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Shocking situations and sick jokes

When I was studying for my MSc in Loughborough in 1993-94, one day a cement mixer lorry fell on its side near the computer science building. It crushed and killed a cleaning lady. It could have been any of us — it happened on one of the main paths through the campus.

A feeling of shock filled the building and, as it was mostly filled with intelligent yet emotionally-immature computing students, people began swapping sick jokes about the death. With laughter and inappropriate humour, we found relief in a situation we weren’t equipped to handle.

I remember a visibly distraught staff member enter the room, hear some jokes, and shouting in fury and tears about how we shouldn’t be making jokes.

I think he was wrong. Sick jokes gave us a way of expressing ourselves when we had no other mechanism. By revelling in their inappropriateness, we were acknowledging how far we were beyond our understanding. Catharsis of humour is step one in the British response to a shock, closely followed by step two: a cup of tea.

I see people making sick jokes about the situation in Japan. I think these are to be applauded. They give us a connection to our emotions in a way that 24h rolling news cannot achieve. Laughing at unpleasantness humanises us.

Posted via LiveJournal app for iPhone.


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What brought this on?

I don't entirely agree with you either. I understand that it can help many deal with something so horrific, but one must also take into account the feelings and sensibilities of the individual.

I still feel sick when I think of the joke told to me that combined Fred West's despicable acts and the Lockerbie atrocity. The guy telling me had no way of knowing that I would be appalled by it but he bloody well should have checked.

Having read http://dizzythinks.net/2011/03/death-tv-and-black-humour.html this morning, I thought there was something more fundamental at work with sick jokes; not a response to the voyeurism of rolling news, but a human response to events beyond our understanding.

I should have been clearer that I think sick jokes are healthy, but only for their targeted audience. I wouldn't put something on my LJ that wasn't suitable for a wider readership.

The target audience and their relationship with the teller is important, because the teller's motivation is laid open to question. People tell these jokes both with and without malice, and it's very easy for people to take offence at the teller; with thoughtlessness and insensitivity only being the bottom end of the scale of negative interpretations.

If in doubt, don't!

I don't agree with this at all and I certainly would not applaud anyone for being so unfeeling. We have all had dreadful things happen to us, that upset us and made us feel threatened. Sick jokes may not be the way to go, but humour, as long as it is not at the expense of someone may make some feel better.

I'm of the type of person who believes in respecting the dead and not making jokes so this would not be my way; however, I won't put anyone else down for how they deal with things - I may not admire them much for it, nor would I necessarily pick such people to be close friends, but it isn't my place to judge

I don't have a problem with using general humour to make a bad situation more survivable. Sick jokes in themselves, for me, are judged on a case by case basis as to whether I find them funny or offensive.

I agree with you that laughing at unpleasantness often helps.

However I cannot agree with sick jokes made in the immediate wake of a distaster of such proportions as currently unfolding in Japan. To me, that argues an inability to empathise or feel compassion, yes possibly the preserve of the immature, but is therefore a negative aspect and not one to be lauded or encouraged.

This is just my opinion though.

In the immediate aftermath of a disaster, an emotional response can be hard to handle. One can empathise, or feel compassion, with a human story. But when a disaster is outwith human proportions, or if it involved danger that was immediate and personal, emotions can run beyond management. Some people react with excitement, or with an outpouring of emotion; others with black humour. I think it is a basic human survival mechanism.

I favour the 'sick jokes'. They work for me, but they have to be a good joke in there own right. This is the way my mind works and I do spend a lot of my time not saying things as I am unsure how people will take it.

I generally find I cannot feel sorrow or compassion for people I do not know. It just does not emotionally affect me. But then I find it hard to pick up on people emotions generally and get more worked up worrying if I have misread a situation.

I have found it hard at funerals as everyone around me seamed to be deeply effected and from my point of view are "hamming it up" for all they were worth. I just end up trying to look somber and find things to do. My mind starts to wander to practical question like how the coffin stand legs fold up.

I am happy with that comment, checked the wording and I have not mentioned Godzilla once.

As is so often the case we find your conclusions correct.
Humans are not built to manage disasters on this scale we distrust anyone who claims that they can.
The last time we got cross was when Challenger was lost, took it very personally, but soon realised that the jokes meant that other felt the pain.

You can make jokes about any tragedy, personal or not but don't make them "sick", that's crossing the line between light humour and mockery. And just like anything else anyone utters in writing or in speech, attention should always be paid on the consequences of such words and more importantly, the motivation behind it. Sometimes jokes can help make a situation easier to bear for oneself and for others if handled in the right way but if you're not sure it's always best to remain silent or keep the sick jokes for yourself.

Tastelessness in humour helps to dissipate unmanageable emotion. For some people, sick jokes are a helpful coping mechanism.

Tasteless jokes don’t imply mockery; purposeful lack of respect in a contained manner is the functional aspect of black humour.

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