Sunday, 31 January 2016

No Heterosexuals and Jokes

Earlier this week, the New Zealand internet world was rocked by an ad on the auction site Trade Me. Tenants were looking for a new flatmate and specified:
"We don't want to live with a couple, a heterosexual person, or someone who is loud at night, or drinks/does drugs/party a lot."
First off, this is legal. The Human Rights Commission makes exceptions for cohabiting – you're allowed to discriminate about who you live with.

Last year, a flatmate ad specifying "no Indians or Asians" was published on the same site. There was less press surrounding that ad, probably because the Indian and Asian population is smaller than the heterosexual population, or because the latter is less used to being discriminated against.

It's essential to have a safe space, a place where you feel accepted and understood, where you can escape the constant pressures and microaggressions of the outside world. It's terrible to not feel comfortable in your own home. But 'no heterosexuals' is exclusionary language that offends, even though it's legal.

There wouldn't be any controversy if the ad had just stuck with the politely worded:
"We want to live with someone who is relaxed, motivated, grown up, reliable, considerate, child friendly, LGBTQIA+, pays the board on time with no stress, vegetarian or vegan."
This conveys the same information without sounding as exclusionary. I agree with the sentiment of the ad, but not the wording.

There's a time to be impolite. There's a time and place to wield aggression as a weapon and fight to be acknowledged. But Trade Me isn't that place.

Reading responses around this ad, one comment in particular grabbed my attention. It was part of a Reddit discussion, where one user took issue with the flatmates not wanting to live with a person who was:
"racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, fatphobic, hates sex workers, hates migrants or is otherwise a jerk."

The Reddit user said it would be a challenge to make any jokes that didn't incorporate the above. There were rebuffs, which is awesome, but there's still this unusually pervasive opinion that humor can't exist without causing offense.

Posting to Reddit saying, essentially, 'there are no jokes that aren't racist, sexist or sizeist' is like posting to Goodreads with the question 'who wrote To Kill a Mockingbird?' You're right there on the site, you could just go ahead and check!

A while ago I got hooked on reading jokes in an askreddit thread, and I was sure they mostly weren't offensive. So I did the math

I just scanned the all time top list of r/jokes, the joke subreddit. Of the top 50, 21 directly considered race, gender, gay or transgender people, weight, sex work, or migrants.

Note that this includes jokes which poke fun at the dominant group (e.g. a joke about 'friend zoned' guys and a joke saying the LAPD are eager to shoot black people). If we remove jokes against the dominant group (and the pun 'boy ant' which isn't really about gender), we're down to 13 of the top 50 jokes being offensive against a minority group (I'm including Irish, Texans and Italians here). Bringing this into account makes our graph look a lot more like Pac Man taking a bite:

It's not me saying these jokes are funny, it's the Reddit community choosing them through upvotes.

I've always thought it was easy to make a joke that wasn't directly offensive, but it's nice to have proof. And, as a critic ending on this positive note, 
here's my favorite joke from r/jokes:
A young artist exhibits his work for the first time and a well-known art critic is in attendance.
The critic says to the young artist, "Would you like my opinion on your work?"
"Yes," says the artist.
"It's worthless," says the critic
The artist replies, "I know, but tell me anyway."

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