I have always had a great sense of humor, even after the loss of my eyesight. As a matter of fact, I believe laughter is good for the soul and helps a person cope with their everyday situation. Within our society, there are several comedy acts and television series that help reach a person’s sense of humor, causing them to laugh for the moment. Throughout the comedy acts and television shows, there are jokes made about a particular event, situation, group, and/or an individual. With this said, there is the need to draw on society’s humorous side. So taking this into consideration, where is the line drawn and when does a joke become something more? I truly believe that when a joke sets out to deliver laughter through the mocking of another person, it can be harmful to the individual and society as a whole.
Many jokes have been played out based upon weight, race, economic class, ability, etc. As a result, more stereotypes can arise about that particular group, causing them to be treated differently within society. When I think of jokes gone wrong, by causing pain to a person, New York Governor Paterson comes to mind.
On the hit late night show, Saturday Night Live (SNL), there was a skit depicting Governor Paterson as he is trying to find a replacement for Senator Clinton. For those of you who don’t know, Governor Paterson is legally blind. The skit mocks his disability in several ways throughout the segment. The actor who plays Governor Paterson, said he has three criteria for finding a replacement for Senator Clinton; economic experience, upstate influence, and someone who has a disability and is unprepared for the job like he is. In my opinion, it is statements like these that contribute to the discrimination, stereotypes, and high unemployment rates for visually impaired individuals. The skit on SNL went on to mock Governor Paterson by having the impersonator talk about an illustrated chart depicting job loss, while the chart was being held upside down. The SNL skit caused a lot of controversy across the nation, sparking discussion around the treatment of the disabled. Some media figures were saying how Governor Paterson has made jokes about himself in the past, what makes this skit different? It is the message behind the joke and how it is used that makes the difference. When Governor Paterson was making jokes about himself, they were not degrading or depicting a particular group to be less competent than another. Another comment that was brought on one of the morning talk shows was that blind/visually impaired individuals are being sensitive to the skit because of the heightened economic strain and there was nothing wrong with the SNL segment. In my opinion, if demanding respect is being sensitive, then I suggest opening up the dictionary and reviewing the definitions of respect, disrespect, mean, and cruel. This whole issue touches home with me because on one of my local radio stations, they were making crude and vulgar jokes about the descriptive videos for the blind. Just to illustrate the crudeness of the comments on the radio show, I was not the only one who took offense; my mom was repulsed as well. Due to the offense that I took after hearing the segment, I wrote a letter to the radio station’s director and received a response back. The director said she read the transcripts and she didn’t see anything offensive about the show. After several e-mails back and forth, I realized that the radio station was not trying to see the situation from my point of view. In addition to my e-mail, several of my friends also wrote and/or called into the station to convey their concerns. As a part of personal choice, I have not listened to the radio station since the
skit. I truly believe that laughter is one component to happiness, but not at the expense of others. It is one thing to make jokes about yourself, but it is another to use them to dehumanize others. It is jokes and comments like these that cause me to have to prove myself every time I step into a classroom or place of employment. These situations are frustrating, but it is important not to give up and remember that what impacts one person is likely to touch others as well. In addition, one person standing up for what is right, can make a world of difference for all!