Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Christina Martin: Why is it fine to mock disabled people, but off limits to joke about God?

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Do come on over (and change your bookmarks accordingly): rationalist.org.uk

As a bi-monthly magazine we often find events occur that we'd love to cover, only for the opportunity to have passed by the time our next issue comes out. That's why we've added a new Web Exclusives section to the New Humanist website, allowing us to publish additional content to what you see in the magazine.

To get things started we've got comedian Christina Martin asking why jokes about disability are considered fair game in comedy, while jokes about religion can get you banned from venues and broadcasting channels.

Christina wrote a piece for us earlier this year where she told how her jokes about Jesus and the Pope had affected her chances of appearing on Paramount TV, who were seemingly too worried that she might offend Christian viewers. Yet, as she observes in her latest piece, time and again she hears comedians mocking disabled people to the sound of roaring laughter. Why is this considered fine, while jokes about God are seen as too likely to offend?

Have a read of Christina's piece and let us know what you think by commenting on this blog post. Do you think disabled jokes are becoming all too common in comedy? Or should no topic be off limits? Does religion get unfairly shielded from mockery, or is it wrong to poke fun at deeply-held beliefs?

Next up on Web Exclusives, we'll have the writer and critic Michael Bywater on the absurdity of referring to Christmas as "Winterval".


SilverTiger said...

Christina's piece was thought provoking. Christina asks why audiences think it OK to make fun of disabled people but are offended at jokes about religion. I think the answer is that people feel attacked personally when you criticize or make fun of their religion. On the other hand, if you are able-bodied, then a disabled person is other: you don't feel any hurt yourself when he is mocked.

There is a tendency to make fun of people who are different (school playgrounds are very cruel places) and what stops people doing it is the feeling that it is disapproved of. If comedians are making fun of the disabled, then people with a bullying tendency will see this as making it OK to mock the disabled. This is why they like such jokes: they appeal to their baser instincts.

Should certain subjects be off-limits to a comedian? It's a difficult question. I would like to say that all subjects are on-limits as long as the jokes are not cruel but I think the whole point of jokes is that they are cruel to someone. In a sophisticated society we have to learn to take it and, yes, we will sometimes feel hurt or angry but that is not by itself a reason for banning the jokes.

I think audiences and comedians have mutually to find their level. At its best, comedy makes us laugh but also makes shrewd observations about society and people. At its worst, it reinforces prejudices: nasty audiences make nasty comedians. In a way, the comedian is the thermometer that takes the moral temperature of the society in which he or she works.

Robin Edgar said...

"Does religion get unfairly shielded from mockery, or is it wrong to poke fun at deeply-held beliefs?"

I would say that there is some pretty compelling evidence that religion does get unfairly shielded from mockery. Here is a Bible story that makes that fact baldly apparent. ;-) Please forgive me for linking to what is evidently a fundamentalist Christian source of that Bible story. I guess somebody led me into temptation or something. Hopefully you will grin and bear it. ;-)

"or is it wrong to poke fun at deeply-held beliefs?"

I guess that would depend on what the deeply-held beliefs are, and whether someone is genuinely just "poking fun" at them, or is intolerantly and abusively attacking them in a hostile and/or malicious manner.

Mamatat said...

This is even more relevant now that "Tropic Thunder" producers are trying to excuse their treatment of developmentally disabled people.

I love Christina's Piece, and as the mother of a DD child, it's great to see comedians re-assessing if it's really that necessary to degrade others for laughs.

Shazia Shaim said...

Religion is every body concern so its hard to make fun for it while disability is concern of very few.. Point is take disability in positive sense and let the people talk about this one day they will feel us able.

christina martin said...

Thanks for the comments guys.

Following this article I was interviewed by MENCAP about disablism in comedy:


In the article they posit that because race, gender and sexuality are (quite rightly) considered to be off limits nowadays, disabled people are seen as the last group it's safe to mock.

The fact they can't answer back appears to help too!

I don't advocate censorship, I think South Park tackle disability in comedy head on and with a great measure of success, but I do maintain that to censor me instead of some nasty person saying retard for the sake of it seems odd.

Thanks again.