That was a joke, Joyce

Article by Lauren Rosewarne /
The Conversation /
March 11, 2014 /

Click here to view original /

I’m always reluctant to use the word impatience — it sounds so petulant, so thoroughly demanding – so instead I’ll admit to being time-conscious. To harbouring zero respect for (most) kinds of waiting.

I suspect this centres on rage about the thorough arbitrariness of most of it. Like Sunday dinners with my grandparents as a kid when, for some reason, we were expected to wait until we had eaten before we could have something to drink. Why? Oh, if there were an easy answer it would all sound slightly sane.

Like Christmas with my grandparents when there’d be an endless span of irksome lingering – post-pudding and pre-shouting – until presents could be opened. Why? Oh, because it gave the adults a modicum of lazy, ill-gotten power.

Like the endless waiting at airports. And banks. And delis. And all the other waiting places.

Hideous business, waiting.

As an adult I simply can’t swallow being told when the magical Right Time has arrived without also receiving an explanation. (Besides, I’m too much of a political scientist not to recognise the power-play underpinning most of it).

Yesterday one of the screen’s most famous masturbators – for the record, I use the term as a compliment – Jason Biggs sent out a Tweet which had at its punchline the missing Malaysian airliner.

Too soon, apparently, too soon.

Too soon according to who exactly?

When Margaret Thatcher died, I wrote an article for the ABC about how I think it’s perfectly reasonable to celebrate the death of polarising public figures. That in Thatcher’s case, the party-poppers in fact, couldn’t be popped soon enough.

Too soon, apparently, too soon.

Let’s sideline my disinclination for having timelines dictated to me by randoms, more so, I am thoroughly fascinated about the idea of appropriate timing in the context of jokes.

About what constitutes enough time before a topic becomes fair game.

Some use it to define madness, for me, I see it as a sign of utmost intelligence: about being able to hold at least two completely disparate thoughts at one time.

I can, for example, see the disappearance of Flight MH370 as horrible. I can equally – and at the very same time – appreciate that some people tell jokes to process tragedy. That telling a joke doesn’t diminish an event’s importance, doesn’t dilute personal suffering, but instead spotlights the individuality of emotions, of the grief process, and the very fickle notion of “funny”.

In my case, disaster jokes aren’t really my thing. I am however, the first to package up my own personal hijinks as (hopefully) entertaining vignettes. I don’t want to talk about things when they hurt. Talking about them as though they are a sitcom scene makes it so much easier.

People tell jokes for all kinds of reasons. To break the ice. To cover-up personal awkwardness, shyness. To lighten a mood. To feign composure. Sex for instance, is a default gag inclusion. People routinely joke about those topics we find the hardest to talk about frankly; the art of coping is one hell of a tricky business.

Along with waiting, I hate offence for offence’s sake. I hate people claiming offence on behalf of others as though generic outrage gifts victims some kind of favour. I dare say the vast majority of people purporting to be appalled by the Biggs Tweet have no personal connection to the missing plane whatsoever.

This doesn’t mean they’re not allowed to be upset – hell, people have the right to mourn all kinds of madcap things – but I’m not sure they’re entitled to be offended; to claim – on behalf of actual victims – that a joke goes too far.

Telling a joke that might be off-colour, poor-taste or just plain stupid, exists as completely separate from the people whose lives are impacted by a disaster. Don’t find it funny? Don’t laugh. Simples. But this is no time to call in the thought police.

I dare say nobody who’s fretting for a missing loved one cares even slightly about what the American Pie guy has to say. Equally, I don’t think anyone who laughed is unable to sustain genuine compassion. Humans are able to handle all kinds of complex emotions.

There are at least fifty shades of grey in most matters, and emotions aren’t in finite supply. If I use my resources to tell a joke, I’m not draining my well of compassion. My having a laugh doesn’t weaken your grief. Things don’t work that way.

© Lauren Rosewarne