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Dark Humor

April 2, 2019

While lacking a formal definition, dark humor is widely considered to be humor which pokes fun at serious topics like natural disasters, mental illness and recent or past tragedies. A recent rise of the use of this kind of comedy on the internet has sparked controversy regarding the use of sensitive topics as a comedic medium.

There’s a Time for Humor

Dark humor revolves around a lemons to lemonade mentality. Everyone has heard a joke regarding a sensitive topic – maybe it was about a natural disaster, mental illness or something else. These jokes can definitely be offensive to someone who relates to its subject matter, but with the right audience they can be playful and harmless.

But there are reasons people dislike this kind of humor. Some people are just offended by dark humor, and as some like to put it, “can’t take a joke.” But the research might explain why.

Based on a study published in the journal Cognitive Processing, enjoyment of dark humor is an indication of higher intelligence, better education and generally happier and less aggressive behavior.

Jokes can definitely miss their mark. To avoid this, timing and audience are key. Comedians make hundreds of tragedy jokes every year. These jokes can be perceived as funny because of the amount of time elapsed since the event. However, a survivor might find the joke disturbing.

So if a joke is made with respect to the proper factors, there is no harm in making the joke. If someone takes offense to a joke, so be it. They do not have to listen. The first amendment states that one can say whatever one wants, so all an offended person can do is feel bad about a joke someone made. If something does not have the ability to change, should people be angry about jokes made toward it or embrace the comical potential surrounding the dark subject?

Disabled comedians make jokes regarding their disabilities constantly, so arguing that disabilities should have a moral force field of correctness is absolutely absurd. A paralyzed person should not spend their life sulking in despair, but rather use self-deprecating humor, which has been linked to healthier mental conditions.

Do not take that as permission to single out someone; words do affect people and the last thing anybody wants to do is actually hurt someone. There are serious issues people have to deal with and suffer through every day. Everyone afflicted has the ability to find fun in whatever problem they have.

However, outsiders to the issue may not understand certain aspects of the topic and make a distasteful joke about something serious. This is something that people should avoid. One should always think carefully before making a joke regarding something that would otherwise be offensive.

Maybe dark humor should be avoided, but something that makes most people on Earth laugh will not die easily, especially due to free speech, which guarantees dark humor will always be legal in the United States of America. So,

the worst that is going to happen is the shunning of dark humor, which is paradoxical considering that the “wrongness” of dark humor is why it is so funny.

Dark humor is not going to go anywhere anytime soon, so the only reason to continue to be scorned and offended by it is if someone is being singled out or if someone is just a downer who gets offended by everything and whose existence is devoted to the recognition that a joke is offensive.

News flash: that is the point Again, words evoke feelings.Words definitely can hurt someone. This is why dark humor has faced scrutiny in the first place. Singling out one person is almost never funny, and should always be avoided. However, dark humor is a fact of modern life and should be embraced rather than hated.

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There’s a Time for Help

Some people believe that “dark humor” is the way to bridge the gap between those who are suffering from mental illnesses and those who aren’t. This type of humor does not do anything to help the stigma of mental illness, and, if anything, it hurts the movement to destigmatize mental health issues by making mental health itself a joke. It belittles the people who suffer from mental health issues, and it puts a false idea in people’s heads regarding the true nature of mental illness.

Mental health is too important of an issue to consistently push it aside in the interest of making jokes. Building one’s sense of humor or personality around the idea of making dark commentary or jokes about others’ mental state crosses a line. While all dark humor is not wrong, creating a personality centered around dark humor is. To center one’s personality around the misfortune of others is cruel and, frankly, just plain annoying. No one wants to be around a person who is constantly making offensive jokes and feeding on the shock they receive. Humor should not be the foundation for a personality. It can be a facet, but it should not be the core.

Humor is a tricky subject to regulate because it is extremely subjective. Ultimately, it is about knowing one’s audience and limiting the extent to which a joke or comment belittles another person. Making a joke about a car crash would not be funny to someone who has a personal experience with one. People who have lost loved ones in a car accident, survived one themselves or even simply witnessed one would likely be put off by a joke made in bad taste. However, it might be funny to other people who have never had experience with a car crash, because they do not have emotions or bad memories associated with it. Humor is entirely subjective to the audience receiving it.

Dark humor is not universally wrong. It can be used to bond over a troubling issue or deepen a connection between two people who have suffered. But when a person’s entire sense of humor is based around making fun of mental illnesses, thriving on the shock factor of a dark joke, and making light of serious issues within marginalized communities, that person’s sense of humor devolves into a sense of cruelty. A personality based entirely around one source of humor is shallow and static, and static personalities are far less likely to be universally appreciated.

It is wrong to stigmatize other people’s problems. It is wrong to actively seek to diminish their happiness. It is wrong to be insensitive to the fears and insecurities from which entire communities suffer. The way to avoid this is simple – don’t centralize your personality around one thing. A personality needs much more than just a sense of humor to actually be a personality. People with simplistic and cruel personalities do not positively contribute to anyone’s well-being – not even their own.

The argument that people who are offended by dark humor should “just get over it” does nothing to foster a productive discussion about the topic. Disregarding other viewpoints on an issue prevents growth and change, which is never a good thing. To completely ignore the voices of others, and to stay stagnant on your own beliefs, limits your potential as a person to change and to better yourself. Opening a discussion about why a person uses dark humor, and why a person is uncomfortable with dark humor, can help a person become better.

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