Trigger warning: See title.
I’ve lived in this country for over three decades and one thing I’ll never understand is Racism. I mean, I get why people are racist, I come from a very racist country myself. What I don’t understand is how that word is like kryptonite to white people. In the US, being charged with the R-word is worse than being a convicted felon. At least ex-cons can still get jobs.
In 1976, the National Lampoon published PJ O’Rourke’s Foreigners Around the World. The piece highlights unflattering cultural characteristics from foreign countries. Here’s his description of England:
Cold-blooded queers with nasty complexions and terrible teeth who once conquered half the world but still haven’t figured out central heating. They warm their beers and chill their baths and boil all their food, including bread.
Extrapolate the same humor to the rest of the world, and you can see why National Lampoon deleted the piece from its archives. In 1976, the work was considered politically incorrect. Today, it would be hate speech and an act of violence.
Politically incorrect humor is a form of observational comedy. It’s funny because it presents a seeming incongruity (Warm their beers and chill their baths? How backwards!), which forces the frontal cortex to process an unexpected input. When the incongruity is resolved (British pubs serve warm lager, and their bathroom faucets dispense boiling water), the brain releases dopamine to reward the accomplishment. And we laugh.
If you’re not familiar with British pubs or washrooms, then the incongruity is never resolved and the joke makes no sense.
Remember Borat? It’s a movie where Sacha Baron Cohen pretends to be a Kazakh journalist touring the US. He punks people by recording interactions where he spouts off about Jews having horns and laying eggs. The humor lies in the absurdity that no one is dumb enough to think Jews lay eggs. The incongruity is resolved when we remember that Borat is from Kazakhstan and therefore a moron. It’s a joke, at Kazakhstan’s expense.
The film was well-received in Kazakhstan too. The foreign minister even thanked Borat for boosting tourism. Over there, the absurdity is that no one could be dumb enough to think Borat is a real Kazakh. Coherence is restored when the Kazakh audience recalls that Americans are self-absorbed idiots. It’s a joke, at America’s expense.
You know who didn’t find Borat funny? The Anti-Defamation League. The ADL issued a press release warning that the film could reinforce antisemitic bigotry. Cuz that’s their schtick. The ADL’s entire purpose in life is to look for antisemitism, so they failed to recognize the absurdity of a Kazakh believing that Jews lay eggs. As far as they’re concerned, this is how bigots actually think. Borat is advancing the harmful stereotype that Jews are shapeshifting reptiles, rather than the stereotype that Kazakhs are savages or Americans are stupid.
The same thing happened with PewDiePie. YouTube’s most popular celebrity got in trouble after he posted a video where he pays third world denizens five dollars to hold up a banner saying “Death to all Jews”. The joke is that no American would ever film themself holding a racist banner for five bucks. In this country, being charged with racism is worse than landing on the National Sex Offender Registry. Hence the absurdity — these guys in India are willing to do something unthinkable for chump change. The incongruity is resolved when we realize that the banner-bearers are very poor. The joke is indeed racist, but it’s racist against Indians. The sanctimonious grandstanders at WSJ miss this, because they honestly believe the world is teeming with closet Nazis looking for any excuse to be antisemitic.
That’s why we can’t laugh at politically incorrect jokes anymore. I mean, we can, and I do when no one’s looking, but we can’t share them on the internet or anywhere public. The media scolds have become like the ADL in that they devote their lives to surfacing anything that might remotely resemble racism. It’s not their fault, really. Now that Google and Facebook have commandeered media ad revenue, publications have limited budgets and investigative journalism is reduced to searching YouTube for offensive content.