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26Jan/12Off

Can a Joke be a Form of Bullying?

I think about this question from time-to-time and have come to the conclusion that sometimes a joke is a form of bullying. Obviously mental bullying can be harder on a person than physical at times. I mean come on … We all know that some jokes can and do hurt feelings. With that in mind, doesn’t it become a form of bullying? I really put some thought into this one this morning when I received a message from a close friend (I don't wanna name any names, but his initials are Richard LaRusso). Before long, I realized that I had a blog post in the making. I thought about making a professional article to address this one, but then I decided to post our colloquial conversation instead.

So … Here is his message that had me putting on my thinking cap:


Hey bro!

I wanted to ask you about something. Somebody posted a picture on Facebook (you know the crap pics people post) and the joke was:
"Don't have phone sex, you might get hearing AIDS"

The reason I'm talking to you about it is, how do you handle this shit?

I mean, it's offensive to me, but at this point in your life does it not even phase you? Does it drive you over the edge? Do you make it a point to draw attention to crap like this so that everyone can see how ignorant it or the person is?

I'm curious because, if something is said that I disagree with, I either disagree or shut up -- but because I "sorta" know you, it just seems even more offensive.

I reported the post, by the way.

 

This question was deep. And, fantastic! It spawned the following response from me:


I really dig your honesty in asking me this. It ain't easy approaching someone affected by a hurtful joke and seeing what their take is. For that, my friend, you deserve kudos.

I tell ya, the jokes used to hurt. Honestly, they hurt deep. But, I have had and dealt with this for more than 25 years now (as you know). That said, I'm pretty immune to it. Especially immune to it on a social media site, where I expect it. Where it catches me off-guard (still to this day) is when someone says it to my face. You know, someone not realizing that I'm HIV+ simply says a rude joke without thinking. I usually chuckle, but I'm sure that I've caught other friends who see the half chuckle/half hurt look on my face. A few friends, like you, might even say, "hey fuckwad, that shit ain't funny." And, I appreciate the support. The eerie part is that I often feel guilty in these situations, and that bugs me more than the confounded joke!

The tough part is, it isn't easy to discern ... I mean, if I was black, my friends wouldn't just spit out racial jokes ... You know what I mean? So, I can't really blame them for doing something stupid (which we all do at times).

That said, I think I would be wrong for trolling comments from unsuspecting people. I guess my point is: I would never ask someone what they thought about AIDS or HIV+ people before first letting them know that I was HIV+. I think that would be a bit of a dick move.

Thanks for the intellectual question. I rarely get them these days (everyone seems to kind of dumb it down on social media) ... I can really dig the philosophy of it all.

So, to answer your question, my skin is thick and I can take it, bro.

Have a great day!

 

As I thought about my buddy's question, and my response, I realized that this warranted a blog post ... Bullying seems to be a front-and-center conversation these days. Yet, I rarely (if ever) hear about a joke being a form of bullying. Please let me know how you feel about this subject in a comment below, or privately via email.

Your's truly,
Vaughn

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Posted by Vaughn Ripley

Comments (6) Trackbacks (0)
  1. Vaughn, this is a thought-provoking blog. I do have my thoughts on this issue. As the old quote goes: “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.” Someone can tell a joke, with no intent to harm anyone . . .yet someone finds offense in it. If you are looking for insult, you are sure to find it . . . and if you aren’t, you won’t.

  2. Vaughn, this makes me think of how often people use the words “retard” or “retarded” to mean someone is stupid or acting stupid. That word has come to be used in thoughtless remarks by everyone (I’m sorry, but I’ve used it myself without thinking). But what happens when it is said in front of a parent of a child with downs syndrome? I’ve read so many stories posted by moms of children with downs–how seemingly harmless remarks are quite harmful indeed. So, I think as a whole, we need to be more thoughtful about what comes out of our mouths. I’m not saying we have to be scared of offending everyone at any given moment. But maybe think about another’s feelings before we say things.

  3. The topic of humor and sensitivity is something I think about often. A huge fan of standups, man “inappropriate,” I subscribe to something George Carlin once said: “There’s nothing wrong with the word ‘nigger’ in and of itself. It’s the racist asshole who’s using it you should worry about!”. Context & intention. Sure, there will always be situations where I’m inadvertently offended by someone’s comments. But if the context & intentions check out, I don’t hold it against them. I take the blow and move on. After all, I’d hate for the world to be covered in humorless eggshells.

  4. I’m not Vaughn’s personal ambassador and I would set him back 30 years if i was. That’d be pretty funny to make candid videos of…maybe one of these days, huh Vaughn?

    No, when I see things like this, I think of the guy who tried to use a piece of plywood to hang glide, jumped off the roof and face-planted into the sidealk. What an idiot. I shake my head and think to myself “what is this jackass doing on my Facebook friends list?” and “Can Vaughn see this? Maybe I should tag him in the picture.”

    People on the who do things like this on Facebook are the internet version of America’s Stupidest People (or one of those TV shows similarly titled.) The knee-jerk and borderline passive-aggressive response to these kinds of jokes is “let it go” and “don’t let it get to you.” To me, this creates an environment where ignorance thrives. Don’t let this stuff go. Even if you’re not offended, set a precedent that lets these clowns know that it’s not funny. It’s not cute.

    It’s considered common knowledge these days that AIDS is not only transmitted by sexual contact/fluid exchange/etc. So why is this joke funny to anyone? It’s only funny to…some other guy hang gliding with a piece of plywood. That’s really helpful info when cleaning out my friends list.

    Bottom line, I asked this question and I’m overjoyed that Vaughn would laugh *with* me at what an asshole this guy was by posting that. That’s good enough for me!

  5. Great post, Vaughn. Unsurprisingly, your answer was really interesting. At the end of the day, we all say stupid things that we regret sometimes – even when our intent isn’t to be hurtful. I hear, see, or read things everyday that offend me on some level or another. I think the bottom line – which you put your thumb on – is, so what? That is, OK, I’m offended. Now what? How will I let this affect me? Will I weigh my options, pick one, and move on; or will I let it destroy me? Sounds like you’ve taken charge of how this will impact you and how you will (or will not) treat other people. Good for you, bro.

  6. I scanned this blog post when I saw it in my newsfeed, pondered the topic, and had to come back. One of the things I appreciate about the dialogue here is that most of you guys are, well, guys. I’ve heard for years that men are simply hard on each other. It’s what they do. But not necessarily.

    Perhaps some people are just dumb. Because they don’t know that AIDS or HIV has touched their lives in some way, it’s simply not on their radar as a potential hot topic that could be used to inadvertently hurt someone in range of their nonsense. But it may also be that they don’t care to take enough personal responsibility in their actions to filter it before letting it loose in the world. We probably all remember the mean kids in school who were willing to hurt others to look tough or cool.

    Ultimately, it needs to be acknowledged that these illnesses aren’t funny. They’re a matter of life and death. Serious stuff. To trivialize them, and the impacts that they have on real people, by using them as the subject matter of jokes is tasteless.

    I’m not sure, though, that it counts as bullying if there isn’t a target audience that is meant to be hurt or controlled by it. My perception of the definition of the word bullying incorporates the feelings of someone who is being controlled somehow by the behavior.

    Thought provoking. Thanks, V.


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