What You Meant by That Post about the Oscars Was...

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I was going to write a post about what a lot of people really meant in their posts about various attempts at humor.

Then I realized that was arrogant.

I do not have some special ability to know people's motivations. And that's what troubles me about a lot of the conversation around attempts at humor in and at the Academy Awards: we don't know what the joke-tellers meant. Was it criticism of culture? Biting satire? Frat boy humor? Abusive misogyny?

Unless the joke-teller explains the joke-teller's motivation, we simply don't know for sure. So instead we're arguing about something we simply don't know.

That doesn't mean we can't deconstruct songs, jokes, and tweets. We simply have to recognize that our way of looking at the world necessarily alters the ways we received these ideas.

It also doesn't mean we can't judge the appropriateness of these communications. We can say that they could directly or indirectly cause psychological or physical harm to people.

I can say I was offended. I can say that I found it liberating. I can say that the target of humor was inappropriate. I can say that it shone a light on problems in our culture. I can say that, because of events in my life, the humor triggered an emotional reaction. I can say that I found the juxtaposition of disparate elements triggered cognitive dissonance that I experienced as humor. I can say that an attempt of humor made me feel less safe. I can say that it was clever.

But I'm not going to enter into the debate about what someone meant. Although...

...the very fact that there is argument about what these people meant by their humor tells me one thing:

If these jokes were meant to do anything more than make people laugh, if they were meant to communicate something deeper, they weren't very successful.

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