The world became a little less funny last week after beloved actor Gene Wilder died after complications from Alzheimer. Although I never knew him outside of Willy Wonka for the largest part of my life, bf introduced me to Blazing Saddles, which turned out to be one of the funniest things I’ve seen. It said so much with so little and provided me with plenty of laughs every time I watched it. I told bf we should watch Young Frankenstein in honor of Mr. Wilder since I have never seen that movie. He says it’s funnier than Blazing Saddles. I’ll find out if I ever watch it.
Blazing Saddles is pretty darn offensive if you don’t know anything about comedy. It’s about an African American man who becomes sheriff of a very racist Western town in the middle of nowhere. The only smart characters in the movie are minorities and Wilder, but it makes for a good time and highlights the ridiculousness of things people have to say about each other.
A whole bunch of articles keep popping up on my FB feed talking about how Gene Wilder’s level of “offensive” comedy would never be made now because of the plethora of offensive and racial issues. Which is true. The first time I saw a clip of Blazing Saddles I thought WTF? Who thought that was funny? Such a 70s movie. But then I saw the whole thing and it all made sense. The movie made points about the ridiculousness of racism and prejudice in society and how after everything we can eventually live together once we get past our own stupidity. We are also nothing more than a façade created by Hollywood, but that’s a different assumption.
I don’t know about you, but in my circle of family and friends we talk to each other in very brutal commentary and insults. It’s how we say “I love you.” My sisters and I rip on each other all the time. We make fun of my oldest sister for being an alcoholic, we make fun of my middle sister for being late all the time, and they make fun of me for my inability to stay awake for longer than three hours. My brother-in-law teases me for being short and I tease him for being tall enough to slap Jesus up in heaven. You should see me with my friends. The amount of ethnically insensitive things we say to each other would make any social justice warrior die from extreme horror. We are all Hispanic and most of the time it is just me, bf, and our mutual guy friend, so we tend to make very awful Hispanic jokes on top of highly insensitive sexist remarks. We laugh, we say goodbye, and we hang out again on another day.
There’s a reason why I find this funny, though. None of the people listed above are saying those things because they really believe it.
I don’t know about you, but since I live in a homogenous neighborhood I do not have conversations with many outside ethnic groups. So when I do come across a Caucasian American or an African American or Asian American or anyone else I don’t always know how to act. I am so used to saying whatever dumb thing comes to mind that when I am with someone new I immediately become very much aware that they are different from me. So much so that I feel prompted to tell them, “I see that you are [insert ethnicity or religion] and I want you to know that is okay with me.”
I don’t know what’s worse: that I should watch what I say lest I offend someone or that I should be hyper-ly aware of the ethnicity, religion, and culture of the stranger next to me to the point of making us both uncomfortable.
I will admit, there are certain things about which I don’t joke. Not with others and not with myself. And if some stranger approaches me and makes some off-colored remark, I right away become suspicious of their intentions because I don’t know if what they’re saying is something they actually believe or if they’re just saying it because it’s ridiculous.
And I think that’s the problem.
The way I see it, the way we will know we’ve overcome racism and prejudice will not be when we eliminate this type of humor, but when people will laugh at it, realizing the ludicrousness of the idea. Because if your feelings are still hurt then that means you haven’t fully healed from past discrimination. And besides, it’s practically American to take something insulting about ourselves and own it. For goodness sakes, “Yankee Doodle” was a song the British used to sing insulting Americans. And what did early rebel soldiers do? They sang it as an act of defiance and almost two and a half centuries later I hear it at every Fourth of July parade I work.
Unfortunately, though, just looking at some of the stuff produced today in addition to the spike in ethnic tension, I’m having trouble distinguishing between a joke in good fun, sheer stupidity and ignorance, and blatant attempts at offending people.
What is your opinion? Have we lost our sense of humor or is there a justified reason why we should stop ethnically insensitive jokes? Do you find this kind of humor funny or not? Is it too soon for these jokes or should we not even touch it? Share your thoughts below and as always be respectful!