Teasing and Joking: Things of the Past?

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Has political correctness gone too far or have older generations something to learn from the newer generations?

Trigger warnings for classroom content and reading assignments are the norm. One can sympathize with a rape victim confronted with content that brings back terrible memories. But how far does it go? Over 6,000 books have trigger warnings attached to them. These include fatphobia, age-gap romances, and discrimination against minority groups, including Roma people. An example would be “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee whose triggers include abuse, murder, racism, N-word, and rape. See the list here. Alternatively, there are over a thousand books challenged in school libraries most of which deal with LGBTQIA+ content, violence, anti-police, or sexually explicit content.  

Seems that both the left and the right want to control what is read – Fahrenheit 451 anyone? (Fahrenheit 451 is a 1953 dystopian novel by American writer Ray Bradbury which presents a future American society where books are outlawed, and "firemen" burn any that are found.)

Control over content by undergraduates also includes who will talk to them at commencements, welcomes, and social events. On July 26, 2022, at the University of Michigan Medical School's annual white coat ceremony, incoming medical students recited oaths, received their white coats – then dozens of them walked out. At issue was the keynote speaker: Dr. Kristin Collier, a Michigan faculty member and primary care physician who has spoken publicly about her Christian beliefs and anti-abortion views.

Across the United States, high-profile comedians like Jerry Seinfeld, Larry the Cable Guy, and Chris Rock have said they are avoiding campuses because of student hypersensitivity. Seems counterintuitive that college campuses — institutions meant to foster a vigorous exchange of views and ideas — should be the very place where expression is deemed unacceptable.

Can Millennials take a joke?

Back in my day we told a lot of ethnic and gay jokes. Polish jokes were very popular at that time – which ended after the election of a Polish Pope. We would also tease one another – I was teased; I wore flood pants since my body grew faster than my parents could keep me updated in jeans. Teasing helps children bond if it is playful and not cruel or hurtful. When teasing is done in the right spirit it helps children learn to deal with constructive criticism and to correct behavior (e.g., don’t stare too much). When teasing is done over and over hurtfully, it can become bullying especially teasing about weight or to encourage bad behavior, e.g., “you are a wimp if you don’t smoke/drink.”

Jokes or teasing that focus on looks or ethnic stereotypes are generally harmful. In fact, even compliments may be damaging to a person’s self-esteem or perception of themselves. Appearance-related comments increase girls' self-objectification. Researchers have found that negative comments about how girls looked were related to self-objectification, body shame, and disordered eating. Revealingly, it turns out that positive comments about girls’ looks were also related to self-objectification and self-surveillance. Basically, the more attention that girls got about their looks, regardless of whether it was good or bad, the more that girls became aware of their appearance, and the more they monitored their bodies.

Society in general compliments boys for their actions and girls for their appearance. This teaches girls to not get muddy. This teaches girls that her looks are what are important over intellect and curiosity. This also teaches boys to objectify girls and that their primary worth is how they look. In March 2019 female students at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School in Bethesda, Maryland were shocked and appalled to discover that boys with whom they thought they were friends had been assigning them numbers to rate how good-looking they were — and then passing that list around in a group text. “Knowing that my closest friends were talking to me and hanging out with me but under that, silently numbering me, it definitely felt like a betrayal,” Lee Schwartz said. “I was their friend, but I guess also a number.”

Humor transformation?

By and large, the comedians that are currently striking a chord with millennials are not interested in offending marginalized groups so much as deriving humor from their specific truths. The success of Aziz Ansari, Amy Schumer, Ali Wong, Key & Peele, Chelsea Peretti, Samantha Bee, Jessica Williams, and Tig Notaro all, to some extent, bears this out. In their own ways, each of these comics represents a viewpoint that has been underrepresented in the art form’s history: Bee brings a refreshingly feminist point of view to the male-dominated genre of the late-night talk show; Ansari derives humor from being the Americanized child of immigrants; Wong taped her latest special, Baby Cobra, while seven months pregnant.

The New York Times’ Jason Zinoman wrote a piece about “sweet-tempered stand-up,” arguing that comedy’s current avant-garde is currently experimenting with a kind of radical niceness. “When transgression is the norm, it loses some of its comic punch.” He calls Jo Firestone a comic whose act riffs on insecurity and vulnerability, “the most distinctive experimentalist in New York right now.” You can sense a similar vibe in shows like Broad City — which feels so fresh and subversive because of how much it revels in joy — and Mike Birbiglia’s poignant new movie Don’t Think Twice, which depicts the improv scene with an almost support-group-esque warmth. Comedy that engages with its political moment, doesn’t shy away from tenderness, and dares to suggest that old stereotypes just aren’t that funny anymore? To quite a few people, that just might be the most offensive thing of all.

What does the Bible say about humor and teasing?

  • Like a madman who throws firebrands, arrows, and death is the man who deceives his neighbor and says, “I am only joking!” Proverbs 26:18-19
  • Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. Ephesians 4:29
  • Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. Ephesians 5:4
  • I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned. Matthew 12:36-37 
  • Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble. Proverbs 21:23

Ever growing in Christian wisdom,

Rev. Curtis Ehrgott



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