Left with a bad taste

The comic value of sick jokes is a matter of opinion. It’s fine if you like them, it’s fine if you don’t, but no one’s forcing them upon you. Save Jimmy Carr’s occasionally questionable one liners, the general public is not subject to bad taste humour. Often mindless, sometimes terrible, but rarely bad taste.

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So when people complain about sick jokes, it seems a little odd. To start, one must seek these jokes out, usually via the infamous website Sickipedia. But of course, this is not the place to go if you’re easily offended. The website’s icon is a pixelated penis for goodness sake. There is much to be utterly horrified by on the site, but because it’s not a mainstream sense of humour, you don’t have to read the sick jokes unless you want to.

What I take particular issue with is the furore the website’s recent additions caused, which made light of the collapse of Fabrice Muamba during the recent Spurs vs Bolton football match. Twitter was filled with angry statements about how Sikipedia had this time gone too far. A twitter account, dedicated to tweeting jokes from the website, tweeted four entirely serious messages about the situation with Muamba, including ‘pull through Muamba’ and ‘This is a joke website, but the situation with Fabrice Muamba is not a joke!’

Whilst I have no desire to play down a young man’s tragic experience, the idea that this is where both the twitter account, and its audience, draw the line, is problematic. The fact that the twitter community are fine with Fritzl, Holocaust, and Kony jokes, but chose to call Sickipedia up on the collapse of a football player raises serious questions about what social media sites are okay with making fun of. I believe that three main factors influence these decisions about what is acceptable joke material and what isn't; time, distance and perverseness.

Of these, the factor of time is one used most widely to deal with suffering. Whilst it is easy to find the rape and pillage of the Vikings trivial, it is much more difficult to acceptably trivialise the Holocaust, and more recently, the 9/11 attacks.

This calls into question whether Sickipedia would have been under such attack if they’d left it a week to start making Muamba jokes, perhaps waited until his condition was known. With sick jokes the idea of ‘too soon’ seems to be crucial to their acceptability.

Distance applies more generally to our understanding and concern for those geographically distanced from us. Third world problems are, indeed, not our problems and thus I assume this is why whether it’s a BBC news report, or a Sickipedia joke, we are less inclined to be interested or offended. Even closer to home, for example, with Joeseph Fritzl in Austria, one is able to distance themselves just enough to accept a humorous take on horrific events. With Muamba not only being geographically central, but televised and part of an extremely popular football culture, it appears that it is indeed just a little too close to home to find funny.

Finally perverseness; the factor with undoubtedly the most unsettling logic. It appears that the more heinous the crime or event, the more hilarity can be found within. Horrendously it seems that children are the most targeted for such jokes, with Baby P, Kony’s child soldiers and more broadly ‘dead baby’ jokes being some of the most popular on the website. Even Madeline McCann, a case in which no sure fire reason for her disappearance has surfaced, is subject to speculative rape and murder jokes. Put in perspective, the idea that a Sickipedia audience is happy with these jokes and but not those aimed at an entirely natural, non ‘sick’ event is seriously disturbing.

Because that’s just it - the average Sickipedia visitor can deal with any sort of joke unless the event itself is not sick, but a situation they can understand and empathise with. If those who called for a Sickipedia boycott on Twitter have seriously changed their way of thinking about the suffering of others, then great, the world has just become a little better.

But somehow I feel like when this rage about Muamba jokes has passed, and a great human tragedy takes place just a little further from our understanding, these people will be back to chuckling at their computer screens once more. And to me, that’s sick as hell.

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