For a few years now I've seen a lot of criticism of dark humour (or gallows humour), as I'm sure many people have seen. I'm sure many people agree with the criticisms of dark humour. Many people believe it makes society in general think that serious issues aren't really all that serious. I would like to argue against that.
I have a bias. I love dark humour. I used to resist my love of dark humour because I thought it was bad, mainly for the reason I shared in the above paragraph. However, as I have been allowing myself to let my spontaneous responses to stimuli flow unhindered over the passed few years, I have begun to accept my appreciation for gallows humour. For those of us who are very sensitive and have had to heal from emotional trauma, it's practically therapeutic.
One of the issues I have run into during this process is the need other people have for my brand of humour to be explained to them. Humour is hard to explain. As I hinted above, it's spontaneous. It's a sort of intuition that everybody has whether they have a deeply intuitive mind or not, and as I talked about in a previous post, intuition is hard to reason with.
The specific issue I ran into was rape jokes. I don't usually think that rapes jokes are funny, but if I am to defend dark humour than surely that would include rape jokes, would it not? And although I was once a bit puritanical in regards to humour, I am no longer in a place where I feel the need to police other people's jokes. So, the question, "Why do you think rape jokes are funny?" weighed on my mind for a long time.
I thought about the intent of the humour as well as the reason for a spontaneous response to the humour. Are people laughing because they think rape is a joke? Are they laughing because they think the victim is a joke? Well, I don't know. I don't like getting into the habit of assigning motive anymore (which is one of the reasons that I have come to hate identity politics), so instead I will simply explain what I have found is my inner process for dark humour.
I love Cyanide and Happiness. It's a great comic which was eventually turned into a great YouTube channel. They deal with all sorts of dark, crude and inappropriate humour, and oh do they tickle my funny bone somethin' fierce! One of my favourite skits is called Ladder. You can watch it yourself if you'd like, but if you don't care to watch dark humour I will briefly describe it.
Basically, a boy can't get his cat out if a tree, so his father offers to help. He gets his ladder, extends it, and prepares to rest it vertically against the tree. Then, he whacks the cat with the ladder until the cat falls out of the tree. Oh, I love this skit. It brings me such joy. But why does it bring me joy? I don't approve if the abuse of animals. I would never be okay with it if I saw that happen in real life. Do I really think the cat's suffering is a joke?
Another bit of dark humour I enjoy comes from Dragon Ball Z Abridged. One of my favourite running gags (well, it was twice, but I hail it a running gag!) revolved around Gohan on Planet Namek. Gohan was a young child at the time, and on occasion he would be in a situation that could be deemed inappropriate, and he would say, "I need an adult." The adult with him would then say, "I am an adult." The implications are clear, and yet I thought it was a funny joke.
Anyone who has read my very early posts knows that I was molested when I was a child, so I know full well how serious it is. I do not think that child abuse is a joke, so why was I amused by that running gag? Well, if you know the show you'll probably know that it was a piece of an even larger joke which poked fun at how bad most if the adults in Gohan's life were at taking care of him, so there's that. Does that mean that deep down inside I think that his suffering is a joke?
Hardly. I have come to the conclusion that I enjoy this humour not because I think it pokes fun at the victims or the very concept of suffering, but because it pokes fun at the perpetrators. In Ladder, the cat's suffering wasn't the joke, the father was the joke. It was funny because my spontaneous response was to laugh at how stupid the father was. In DBZ Abridged, child abuse was not the joke, the adults were the jokes. I wasn't laughing at the poor treatment of Gohan, I was laughing at how pathetic the adults were.
I think it may be the same with rape jokes. I don't think they are supposed to make rape look like a joke, I don't even think they're supposed to make the woman look like a joke. I think they're meant to make the rapist (or the enabler of the rapist) look like a joke. Dark humour is hard to understand, because people seem to immediately assume that it makes victims and their suffering look pathetic, but that's not what it looks like to me. To me, it's making the one who caused the suffering look pathetic, and that's why I laugh.
Thank you very much for reading my post, and if you like don't humour please don't be afraid of it! Examine your own motives. Don't let other people assign your motives to you. They can't read your mind.
God bless you! (It feels so weird signing off with that on this post. Alas, I still feel shame for my dark humour. Oh well, hopefully that will be worked out one day.)