Imagine you are at a party. You are surrounded by a big group of people including your friends and some new faces. You are telling a story when you think of a great joke. You believe this joke is absolutely hilarious and everyone else will clearly love! You tell the joke and get mixed results: some people laugh along with you, others are quiet, and some groan. This is an example of a joke falling flat for some people.
Now let’s change things a bit. Imagine that some of the people are visibly disturbed by the joke you just told. They approach you saying, “That really bothered me and here is why…” or simply, “HEY! That was incredibly offensive!”. This is NOT a joke falling flat. In this second case the joke may actually have an offensive undertone. It may not have been your intent but this is a joke that may be problematic. How would you react in this second scenario?
Joystiq.com ran an article on Friday, September 30th about an attack that occurred after a prolonged multiplayer game of Call of Duty: Black Ops. The article was written in two sections. The first section (before the cut) criticized the actions of the attacker. The second section (after the cut) lauded him as a hero akin to Batman. When linking the article on his Twitter, the author wrote:
- Mark Bradford chokes a kid and makes the world safer for all gamers. What’d you do today? aol.it/n7tZHv
Followed by :
- To say you’d never choke a kid misses the point. Bradford is choking kids so you never have to. He’s the kid-choker we NEED, not deserve.
The post itself quickly gained attention. There were over 300 comments within a few hours of publication. In reading the comments at least 1/3 of them were people agreeing with the assault. They lauded the man in ways similar to the second half of the article. While many of them may mean this in a joking manner, by sheer numbers there are likely a few that are seriously endorsing this behavior. The author, Justin McElroy, began to get negative feedback through his Twitter account. Some people found the article disturbing or disgusting and saw some of the comments on the post as endorsing violence. Here is where we see a situation similar to the second party joke analogy. These people are not saying they didn’t find the joke funny. This is not a joke that simply fell flat. Instead people are saying that it was offensive. So how did the author handle the aftermath of the article? Here is where we start seeing a reaction very similar to the one after the Penny Arcade Dickwolves comic .
- (directed at one person that complained) I’ve been doing this for a while Mike, and I’m pretty sure it was a funny post. Sorry you didn’t like it.
- If you stop reading my stuff because you don’t know a joke when you see it, seems like a good arrangement for everyone.
- (directed at someone that said they didn’t find it funny) Saying that it’s not funny is objectively untrue. Sorry it didn’t resonate with you.
- It’s OK you don’t “get it.” if I wrote jokes for the lowest common denominator I’d be a staff writer on Mike and Molly.
- Note: If you think I literally endorse hunting people down who are rude on the internet … how is antagonizing me the smart play?#loco
- … Popular internet opinion seems to be that I’m a monster.
- I give not a shit if people think it’s funny. Plenty do. I jut don’t like people accusing me of literally condoning violence.
- (at another critic) you seem like a sharp dude from all I know about you. You can’t literally thing a major outlet with millions of readers would condone violence against children. It was a humorous article, meant to provoke, not condoing. Most got that. (This was broken up into 2 tweets originally which I combined here)
- Original comment – “No one is calling you a monster, but you are communicating harmful messages whether you meant to or not.” The reply – “Nope.”
- Original comment – “Whatever point you had to make, you totally fumbled. Do you not see how the onus is on you to correct that?” The reply – “I would if you weren’t in the minority. You are.”
4) Finally, after enough criticism a realization that some people are genuinely upset and not laughing.
- Being totally honest, I could have tweaked my tone to make the satire come across better. But I went to a public college, what do you want?
- Regardless, there’s a disclaimer on the article now, so at least people can judge me as a poor comedian rather than child abuser
The disclaimer on the article –> [Editor's note: The above is clearly a work of satire, most obviously denoted by its support of a 46-year-old man who choked a 13-year-old child – that sort of gives it away – but also thanks to comedic cues like "Choke-a-Cola." While it may not have hit the comedic high-water mark of Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, we won't stop working until we get there. – C.G.]
This editorial disclaimer shows that a vocal minority were upset by the article. It may have been meant as satire, but clearly did not read as such to some people. Either they did not know it was meant as a joke OR they knew this but still did not find it funny. Rather than pulling the post the disclaimer was added. You can all draw your own conclusions for how you feel this acts as an end to this situation.
So what can we learn from this incident? I argue that it is a lesson we should have all learned after the Penny Arcade Dickwolves debacle. It can apply to all of us as people and not just to bloggers or public figures.