14 March 2014

Jokes Apart or The Politically Correct View

Thanks to the social media revolution being brought to mobile phone handsets, instantaneous communication to a large group of partly willing audience (or sometimes unwilling!) is possible round the clock. Mostly this communication consists of Jokes. Forwarded and re-forwarded till a new one comes up and till such time that forwarding process becomes an automaton without any contribution from the cerebrum. Recently I suffered an unlikely consequence of this process. I "mindlessly" forwarded a joke on the recent disappearance of the Malaysian Airliner MH370. I did pause a nanosecond, but since (to me) it seemed harmless and un-offensive, I hit the forward button in a "momentary lapse of reason". A couple of days later I got a polite message from an acquaintance regarding the joke. For a second, I thought I would argue that the content of the Joke was more offensive for Sardars/Indians than for the victims/relatives of the airliner, but it struck me almost immediately that the offensive part was not so much the content of the ("or the butt of the joke") but the fact that one can be casual enough to joke about an ongoing humanitarian crisis. By the same measure, one does not hear Jokes about 9/11 even twelve years later (at least I have not!), the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, the Uttarakhand Floods or the ruthless Maoist attacks on security forces. Some topics are just too sensitive to be joked about! However, to be completely fair (an utopian concept), if sensitivities be cared for, then it would be pretty neigh impossible to make Jokes about nearly anything. After all, the ubiquitous "Santa Banta" Jokes do not care much the sensitivities of an entire community. This may be perceived as one of the processes of alienation. One of the many demands of Sikh separatists in the early 80s was banning of such Jokes. Of less widespread but equally seemingly demeaning content is Jokes on Blondes, Poles, Gays, Female driving skills, paranoid behaviour of housewives ... the list is endless. On analysis, practically every Joke would seem to violate the sensitivities of some or the other community. One person's sense of humour is another's disrespect. The case of Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy is a case in point. So what decides which topics are off limits for Jokes? I think this question is not as shallow as it sounds. It reflects to some extent the relative degree of "distancing" one has done the "universal human value" of respect for another human being. Well one thing is certain, the surest way to avoid flak is to make Jokes on oneself! 
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