However, as Fredericka Whitfield revealed in her exchange with Joan Rivers, all of this has been lost upon this most humorless generation. For certain, much of life demands seriousness, but our culture’s prevailing zeitgeist—what we commonly refer to as “Political Correctness” (PC)—demands not seriousness, but deadly seriousness.
In no place and at no time has the Joke been more needed than it is needed in a culturally, ethnically, racially, and religiously diverse society like the United States. Yet it is just such places—contemporary, incorrigibly PC, Western societies—that have essentially banned it.
The Joke diffuses intergroup tensions. Whitfield couldn’t have been further of the mark in suggesting that Rivers’ jokes foster mean-spiritedness. Just the opposite is the case: it is precisely in the Joke’s almost unique power to deflate mean-spiritedness that its value is to be found.
Contrary to the conventional wisdom, racial, ethnic, and religious “stereotypes” are most decidedly not fictions sprung from thin air. They reflect enduring patterns among a significant number of a group’s members—even if (as is almost always the case) it is only a significant minority. When these stereotypes reflect positively on a group, all is good. When they are negative, though, there is no end to the inter-group conflict that they can so easily fuel.
The Joke extinguishes the match before it reaches the fuse. It fumigates the air, so to speak, by allowing us to laugh at, rather than hate, one other. There was a time, not all that long ago, when people, particularly Americans, took this fact for granted.
Times, sadly, have changed. Still, what has not changed is that peaceful inter-group co-existence is much better served by the Joan Rivers than the Fredericka Whitfields of our world.
Jack Kerwick received his doctoral degree in philosophy from Temple University. His area of specialization is ethics and political philosophy. He is a professor of philosophy at several colleges and universities in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Jack blogs at Beliefnet.com: At the Intersection of Faith & Culture. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or friend him on facebook. You can also follow him on twitter.