A friend was trying to send me some “funny” art history memes, and it was not too long before I found I was not amused, because the people making the art history memes were misandrist (presumably female) art history fans and thus decided to slant their humor with a decided hostility to men. This, of course, did not prove to be funny at all to me. This is not an isolated experience. It is quite common for people to engage in offensive humor that is meant merely for an insider audience that would be obviously offensive to those on the outside, and that what makes someone appear particularly gaffe prone is often taking that inside talk and using it to outsiders. One notable and frequently unsuccessful politician in Florida, for example, has made the rounds this past week saying that he didn’t want voters with hate in their heart who support the current governor to vote for him nor did he want the vote of toothless Floridians. Were I the sort of person who had an interest in running for political office (I am not), my reply would be that I don’t care how many teeth you have as long as you are voting for me. A joke about toothless rubes may play well to elitist circles but does not play well to the ordinary rural people of an area who are used to being made fun of and who intensely resent it.
Resentment is a dangerous thing. One of the many predictable but lamentable consequences of our obsession with identity politics in our country and around the world has been the proliferation about resentment. One can hardly watch a commercial on the television or computer and not be offended, for every time someone appears to be made the butt of a joke or being critiqued as having paid too much for a given product or service by not using the advertised one, one is looking at the identity of the person being made the butt of the joke and seeing how many boxes of this person’s identity are checked by the person watching the commercial. Instead of gaining customers, all too often marketing efforts gain enmity from those who are being made fun of by the firm’s advertising. And this is dangerous, since offended people have become increasingly entrenched in their anger, and increasingly hostile to those who make fun of them, unwilling to put up with being made the butt of any joke at all.
All this is more dangerous when one comes to realize that people have not drawn the obvious conclusion to this increased resentment and hostility to being made fun of. When any identifiable group–and people can be identified in nearly infinite ways and gradations–is hostile to negative portrayals, one can essentially portray nothing negatively at all without facing potentially serious or even deadly repercussions. No one appears to have drawn this obvious conclusion, though, that the proliferation of hostility to negative portrayals essentially means that Thumper’s Mother’s Rule has to be a universal rule of communication, in that nothing negative can be said about any group, and so long as an individual is going to be taken as representative of a given group, nothing bad can be said about them either. On the contrary, society is moving in a direction of increased desire to say negative things about those people one perceives as enemies, who are all too often identifiable groups (or else they would not be eligible to be identified as enemies). At the same time, though, no one is getting any more willing to have anything bad said about them. The results are predictable in increased conflict and hostility and it is only a matter of time before the violence in our hearts towards those who hate us and mock us and abuse us is turned into violent hostility. I wonder how long indeed we have to wait to see it erupt.