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When Is Humor an Appropriate Response to Societal Turmoil?

The following reasons are what makes the humor and many of these jokes about World War III—and by extension Iran—unearned and in extremely poor taste.

On Election night in 2016, I drank myself to sleep. Not because I was depressed, but because what I predicted, what people (including my own family) had argued me down about for the last year had finally come to pass: Trump was elected president. No. I did not drink because I was sad. I drank because I was right. And pissed. And because I knew I would need to become numb at best or apathetic at worst to be able to sleep that night. Which is exactly what I did. Of course, you wanna know the problem with this numbness?

I haven’t necessarily been able to turn it off.

Indeed, to get through the last four years without having a mental break down with all the fucked up shit this administration manages to bombard us with every. single. day., I opted to become detached. Because people loved dunking on Trump on Twitter, I blocked him. If I turned on the TV and landed on a news channel, I changed it. And in real life? Well, every question that started with “Why is Trump doing this?” was always answered rather curtly by me with a “Because he’s a racist piece of shit. What else do you want to hear?”

Of course, my opting for total detachment was a pretty privileged thing to be doing and it encouraged me to be desensitized to the fucked up shit that was going on inside and outside this administration. So, in response, I moved a half-step up… to humor. Humor is a peculiar thing. It can take the form of basic dad jokes or puns. It can be a bit more advanced and satirical, punching up at bullshit and bullshit forces. It can even be a bit… dark.

When it was announced that Trump had ordered airstrikes that killed Iran general Qassem Soleimani, I merely let out an exasperated sigh in an “Aw, here we go again” way. Which, again, very privileged, but I digress. I’d had a pretty good day and hearing that this overcooked orange was chomping at the bit to bring the US and Iran to the brink of war was irritating. It should have been maddening. And upsetting. And infuriating. But instead, I found it irritating. And I imagine someone out there felt similarly because soon, Twitter was flooded with World War III jokes about Camaros, going to war, getting drafted, being pulled into it because you just so happened to fill out the FAFSA this year and so on and so forth. I’ll be completely honest with you. I didn’t initially have a problem with these jokes. Sure, I didn’t make them myself, but I did have myself a nice akikiki because I had become accustomed to this kind of thing.

After all, on a personal level—humor—no matter how crass, helped me maintain my sanity when I was apartment-ridden (no elevator) five years ago from a torn ACL and even more painful physical therapy. Humor helped me while I was dealing with [undiagnosed] bipolar disorder and suicidal ideation because I figured if I can’t joke about dying or wanting to die, I might as well be dead. Humor also helped me to survive an abusive household where I routinely cracked jokes about said household because opting to do the opposite would mean that I would have to sit with that abuse and process it… which would not have been great.


On a greater level, I’ve observed similar attitudes on Twitter. For the general Twitter populace, particularly Millennials and Gen Z, there are jokes upon jokes about waiting for the Earth to swallow us and our shitty lives up due to global warming. For Americans, there are jokes about Uber ambulances because of shitty health care and mass shootings that that one shady white kid in the back of the class is probably responsible for, since we know our politicians don’t plan to do anything. For Black Twitter, I remember us roasting Kanye West to oblivion after his “Slavery was a choice” comments. West’s comments were painful, yes, but sitting with pain is not fun, so the other option was pointing out the absurdity with humor—which is exactly what happened. And if you look closely at all of these things, what do see?

Well, if you see a particular group of people owning their pain and naming their pain by way of grim-dark and grotesque humor, then you would be correct.

This is exactly what makes many of these jokes about World War III—and by extension Iran—unearned at best and in extremely poor and unempathetic taste at worst. Because while the dark humor mentioned is most certainly a coping mechanism and a distraction from the turmoil at hand, that idea really only works if you are the one who is suffering from what is being joked about and you are taking ownership of that pain and suffering. And this increases exponentially if you are the sole sufferer or the sufferer who will be harmed the most.

And as shitty as a draft would be, of course, many of us don’t know what it’s like to be in Iran or have bombs dropped on us or airstrikes directed at us. Nor do we fear having to wake up to war sirens. Nor do we have to contemplate what it’d be like to live in a region that is constantly being threatened with destabilization because of a gluttonous Western power that doesn’t value Brown lives but surely gives at least a singular fuck about the oil they’re sitting on.

Humor is a coping mechanism and will always be a coping mechanism. But coping doesn’t necessarily mean living. And lack of living can lead to desensitization, or worse, apathy. And we shouldn’t be apathetic to the pain of others, no matter how great our own pain is.

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