure, they can laugh at each other’s stupidity:
We have lost our sense of humor, the one thing that keeps us armored. If we can no longer laugh at ourselves, and only laugh at others, cruelly, deeming all disputes with your own narrow view unworthy of even being heard, it is this dismissive mindset, such pettiness, which is the ultimate cause of the collapse of civilization. Look at how humorless we are today, merely on the attack, the President and his supporters only laughing at his slurs and the opposition only laughing at the President and his supporters. That is a broken society. It is cheap name-calling. It is beneath the section called “Helen Keller Jokes” in each volume of Truly Tasteless Jokes (two blank pages). It makes me think of a joke:
How many radicals does it take to screw in a light bulb?
“Fuck you! I’ll sit in the dark.”