If you have been on Mars lately – or at least not on Facebook – you might have missed the result of Jimmy Kimmel’s solicitation to people to be sadistic. This started with a Halloween challenge to take video of kids reacting to adults giving them horrible things for trick-or-treat. Then we moved on to “give your kids a terrible early Christmas present and video the reaction.” If you are a lucky parent who gave your child the most awful present, or got them to react really terribly – sobbing, yelling at you, casting obscenities – then maybe you can have your home video get on TV, and then go viral on Facebook.
Let’s call this what it is. It’s not “humor” – it’s sadism pretending to be funny.
I’m sure there will be any number of people who will think I’m being “whiny” and “pathetic,” words used in the Facebook comment thread to assail those who dared to say that this wasn’t funny. To be fair, there were many who commented that the stunt was shameful – but there were more that thought those commenters were being “too sensitive” or who simply commented about how humorous the whole thing was. Really?
Let’s be clear. I didn’t think Seinfeld was a funny show either; I never did get it. More precisely, the show made my skin crawl and left me feeling slightly nauseous. Why? Because the humor was based on making fun of people. Making fun of others is many things – humiliating, sadistic, disturbing, the list of possible adjectives goes on – but it isn’t funny.
As a child, did you ever have the experience of being the butt of someone’s sadistic humor? Did you have the experience of having other kids make you feel ugly, ungainly, unmanly, unwomanly, wimpy? Did you ever get called names like “homo” or “sissy” or “fag” or “fem” or “slut” or “butch”? I did, and I know many people who did. Were you ever assaulted, beat up, humiliated by a bully? That, too, for me.
Ok, now, imagine if the bully who made you feel stupid was one of your parents. Still think Jimmy Kimmel’s sadistic humor is actually funny?
There is a myth that being bullied, harassed, or humiliated is somehow good for children – getting a thicker skin is somehow supposed to protect our children against the harsh realities of the world. Wow, really?
As a professional who has worked with kids, and who has seen the results of the wounding that adults carry their whole lives, I cannot tell you how wrong this notion is.
Instead I think it teaches us, as kids, to hide our wounds, pretend to be invulnerable, and act “tough.” Pretty soon we become tough. Then, as we get older, we learn to tolerate intolerance, and we learn to laugh at jokes that make fun of others. We grow up to become people who laugh at jokes that are homophobic, or xenophobic, or racist, or sexist. Oh, we might say that these jokes are inappropriate, but we lose touch with that vaguely sick feeling in the pit of our stomachs when someone is tortured, and we can’t help but laugh at another’s misery.
There are those who point out how horrible and ungrateful some of the children seem, especially the poor child who yells at his parents.
Huh. I wonder where he learned that behavior? No, I don’t think the parents who made these videos got up one morning and decided to be wrong. I don’t think they decided, “Gee, wouldn’t it be fun to bully our children today?” But because we have come to think that this sort of thing is funny, that’s what they ended up doing, and now those videos will live on forever in cyberspace.
I’m sorry, but this is just wrong. Sadistic humor is an oxymoron. It’s either humor or sadism. Pick one.
Les Kertay, Awakened Moments