What is a Joke?

At the height of the Democratic National Convention, Donald Trump, our Republican nominee for president, called a press conference, and during that press conference, he invited the Russian government to hack into Hillary Clinton’s email account.

He said that if the Russian government could find 30,000 missing emails, emails that Hillary Clinton said she erased, that the American press would probably “mightily reward” them. (http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/29/world/europe/russia-trump-clinton-email-hacking.html)

His statement was shocking and troubling, and the press, as well as American government and security personnel, jumped all over it. Pundits tried to play it down; it was just “The Donald” being “The Donald,” practicing his craft of manipulating the press, as he so skillfully does. Any press, even bad press, is good, he believes. What better way to keep the spotlight on him, in light of what some might say is a fairly successful Democratic National Convention, than for him to say something outrageous?

But as the press and people who know government spoke out, Trump backtracked some, and said he was merely being sarcastic. And his friend Newt Gingrich, said that Trump had only been “joking.” (https://www.bostonglobe.com/news/politics/2016/07/27/newt-gingrich-says-donald-trump-was-joking-about-hillary-clinton-mails/vx5Ml4OXKJmfIcFMaDv6BK/story.html)

I’m confused. I thought a “joke” was or is supposed to be funny. Granted, the perception, understanding and interpretation of what is “funny” is left to the beholder, but there ought to be some thread of commonality, regardless of who is doing the interpreting, right?

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary says that a joke is “something said or done to cause laughter. : a brief story with a surprising and funny ending. : someone or something that is not worth taking seriously.” Good comedians are rare; they are capable of taking what we experience every day and making it funny. Their jokes make us laugh at ourselves, laugh at our habits and idiosyncrasies, laugh at our situations or even how we think. The best jokes, it seems, don’t make us look at someone who has a problem and laugh at them; at best, good jokes make us look at how we look at different people at laugh at ourselves.

But it seems that far too often in our world in general, and in our American world specifically, people say things that insult or put others down and when their words are found to offend, the immediate response is, “It was just a joke,” or “you can’t take a joke.”

Seriously?

When the mayor of a small town in Washington State called Michelle Obama a “gorilla face” and President Obama a “monkey man,” he said that it was just “playful back and forth banter.” (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/washington-mayor-racist_us_55a71677e4b04740a3defd84)

Amy Schumer has been called on the carpet for saying disparaging things about Mexicans. She calls them “jokes.” Mexicans call her words hurtful, racist and offensive. (https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2015/07/06/dont-believe-her-defenders-amy-schumers-jokes-are-racist/)

I personally hate the “n” word, but when an African-American is telling a story about some experience he or she has had with friends or family and uses the word, sharing an experience with which we as African Americans are all familiar, it is funny. But when a white person begins to use the word, not becoming immersed in a common, comical cultural experience but instead is standing outside looking in, the words sound judgmental, racist, and, frankly, inappropriate. A white person using the “n” word is never funny, and black people need to drop it, too. But there is a noticeable difference when black people are using it to describe black life, black experiences, black emotions and black pain.

But back to Donald Trump and his invitation to Russia to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails – where  is the humor? Where is the joke? What are we supposed to find amusing about a presidential candidate inviting a known enemy of this nation to commit espionage?

Am I missing something here?

It is a cop-out to say one was only “joking”  when his or her words have backfired. If President Obama gave a presentation and called Donald Trump some disparaging term that has obvious racist overtones, the airwaves would burn. When people have said things about Trump, say, for instance, about his hair, they haven’t had to back up and say they were joking. They weren’t.

And neither was Trump. He was speaking from his heart, just as too many people do who say things that offend other people, especially along racial, ethnic and sexual lines. Calling someone a name, like too many have done, is not funny. Inviting an enemy to compromise your own nation’s security…is not funny, either.

Donald Trump was not joking and you were not being sarcastic. That’s what makes what he said so troubling, and even more troubling is the fact that his hard core followers do not care.

But many more do care, Mr. Trump. Many more do.

A candid observation …

 

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