When ‘just making a joke’ becomes a crutch for the intellectual and emotional failings of the masculine personality.
Over the last several years I have begun to suspect that something sinister might actually underlie humor. Far too often was the funny stuff accompanied by cruelty, ignorance and reductionist thinking to just be a coincidence. As this belief grew I did my best to keep it in check. I had always been a very big fan of comedy and the comedic arts. From Voltaire to Bill Hicks, many of my heroes were funny people who had used humor to expand the minds of their audience. That kind of power was undeniable, and I had employed it myself over the years as a conversationalist and writer.
Yet even as I wrote piece after piece of satire and farmed many a chuckle from the fertile funny fields of internet culture, I also began to write against the misuse and overuse of humor. This caused many people I interacted with to deem me humorless and accuse me of not ‘getting it’. What an absurd accusation that is, and more often than not made by somebody who has blamed me for how very unfunny they are by citing my refusal to shower them with a social safety blanket of laughter that they did not earn. And almost always, it is a masculine personality making these bad jokes and incredulous accusations.
A few months ago I watched Hannah Gadsby’s comedy special ‘Nanette’. Her assessment of comedy as a traumatic force that exploits tension for effect rang very true for me, even though it was almost blasphemous what she was suggesting. Humor seems like a sacred cow, a net good that improves life. What Hannah suggested was that the resolution of laughter was not worth the tension required to get us there. Comedy exploits peoples emotions in order to benefit the comedian, but even the comic’s profits might come with the same emotional trauma they induced in their audiences, which would explain the cynicism, depression and substance abuse so often found in professional humorists. Hannah had stripped down and laid bare something I had only suspected for these past few years – that humor was a distraction predicated on aggression, power and a need to be in control.
If you have watched her special, which I simply cannot recommend enough, then you are aware that she also tied this whole funny business mess to the predatory behavior of many males, as well as their lack of compassion, understanding and acceptance. Once these connections were made in my mind, I began to see myself, other men and human civilization anew from that perspective. This insight has been frightening.
On any given day in any kind of social media or online forum you will encounter the following numerous times. As feminine personalities and the emotionally intelligent attempt to interact with and inform others, there is always a masculine personality (usually a group of them) who show up to make disparaging comments. Often these rebuttals come in the form of lowest common denominator forms of communication like memes or gifs. Other times they are just tired cliches thrown back at the speaker, noisy signals of disapproval that have no intellectual merit and often are bigoted in nature.
A great example of this is when one person pours their heart out and then another tells them they are ‘just butthurt’. What a tried, overused cliche that ol’ chestnut has become.
Before we move on, lets just get this out of the way – ‘butthurt’ is a homophobic slur and there is no way to get around that. It suggests anal sex as a wrongdoing. Why would someone care if your butt hurts, unless as an accusation that it is wrong somehow? But even if the linguistic and logical math did not point towards that conclusion, the terms genesis by a homophobic character from South Park should make the intent pretty clear.
Most of the time when the accuser pulls out the term ‘butthurt’ it is after they made inflammatory, bigoted and/or intentionally hurtful statements. It is emotional entrapment – hurting somebody and then blaming them for their pain. This is narcissistic, predatory and manipulative behavior that is often reinforced by other emotionally disabled jackals who view gang bullying as some kind of comedic group performance.
Besides calling someone ‘butthurt’ this kind of behavior repeats itself millions of times a day online. And this damage is almost always inflicted under the umbrella justification of ‘just being funny’.
What I have come to see in the past few weeks very clearly is humor is all-too-often a crutch for masculine personalities of the emotionally deformed and unformed kind. It is a way in which people who have emotional deficits try to distract others from their shortcomings. It is the proverbial hammer for those whose emotional toolboxes provide very few options for dealing with the complex emotional machinery of human civilization. These social one trick ponies compulsively rely on humor to gain status, identity and affirmation. They are unable to make connections intellectually or emotionally in any other way, so they fall back on that old sacred cow humor to safely avoid their own shortcomings.
It is not just the compulsive use of humor that is the problem, but the gaslighting of individuals who do not respond well to it, as if they are to blame for their irritation in interacting with a person that has poor social and communication skills. “I bet you are a lot of fun at parties,” the masculine personality will chide, as though this is the end-all, be-all of being a fully formed human being. “Lighten up,” they will shout through snarling laughter, as they attempt to drag you down into their own darkness. “Have a sense of humor already,” they say, as they are actively avoiding their own emotional and intellectual complexity by dismissing you with a reactionary cliche.
As if this situation were not bad enough, the humor being defended is almost always of such a low quality as to be offensive in its boring normality alone. Whether over-recycled memes, jokes that have already been made too many times to remain funny, or basic hate speech parading as humor, the comedic prowess of those who feel the need to make everyone around them submit to their ridiculously narrow emotional scope is almost always not even funny anyway.
Instead these attempts at humor are often just a form of male signaling. Primate screeching to inform others of tribal affiliation with the masculine identity and virtues. Their jokes contain assumptions at their premise that are often easily intellectually dismantled, but when you do so you get your sense of humor called into question. And it seems that the very same people always telling us to ‘take a joke’ are the ones also parading logic and reason as the only mental experiences of value, while disregarding emotions altogether.
So what we appear to have is a situation in which the modern masculine personality uses reason and humor to deny people’s emotions and force them to interact in only pre-approved ways, while also themselves having a deficit of humor, reason and emotional complexity. Humor has become a form of social conservatism used as a crutch by those who are unable and/or unwilling to interact in a wider variety of ways. At the same time it is used to dismiss and dehumanize others, while derailing any potential for understanding and acceptance.
A part of me wants to believe that we can drain the tub and save the baby, but it is unclear to me how we can preserve humor without causing trauma. It is also unclear how we can continue to push it to the cultural forefront without reinforcing masculine personality’s shameful dependence and misuse of humor. I don’t want to live in a world in which Mark Twain or George Carlin never existed, but I also do not want to live in one that is confounding inhumanity for the sake of a joke. The entertainment value of humor has been overshadowed by its predatory usage, and yet we are basically in denial that the dark side exists. That it always exists, no matter which side we are seeing at any given moment. Until we can acknowledge that humor is problematic at some fundamental level, we cannot readjust our usage to make it more productive and sustainable.
That which we place beyond question is the most dangerous to us. As a cultural norm and masculine social crutch, humor has escaped our scrutiny for too long. We have been imprisoned by our own laughter and prevented from the creative maturity and growth that comes with painting from a wider emotional palette. It is a lot to ask of humanity to jettison the funny stuff altogether, but perhaps we should relegate it to the cargo area for a bit while we navigate out of this mess and find the parts of ourselves we have been covering up or ignoring with laughter.
If all you got are jokes, then what does that make you?