Do you like to laugh? Have you ever told a joke that you thought was hilarious or heard one that you just couldn’t stop laughing about? Well, the nature of jokes is to make others laugh. Unfortunately, there are few neutral jokes; there is always a “target” of every joke. Whether the subject is the person wearing an odd article of clothing or it centers on a racist stereotype, jokes can be powerful.
Although forms of humor have changed dramatically over the years, what has not changed is that someone comes off looking unflattering. For example, in my English class, we are currently reading Moliere’s “Tartuffe,” which is a comedy that premiered in 1664. In the play, “Tartuffe,” or The Hypocrite, pretends to be a devoted religious fellow who fools members of a family into becoming religious. Its satirical and idiotic nature combined with the goofiness of the characters plays on the ignorance of the family members and Tartuffe’s ability to con them all. Eventually, they come off looking foolish.
The stories about the wise men of Chelm which date back to the late 19th century accentuate the lunacy of the fools of Chelm. The tales of their antics poke fun at the stupidity of the people in the Eastern European town of Chelm. Even the Borscht Belt comic routines of the 1950s and 1960s currently making “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” so popular, play on accentuated traits of Jews. The comedians of that period accentuated prototypes of Jewish families, food and lifestyles. For centuries, comedy has been an enduring form of entertainment, but ultimately it is at somebody else’s expense.
Today, many people consume media through social media, specifically memes. A meme is a picture that is usually accompanied by text, which pokes fun at something. Meme actually comes from the Greek word mimema, which means something imitated. There are memes that mock just about everything and every type of person. Like other kinds of jokes, many play off of stereotypes and are offensive.
On Instagram, a Jewish meme account, @memes.for.the.jew, posted a picture of a scared child with the text “whenever something anti-Semitic happens.” The account captioned it:
“After anti-Semitic attacks, I generally try not to post about them on my account because I want this to be a happy place where we celebrate Judaism and laugh at funny memes… I think that this kind of dark humor can be helpful (I still find it pretty funny) but also reveals how significant the presence of anti-Semitism has been in 2019…” In this post, the account defends their choice to publish this meme by rationalizing that it is important to recognize the existence of anti-Semitism in our world. They do not, however, want it to overshadow the special culture that the account wishes to highlight in their amusing posts.
On memedroid, a website for browsing memes, with the tag – Holocaust, Hemochromatosis posted a meme that displayed a character with a gingerbread man on his shoulder with the horrifying caption that reads “Fire up the ovens, Muffin Man.” While it may be hard for some of us to understand what could possibly be funny about this meme, someone must find this funny. Not everyone reacts the same way to a “joke.” For some, the same joke can be extremely offensive to some or light and entertaining to others.
It is important to take into account the context in which a joke is conveyed. When my friends and I sit around sharing stories and jokes about our Jewish parents, we are bonding, sharing our heritage and laughing at our own reality. In today’s world, with the increasing number of acts of anti-Semitism raging around us, our words and posts on social media are powerful. While humor has always been complex and even delicate, the power of viral sharing has made it even more necessary for people to be aware of the implications behind a post.