The art of ‘char’
There was a meme that joked about how things would be different had the Titanic sunk in 2016. The dialogue went like this:
Officer: Stop, sir! Women and children first!
Passenger: I identify as a female and you’re discriminating me.
The meme does not only seem to throw humor at readers, like all memes do. It can also be quite offensive, like some memes are. But it also captures our current state of affairs: a generation of people and literature trying and aspiring to be politically correct. Maybe even a tad too much.
We live in a world where there are so many ways through which so many things may hurt so many sentiments. So much is this sensitivity that political correctness has trickled down to the arena of humans’ coping mechanism: humor.
So we often ask: Has political correctness narrowed the scope of humor? Has it multiplied the lines it shouldn’t cross? Are there new rules for cracking jokes over dinner? Over Twitter? Is there a new art to cracking “right” jokes? The art to “proper” humor? The art of “char”?
Stephen Colbert in his late-night show engaged in a tirade of jokes with the US president as subject. He ended with: “The only thing your mouth is good for is being Vladimir Putin’s c*ck holster.” #FireColbert trended on Twitter and the LGBT community was outraged.
Colbert is not the only late-night TV host on fire. Bill Maher sparked backlash for insinuating incest. In one episode he joked: “Ivanka is gonna be our saving grace. When [Donald] is about to nuke Finland or something, she’s gonna walk into the bedroom and—‘Daddy, Daddy.’”
It’s not just on TV either. Stand-up comedian Sampson McCormick drew the ire of a transgender man in his audience when he joked about gay men getting pregnant. He quipped: “Before you read those [paternity] results, I can’t be the daddy, because I’m not even a top.”
Pop stars aren’t immune. Katy Perry was targeted when she responded to a fan who missed her black hair. She teased: “Oh, really? Do you miss Barack Obama as well?” Or when she joked about saving shaving her head for when she will be “having a mental breakdown” in reference to Britney Spears circa 2007.
If dark humor has rung the alarm against people whose job is to throw it, much more so do the jokes from public figures—celebrities, politicians, influencers, and writers who spin jokes on gender, mental disorder, race, rape, religion, sex, single parenthood, or even vegans. God bless the vegans. A small German town is changing its musical lineup for a glockenspiel after a vegan was offended by “Fox, You Stole the Goose.”
Humor has long been part of civilization, ever since ancient Greek physicians prescribed the hall of comedians for patients. Aside from laughter, humor serves as a safety valve for airing social taboos or for expressing frustrations. Freud theorized humor as release of sexual tension.
And perhaps there’s no humor like Filipino humor. We punctuate even the seriously mundane with “char”—the root word of “charaught,” which is perhaps our version of “just kidding.” Now, humor is walking on eggshells. It can be tagged misogynistic, sexist, or racist. Can humor today be all-inclusive? Or is political correctness a pejorative?
Freedom of speech applies to humor, too. To suppress humor because of its capability to offend a minority is also suppressing freedom of speech. Seriously, we can find offense at anything. But to each his or her own. And humor has its niches.
But what about us, who are not comedians? Take note, we can’t joke about being bipolar, being gay, mental retardation, or sexual slurs anymore. “I’d rather slash my wrists” is no longer funny by today’s norms. But these topics are no laughing matter anyway.
They say jokes are half-meant. For every “char” is really a person’s perspective on the issue. Humor is how we reach out to others. But we can never use it as a shield for expressing hatred or revulsion, especially toward those who cannot defend themselves. Humor in itself is both a craft and an art. “Comedy is simply a funny way of being serious,” Peter Ustinov once said. Seriously? That is the art of “char.”
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