Chris Anderson doesn’t believe that jokes about traumatic situations should be banned, but if you’re going to joke about someone’s trauma, do so with respect to the victims.
Satire is needed to hold the high and mighty accountable whomever they may be. But there is a fine line that is always present when the material being used for comedy is clearly traumatic. It can be agued that there should never be a limit on what comedians can say. However intentionally using triggering material in one’s jokes is often a problem. Sometimes victims or survivors are sometimes targeted for ridicule (as was the case when Bill Maher last year called male victims of female rapists “lucky bastards”, or whenever someone makes a joke about prison rape). Other times when the focus remains so squarely focused on the perpetrators behaviors it literally makes us blind to the existence of victims themselves.
I’m a great fan of George Carlin, and part of the thing that made Carlin amazing was that his ire was never targeted at people who had been victimized. Sure – he’d skewer a sucker for being a dope, but never did he imply that a rape victim should consider themselves lucky. Carlin punched up with his humor, not down. Making fun of someone else’s suffering isn’t comedy. It’s bullying.
That’s why I was so impressed the other day when Larry Wilmore spent a few minutes discussing the recent scandal that has just come to light surrounding former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert being charged for financial improprieties allegedly linked to his paying off a male he sexually abused decades ago. Wilmore managed to punch up at Hastert while not punching survivors down. Even better was when his guest that evening CNN Chief International Correspondent Christiane Amanpour made it clear to all listening that, indeed, boys and men are victims of rape as well.