|What's the big deal?|
Most of us have at one time or another participated in such ridicule: through active speaking, passive listening and/or communal snickering. Thank film, television and social media for our collective conditioning. Those aren’t the only place we learn it. There’s also the bantering as youth on playgrounds, in classrooms, and at home listening to and mimicking parents, siblings, relatives and friends.
The effect is additive; the more you hear the joking, the more acceptable it becomes. Especially when accompanied by that notorious accountability deflector, “I’m just kidding”.
I have a 20-month-old son. That means I’ve watched the animated Dr. Seuss flick “The Lorax” more times than I can count. Several scenes and themes in this G-rated movie are disturbing. Things I doubt the writers thought were harmful. Yet they are.
One centers on the notion that all women should look and behave a certain way. The scene in question involves a woman bearing what many would describe as stereotypic masculine characteristics. She is tall with broad shoulders, a stout torso and tough, fierce demeanor. In a seminal moment one of the characters quips with indignation, “That’s a woman?”
Another series of scenes carry an equally marginalizing theme. It features a character who is physically much larger than the others. Each scene he’s involved in promotes a message: it’s okay to judge and ridicule people who are overweight. One scene depicts the larger character as lazy, compared to the others who are leaner. In another, we discover him hold up in the fridge slowly sucking down raw sticks of butter as if they were strands of spaghetti. Yet another has him huffing and puffing while trying to keep up with others who are on the run.
There’s more. This one involves a play for humor at the expense of the elderly. An adult daughter berates her mother time and again in front of her young grandson, suggesting grandma is senile and outdated in her thinking. The message is clear: the elderly are irrelevant, useless burdens to society.
It should be mentioned that the Dr. Seuss book features none of these insensitive displays.
|This movie was funny to me... until I woke up.|
The standard rebuttal among ignorant and uncaring folks, those characteristically lacking empathy, is that political correctness is “out of control” and that people these days “just can’t take a joke.”
The sad thing about it is that the harm doesn’t just stop at the person targeted on the receiving end. It also damages the one making the comment. With each barb, people who regularly do this are chipping away at their own humanity. Dehumanization is a precursor to prejudice, which leads to all sorts of nasty things. Like ableism, body shaming, racism, sexism, classism, homophobia – the list is endless.
What to do? The obvious solution is to stop with the harmful jokes. Interrupt them when they’re happening. Sometimes in the moment, the teasing doesn’t seem so bad and only later do we realize someone might have been hurt or offended. In such cases, deep reflection is in order. Moving into your own feelings in an effort to experience empathy is also helpful. Another option might be to circle back around to the targeted person to check in with their feelings.
Yes it can be risky. In some cases the person may vent their frustration on you. More likely, a targeted person will respond with something like, “No harm, no foul.” In others, you might find that your concern over the occurrence is just the soothing balm a person needed. In which case, it will all have been worth it.
Follow J.R. on Twitter @4humansbeing or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.