More war on jokes

Jokes. Not necessarily funny jokes. Just things said in a lighthearted way. Who’d have thought the internet would kill them off?
Not Jokes with a punchline, clearly labelled as jokes. Or funny viral videos. Or internet cartoons. Or footage of comedians on YouTube. I think these are all OK.
Just the sort of things that you might say to your friends. Not real jokes. Banter. Mockery. Using figures of speech: Irony; Sarcasm; Hyperbole; Metaphors; Similes and so on. Exaggerating things for effect.
Whatever you do, don’t try this on the Internet. Don’t even react to other people doing it.
On today’s BBC site:

Labour councillor suspended over Facebook ‘Tory bomb plea’

The story is outrageous. A comment was posted on a Facebook site in July 2010.

It read: “We are appealing to the IRA to find it in their hearts to bomb the next Tory conference.” (from the BBC story)

That’s obviously a joke. Or, an amusing aside, rather than a “joke.” It’s elegantly phrased (“find it in their hearts”). It’s witty. I would even say that I liked it, if the consequences mightn’t be so horrendous. Because apparently, among twenty six people who Facebook-“liked” it in the following half a year (rather than people who just may have liked it unofficially) one was a local councillor, Florence Anderson.
She was suspended. She didn’t even write the joke herself. She had just responded to an elegant expression of frustration by casually clicking a button on a Facebook site. Clicking a button.
I don’t know anything about her record as a councillor but she looks like someone who’s devoted many years to working for her party and her local community. She probably never even made the Sunderland Evening Advertiser before. And here she is getting rewarded by getting suspended from her role and plastered over the BBC’s website because she once may have clicked on a “like” button.
Comedian Al Murray wrote about the ongoing saga of the Robin Hood Airport trial in last Saturday’s Guardian. Total respect to Al Murray and the other comedians who have kept this issue alive and raised the money for Paul Chambers’ appeal. (Paul Chambers was convicted of sending a “threatening” message after a jokey twitter comment that even the prosecutors admitted no one would have seen as a credible threat. After conviction, he lost his job and his life was pretty well destroyed).

This week I went to the Royal Courts of Justice to offer support to someone who is in a lot of trouble because of a not particularly funny joke. As an erstwhile pedlar of some not particularly funny jokes (just ask the Guardian’s comedy critic, he doesn’t dig what I do at all), this matters to me a great deal. (from Al Murray in the Guardian)

In the face of the all-out war on banter, Al Murray suggested that anyone using any figure of speech in banter might now have to put the tag #joke# around anything not meant to be taken literally, for the benefit of the hard of thinking.
This seems like a plan. It would cut down on prosecutions for banter. However, it would have the side effect of raising idle banter to the status of “joke,” which few items of banter could carry off successfully. The reader would usually be left thinking “Well, that’s a bit amusing but I don’t think it has much of a punchline”.
In any case, it wouldn’t have helped Florence Anderson. She didn’t even have an opportunity to acknowledge that she didn’t believe it was a serious attempt to direct Republican terrorists to the Tory Party assembly. Nor that she thought for one minute that dissident Republicans would take orders from random blog posts.
Hence, I suggest that Facebook and Google Plus etc should provide buttons that say “I would quite like this, on the understanding that I am only liking it as banter”
Who are these mean-spirited reporters-to-the-authorities of twitter banter or Facebook clicks. Who is policing people’s “likes”? Why don’t these enemies of free speech turn their attention to private conversations and start calling in Swat teams anytime they hear “Don’t be late or I’ll kill you” on the bus? Is it the scary magic of the internet that makes them unable to distinguish between the use of a figure of speech and a statement of intent? If so, let’s ditch the internet, human beings haven’t evolved enough to use it.
Tip for any one with any enemies:
If you really hate someone who may now or at any time in the future hold any public office or have a job that needs a clean criminal record (ie anyone) set up a honey trap Facebook page, fill it with seemingly lighthearted banter that could be misconstrued by someone who doesn’t really speak your language then encourage your enemy to express appreciation. You’ve destroyed them right there.

(You wait ages for a post and then two come along at once….)

2 thoughts on “More war on jokes

  1. I see the point here, but I also wonder if it’s ever appropriate banter to suggest that someone’s convention be bombed. There certainly are examples of banter that are taken too seriously by people, but I also think there are examples of banter that are truly questionable.

    As a hypothetical example, we’ve probably all thought, or said, at least once in a fit of anger “I’d like to beat the crap out of that person” or even “I’m going to kill them!!!” While we know when we say it that we aren’t “serious” there’s little way to distinguish between a serious and non-serious utterance in those cases … to an outsider looking in, one death threat sounds a lot like the next. Further, I think while we might excuse an outburst about “killing” someone, there are other possible crimes that we’d never excuse. Would it ever be acceptable “banter” for example, if we were angry at a woman, to suggest we might “rape” her? Of course, the answer is a resounding NO … you simply don’t joke about committing a crime of sexual violence against someone else, at least not unless you are willing to face the consequences of it.

    Which brings me back to the comment about bombing the Tory convention. Is that really EVER an appropriate thing to say, even in jest? Whether it’s in jest or not, it still amounts to a death threat. Like Al Murray, I do stand-up comedy (though probably not at the level he does lol), and I’m a strong proponent of free speech and the right to use even inflammatory language to make a joke or a point. But at the same time, I recognize there are limits to what is acceptable as “banter” or “joke” and we go past limits at our own peril. For example, if I joke about raping people, I should expect there to be consequences and I expect people to get rightfully upset about it. And frankly, I think joking about killing people, or bombing people because of their political views should be treated in much the same way … joking about criminal assault on others is a path to tread very lightly.

    That’s all especially true, IMO, in this specific case. It wasn’t THAT many years ago that the IRA was, in fact, trying to bomb politicians in the UK for real. Suggesting they might start that action again against people we disagree with politically is BOUND to push some buttons. Seems to me it was a pretty reckless thing to say, and a pretty reckless thing to “Like.” Suggesting criminal assault isn’t really EVER a joke, and it’s even less of a joke when it involves the IRA bombing politicians, because for many, many years, that wasn’t a joke … it was a real threat to people’s lives. That’s always going to be a “joke” that falls flat to some ears, and for very good reason.

    • Elron
      Thanks for the comment. I can’t agree with you.
      If it’s not possible to say things that might be misunderstood (especially by someone who doesn’t share your specific knowledge of the context), it’s probably not possible to communicate at all.

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