My son uses a statement that is at once the funniest joke he knows and also the Nuclear Option he uses to end any argument.
“Buddy, we’ve talked about fire safety. Don’t set things on fire inside the house. You know when you do that it stresses mommy out…”
At some point in the lecture, he decides he’s had enough. He screws up his face, looks his debate partner straight in the eye, and delivers the coup de grâce to end the discussion.
Peals of laughter follow, and he runs off to dig another hole in the yard.
Those that disagree with him, that have a different opinion about wearing shoes or acceptable decibel level of public discourse, as well as those who he wants to impress with the depth of his humor, are all likely to be regaled by this masterful rebuttal.
My parents said I went through a similar phase, and that he’ll outgrow it. However, with his 30th birthday approaching and his impending marriage looming, I’m getting concerned.
Convenient humor isn’t humor
Why was my son’s age a surprise?
As we mature, our sense of humor expands. We learn word play, and we learn that humor is the result of a surprising turn of phrase or a shocking story outcome.
But when we’re six, it’s perfectly acceptable to categorize all adversaries in play and actuality as donkheads, and to laugh at a well-timed fart.
We grow little older, and we learn that making fun of people’s appearance or actions that are beyond their control can get a laugh.
The guy that is so clumsy he falls down the stairs is hilarious.
The girl developing faster than everyone else is definitely entertaining.
Fat people, thin people, religious people, people with different skin are all subjects for humor.
Then most of us survive the gauntlet of puberty and realize that humor at the expense of other people isn’t really all that special. It’s too easy. Every one of us is weird and wonderful in some way, and unless we want our own particular weirdnesses pointed out to us with a biting comment, we move on to higher forms of humor.
Convenient argument doesn’t win
As we mature, we also learn that name calling doesn’t win an argument.
It doesn’t matter if I call my wife a donkhead. She’s still probably correct that the garbage needs to be taken to the curb.
With our increased vocabulary, we learn to express our points of view in a logical manner, supported by (we hope) evidence of a compelling nature. Do we change minds with our newfound skills? Perhaps.
If we or our debate partners descend into name calling or convenient labels, surely not.
Godwin’s law – Hitler was a blogger
Mike Godwin proposed the following law regarding internet discussions:
As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Hitler approaches 1.
When tempers run high, we revert to our mid-pubescent selves. We get so angry with even our friends that we’ll readily compare their positions to ultimate evil.
The best example I’ve witnessed is the comparison of vegetarianism to Nazism, because Hitler was a vegetarian.
The person who made this comparison is an otherwise rational human being – but locked in an argument they couldn’t escape, they resorted to painting a dumb little mustache on somebody that just didn’t want to eat cows.
In online forums, it’s generally accepted that the first person to mention Hitler in a discussion automatically loses the argument.
If you gotta call on Hitler, you’ve run out of valid ideas.
By extension, if we see a social media post or news piece that paints an image using broad generalities or name calling, we can know that the source is running out of gas for ideas to support their view:
- Conservatives are stealing your social security
- Liberal snowflakes are at it again
- Millennials have destroyed….
- etc, etc
But Roseanne Barr really is Hitler! And ABC are a bunch of Nazi!
Personally, I’ve never found Roseanne’s sense of humor very appealing. But she isn’t Hitler.
Was ABC right to cancel her show? I don’t know. I would have been hard-pressed to air it in the first place.
On the other hand, firing someone over a single statement made as an individual, not as a representative of the company, seems like a stiff penalty without recourse.
But – they may have taken her tweet as a sign that she was out of touch with adult humor. I doubt ABC was targeting 12-year-olds with the show, and making fun of someone’s appearance – quite beyond their control – isn’t very funny. It’s too easy.
Either way, our favorite news sources will have something new for us to argue about next week. Let’s keep it civil out there and remember – a well-timed fart is still hilarious.