Wednesday, November 04, 2009

The damning glee of making fun of people

There are quite a few sites and blogs I read which make fun of people. From the rather gentle My Mom is a Fob (which depicts Asian mothers who have poor English) and Passive Aggressive Notes (which often turn out to be downright Aggressive), through to the often horrific People of Walmart (which shows a the post-apocalyptic American underclass that Britain edges closer to every single day) to the toe-curlingly embarrassingly Lurid Digs, which comments on the tacky interiors and kitsch soft furnishings of gay men's self-porn portraits, to Awkward Family Photos, where bad hair + blue denim = shame shame shame. These sites seem to be springing up with alarming regularly. Or maybe it says something about me that I notice them and read them.

These sites are often funny - the commentaries read like they're channelling Karen and Jack from Will & Grace. And if someone puts up a naked picture of themselves on the internet, then really, I guess they deserve what they get. I'm a bit less sure about People of Walmart, who are snapped without realising (although if you will insist on wearing your Halloween costume ALL YEAR ROUND or decorating your car with hundreds of toy trolls, then maybe you deserve to be made fun of).

What's happening here though? It suggests a shaking up of the usual figures of fun. In the 1970s, before minority groups started to get rather mouthy, it was de riguer for comedians to tell jokes that featured mother-in-laws, racial stereotypes and sissified gays. Of course the minute that these groups started saying "that's not really very nice is it", conservatives invented the phrase "It's political correctness gone mad" and set out trying to turn the clock back and install all of that racism and homophobia that had been enshrined for decades. The Daily Mail (that nasty little snot of a newspaper) was the biggest advocate of PC-gone-mad, and seems to have had a remit to publish at least one bonkers PC story per issue over most of the 1990s and 2000s.

However, after a 20 year, often rather bloody battle - there are signs that the PC-gone-mad "brigade" are winning. The article by Jan Moir which I wrote about in an earlier posting actually wasn't that bad compared to some of what the Daily Mail has been saying about gay people for decades. Yet it produced an unexpected wave of criticism. I remember about 5 years ago, often feeling that I was the most bonkers PC person in the world. On various gay social forums, I'd complain about some instance of homphobia, or some sportscaster or celebrity making a gay joke, and be told that I was getting my knickers in a twist over nothing. Now I sometimes feel that my position is relatively calm in comparison to others. Maybe it's greater awareness of hate crimes towards minority groups - but it seems that more people are making a link between violence and those "funny" jokes that enforce stereotypes and get us to laugh at someone who's different from us.

So the rise of these new "snarky" sites is perhaps to be expected. We can't make fun of the blacks, Jews and gays anymore. So who can we make fun of instead? And the answer is the clueless. The People of Walmart are so uneducated and "out there" that they can't dress themselves decently. Those goons on Lurid Digs have terrible taste in rugs. The FOB (fresh off the Boat) Moms can't even speak English properly - ha ha ha! They say the funniest things.

A new underclass is emerging - one which I suspect is going to stick around for quite a long time - because unlike gay people and ethnic minorities - very few of them will rise up to complain in an articulate voice. Many of these people may not have internet access so may not even realise they are objects of fun. Will they be able to reclaim their "bad taste identities" and demand that people not laugh at them? Will there be FOB Pride? Or will they remain oblivious under their mullets?

I'll probably continue to read those sites, because as I said, I find them funny. But I'm not comfortable with it. And although I could probably come up with about a dozen ideas for similar sites myself, I wouldn't do it. Once you start actively making fun of people in that way, well - a piece of your soul falls off, or a fairy dies somewhere.

Yet maybe humans have a deep-rooted need to laugh at other people, and we'll always find a way.


kleverkloggs said...

Armand Leroi made a similar argument re the future of a meritocratic society, that a 'cognitive underclass' would emerge.

Oh and have you checked out

[word verification is 'mopho!']

John said...

Awkward Family Photos is usually just gentle ribbing as a lot of readers see their own families in the pics. It's nowhere near as cruel as People of Wal-Mart.

On one hand, it could construed as a smackdown of the poor and uneducated, who, as you suggest can't defend themselves. And parts of that make me a little uncomfortable, particularly when it comes to picking on their weight. Having even a Ricky Gervais sized podge is now considered a moral failing. On the other hand, that man on People of Wal-Mart chose, as an adult, to wear a t-shirt with the slogan: "Titties and beer, glad I ain't queer". Perhaps some unrestrained insults are indeed in order.

Lost Boy said...

I'm a fan of Lamebook myself, which mercilessly pokes through the stupid things people post on Facebook. Predictably, contributors are now found to be faking moronic conversations to get them featured, but it is still very funny, especially if you're less than fond of people living their entire lives on a social networking site.

Gattino said...

How odd that you should mention the Daily Mail's connection to the "PC Brigade". After all these years the identity of the mysterious invisible brigade has been revealed.

Every afternoon on ITV Alan Titchmarsh sits in a circle with a succession of right wing columnists (Nick Ferrari, Carol Malone, Kelvin Mackenzie) - plus occassionally Ken Livingstone for "balance" - and perform a collective audience rowsing tut about "the PC brigade". Day after day. They've come no closer to outing this sneaky 5th column than anyone else. Until last week...

The subject under 90 seconds of intense analysis is whether comedians are now too terrified and cowed to say anything offensive because of the PC brigade....since the Ross/Brand, frankie boyle, jimmy carr stories. Yes stories which caused moral offence and "ban them now!" outrage Daily Mail. So we finally know who the Brigade are. Sneaky bastards!