Thursday, October 13, 2011

So funny I forgot to laugh.

One of the goals of my advocacy is to create an open dialogue. This is the first post in which I am asking the reader to contribute and share ideas. Please participate. The more the merrier. This could be a complete disaster, or very interesting. Please keep it respectful and civil.

Since my decision to dive into advocacy, I have learned a great deal about social media; How to target interests, how to promote, how to have fun with, how to do research and gauge people’s reaction.

One of the tools that I use is TweetDeck. It is a great program that allows me to monitor several different interests. I have a sports stream for work and for my own personal enjoyment, and I also have an autism stream that I watch very closely. Through that stream I have met a lot of great, involved parents that are fighting like hell for their kids. It lifts me up every time I fire up TweetDeck because it is a constant reminder that my family is not in this battle alone.

Unforunately, with the Yin comes the Yang. Although the “autism” stream is full of loving and heartfelt Tweets, every once in a while, you see this:

“Just got my flu shot. Now I have autism.”
“@soandso is so retarded! I think that (n-word) has autism! HAHAHAHA”
“Freaking out. I must have autism.”

I tend to just ignore these people. I chalk their comments up to a lot of ignorance, and not realizing that they are putting stuff out there for anybody to see in cyberspace. Others have a harder time letting it roll off. I see comments by people affected by the spectrum getting upset at the use of autism as the punch line of a joke. Some Tweet back a response to the offending Tweep asking them not to make light of a serious condition.

It got me wondering. Are there things that shouldn’t be made fun of? Are there topics that are off limits for humor and satire? Is the problem not that a joke is being made, but in the presentation? When one gets offended by a joke, is it that it hits close to home and takes away the humor? A case could certainly be made for almost every subject of a joke that the joke is offensive. I think many kind hearted people have said things in jest that if heard by a stranger would seem as if it were incredibly mean or in poor taste.

I know that humor has helped me to heal. I have a very close friend that I can joke around with about my lot in life and there is an understanding that what is being said is nothing more than joking. We probably all have a confidant like this; a friend that we can say comments to that may seem insensitive by others, but amongst close, personal friends is an understanding.

So in an effort to open up a dialogue, I would like to ask you the reader what your take on the subject is. Is it OK to make jokes about disabilities? Is it not OK to make fun of PEOPLE with disabilities? Are there conditions? If so, what do you feel those conditions are? Does it depend on the tone or he person telling the joke's experience?

If you would like to participate, please be mindful of others and their opinions. As the moderator, if I feel somebody has crossed the line, I reserve the right to remove the post. Thanks!

“The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum.” ― Noam Chomsky

If you have not already, please take time to watch my videos, "Fixing" Autism and Autism Awareness with Nichole337 and share them with your friends.

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  1. I believe that some things are not to joke about. I just can't see funny side in coping with reality that can be hard for people with disabilities (and their closest family members) on daily basis. Ok, there are some situations that do happen, also,daily, that are funny, and you CAN joke about, but not about their condition in general.

  2. Hmm, this is a tough one. I think the easy answer would be to say, No - it is never okay. But one of my best friends was born with spina bifida, and when I first met her, I was very conscious of and sensitive to her condition. This didn't last long - soon I was cracking gimp jokes right along with her. The thing I love most about her is her attitude - if you ask her about why she (and her friends) choose to laugh about her condition, she'll tell you: if you can't laugh at life, what's the point? The only alternative is to feel sorry for herself, or (worse) having others feel sorry for her, which she will not stand for. Whole blocks of time go by in which I completely forget about her disability, and this, I think, is the point. In being able to be lighthearted about it, she is able to equalize herself. So, when she (frequently) slips out of her wheelchair and busts her behind, I laugh (along with her) - because I know if it were me on the ground (and it sometimes is), she'd do the same. All this said - she's able to reciprocate, and ours is a bit of a different situation. To me, it's never okay to make fun of someone who is not able to, or willing to, join in on the joke.

  3. it is never ok to joke about people with challenges. At my job I constantly hear people throw out the "Retard" word when describing other's actions or decisions, but if anyone says "gay" in the same situations - you would think the world has ended (people get fired for that). I don't use either.
    That being said, living with disabilities REQUIRE a sense of humor... or else you will be miserable.
    I have been awake since 4am with my son, 9 - severe autistic / mild mmr, and lately has been addicted to Blues Clues and "duck frog" (Leap Frog) on Netflix. This morning he kept singing the "we just got a letter" song - I gave him an envelope with his name on the front... he loves it! he has been laughing all morning.
    5am, my daughter 5 non verbal Autism joined the party, she tried to tell me what she wanted. "day doe pate" I figured out she wanted Play Doh, but it took me 20 minutes until i figured out she wanted play doh on a plate. Now I am enjoying a yummy play doh cupcake breakfast! You can bet these situations will be joked about for a long time.
    I need some coffee....
    Lou, I love your blog - as an autism father, i do not feel alone.

  4. Thanks guys!

    I agree with a lot of what is being said, certainly we have all experienced situations with our challenged loved ones in which there are humor... and thank goodness!

    The distinction I see with somebody usually using the "R" word is that it isn't used as a joke. It is used as an insult.

    What about professional comedians/entertainers?

    I had a conversation not long ago with somebody who has a son that has Downs Syndrome about sensitivity. One of my best friends growing up has Downs as well so I am pretty sensitive to people making light of those with Downs. The dad was very offended by the Ben Stiller movie Tropic Thunder and the "full-retard" scene in the movie. (FYI, I don't use the "retard") Is it OK for entertainers to use people with disabilities as the subject of jokes? There's Something about Mary also had a character with special needs in it... Warren. Now I wasn't particularly offended by either. I went in expecting to be, but when taken in context I honestly did not feel like they were out to pick on those with challenges.

    It seems like stand-up comics get cut a little more slack. Is this because it is understood that their job is to tell jokes and push boundaries? Sometimes political correctness can go too far, but should society evolve past making jokes of those that can't defend themselves? There have been stand-up comics that have had disabilities that would joke about their condition. Is that OK? Is it akin to African-Americans using the "N-word"? Not that I am likening the words, but rather the acceptance for something that could be considered offensive when used in a different context.

    I have always been of the opinion that anything can be made fun of if done in the proper context and with the proper respect. There is a different between being funny and telling a joke and being mean and insulting. Others get extremely offended by even the slightest joke of a serious condition. Should we be sensitive to those people, or just file it under "You can't please all the people all of the time"?

  5. I find it easier to just be sensitive to those who take things more seriously. I myself tend to roll with things a bit. Although I know the word "retard" is a bit of a hot button, most of the times when I hear it, it doesn't occur to me to be offended, because I know the word is not meant in the spirit of meanness. Plus, I don't really apply it to my son. Growing up, my group of friends used the word occasionally, but it was more meant to indicate someone intentionally acting a certain way. I don't think it would have occurred to us at the time that the word literally applied to a group of people with special needs. There's really no reason to jump all over people when no ill-intent is present, in my opinion. It doesn't really do any GOOD, it just inevitably makes the person using the word uncomfortable and embarrassed, thereby closing the line of communication. If I feel the need, I may gently point out that maybe it might be best to consider the context of the situation and whether or not the use of the word is appropriate then and there. I think the "N" word is a good analogy - although just about every person of color I know has used, or does use the word with friends of their own race, almost all of them would be shocked and appalled were I to use it myself. The difference? Context. The word itself is not offensive to them, just the perceived shift in meaning. I think the only solution is just to remain tolerant, providing the use of the word (whatever it may be) is not used in a cruel manner.

  6. Just saw the youtube video...thanks for saying and showing what so many of us struggle to get others to understand. P.S. Bianca is adorable!

  7. I agree with Lou's last two paragraphs in his comment (cause I haven't seen the moveis), especially the last paragraph. I hadn't really given this too much thought before, what with everything else going on...

    A few weeks ago the Hubs and I watched this stand up comic. He made a couple of references of autistic people 1. being the stereotype about them not having a sense of humour (my son spends his days giggling away and his sense of humour leans towards the scatological - not unlike his uncle!) and 2. he said something else stereotypical regarding a "mildly autistic" person, I can't remember exactly what he said.

    The point is, at the first reference, it hit a little too close to home for me and I was infuriated. How dare he? No sense of humour?? Come meet my son and tell me if he doesn't make you laugh with his sense of humour. I also felt saddened by the second reference, but at the end of the day, I think it was because it was the first time I had encountered an "autism joke" and with my son being autistic it was a little too soon for me, hit too close to home.

    I am Mexican-Lebanese and there are both some Mexican and some Arab jokes that will make me laugh, like any other joke. I appreciate autism and disabilities in general are different, but while something is not mean and hurtful but done in good taste with actual humour and not malice, then I think there is a distinction.

    And in the case of the particular comic I saw, I don't think he set out to be mean or hurtful. That's not his style of comedy, I was just unprepared when I was relaxing in the evening to hear those words come out of his mouth.