March 10, 2009
Dean Grose, the mayor of Alamitos, a suburb of Los Angeles resigned last week for forwarding by email a « humor » photo of the White House bordered by a huge watermelon patch with the caption that read: « no Easter egg hunt this year ».
The New York Post and cartoonist Sean Delonas were heavily criticized for publishing cartoon depicting a Chimpanzee shot by the police with the caption: "They will have to find someone else to write the next stimulus packaged." Some people saw it as a representation of President Obama, comparing him to a dead monkey. Robert Murdoch, the owner and publisher of The Post, apologized for the cartoon.
A few years ago, a Danish newspaper published a cartoon depicting the Prophet of Islam, Mohammad. The cartoon led to massive protest by Moslems worldwide. The demonstration escalated into violence that led to the death of more than 100 people.
Humor plays a very important role in our lives. Humor is often a release from something that is wrong, painful or incoherent. Psychologists believe that being able to laugh about ourselves is a very good indication of good mental health. I believe that a sense of humor is also the mark of high intelligence. I have noticed that people that are able to instantly capture the incongruity or comical aspect of a situation are usually also very bright.
It can be sometimes difficult to know where to draw the line between what is acceptable healthy humor and what is unacceptable and offensive.
Different people have different sensitivities. It is a very personal matter. Insensitivity or indifference can often be the fruit of ignorance of someone's (or a community's) past hurt and trauma.
We should avoid making fun of peoples' race, gender and religion. We should also not mock someone's infirmities and hurt. Humor should not be divisive but inclusive: all parties should be able to share in the joke.
Our personality is often revealed by the jokes we tell and what makes us laugh.
As Goethe said:
"Nothing shows a man's character more than what he laughs at."