Joking About Violence: Victims See No Humor


Credit Pickersgill Reef via Flickr Creative Commons

Comedy serves a number of roles in a society. One of which is pushing the envelope of cultural acceptability and unacceptability. There is a constant push and pull between the comedian and society.

Comedians back in the day such as Lenny Bruce, Jackie “Moms” Mabley, Redd Foxx, Richard Pryor and many comedians of today force society to look at itself and critique its values and mores. Society laughs while some push back. The friction or conflict that is caused from this push and pull makes many people uncomfortable. This discomfort results in introspection and change.

Even when you accept the premise of comedy causing discomfort, there are a few subjects that should always be off-limits. There are some things that a society should never find funny. Some of these areas are the Middle Passage and its aftermath, the Jewish Holocaust, the exploitation of children, violence and violence within relationships.

As a survivor of domestic violence, it is hard for me to find humor behind a sadistically brash and insensitive punchline. In the age of the internet the line between acceptable and unacceptable “humor” has become blurred. The technology allows the “comedian” to hide behind the lack of direct contact with the audience. Often time’s comedians are seen acting out short skits on their social media platforms and with the click of a button they’re instantly able to reach thousands of viewers.  This ability to immediately transmit material removes the filter that usually comes with time and thought.

Domestic violence seemingly has become a growing trend in these comedic shorts often featured on Instagram or Facebook. Survivors of violence don’t want those tragic memories to be triggered by simply browsing their social media platforms where they can innocently become victimized again and again.

While browsing videos on Instagram one caught my attention. It was an obscene title, admittedly I can’t recall the exact phrasing but something to the effect of: When bae’s Pussy Is Just Too Good! The video shows a man waiting on an unsuspecting female to leave her house. He jumps out the bushes and asks her for sex. After she denies him multiple times, he pulls out a gun. She then eventually gives in and they go into the house.

Sexual Violence, Kidnapping and Assault. There’s nothing funny here. It’s all too real – all too often.

A week or so later, I came across yet another video. There was a guy and a girl across the bar from each other. He buys her multiple drinks and after a half second of distraction he loses sight of her. She has run into an elevator obviously dodging him. Unfortunately for her, before the door closes he catches up to her. An unsettling stare off ensues until she says to him: Yea I drank your drinks and left…what are you gonna do? Shoot me?” He does.

He misses.

But he does shoot at her, oh and did I mention there were other people in the elevator as well?

What’s more disturbing were the comments below the video validating the erratic and dangerous behavior. Condoning the actions with smiley emoji’s and endless stories beginning with “if that were me I would’ve done the same thing too…”  Arguing that drinks are too expensive to waste and she owed her counterpart something for taking the time to buy them. Those who spoke out against it were being told they were too sensitive or can’t take a joke.

But violence isn’t a joke. It’s all too real, painful and tragic.

Janese Jackson Talton 29 year old mother of three from Pittsburgh was shot and killed for rejecting a man’s advances at a bar. She declined his offer for a drink, and asked him to move away when he inappropriately positioned himself behind her in a sexual manner. Her killer Charles McKinney pulled a gun out and shot her for not reciprocating his advances. Misogyny is what made him feel like he was entitled to her, as if she too owed him something and his hypersensitivity to rejection is what motivated him to kill her.

Not only do these videos minimize the notion of violence as nothing more than slap stick comedy, they also continue the narrative of control. They suggest that partners are to do what the other wants regardless of the consequences. No matter how Good your pussy is it does not make it acceptable or even laughable to have a gun pulled on you to make you engage in activity that you don’t want to engage in. The word “no” should be enough. But it wasn’t for Tiarah Poyau 20 year old Graduate student who was literally shot in the face for refusing to dance with someone at a festival.

Even though comedians have their right to speak freely (Section 230 of Communications Decency Act) on various issues it is important to understand the responsibility that comes with communicating messages over public platforms. By constantly posting and minimizing the impacts of violence, studies show viewers of such content may become desensitized to it. Think about the number of television shows, movies, books and of course social media where violence is the main theme.

Now, think about how it makes you feel. As violence continues to be a form of entertainment victim bashing will continue to escalate.

Violence should never be the subject of comedy, instead it should be always discussed seriously. It has been asked “why don’t you just watch something else?” My response is why can’t comedians be socially responsible and make fun of something else.

There’s a responsibility with the platform so it is important to think before you post.


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