By Lyka Peng, G11
TW: Majorly sensitive content regarding bigotry
Woah there, Snowflake– it was just a joke!
Our world has an abundance of resources: vast bodies of water, precious metals, rich biodiversity, and so much more. Perhaps, the most painstakingly obvious of all – unfunny jokes.
Dark humour, also widely coined as morbid humour or gallows humour is a form of comedy that pokes fun at offensive, sensitive, or even cruel topics. According to the Urban Dictionary, dark humour is described as ‘twisted, evil, insulting’ and ‘yet, the joke is still funny’. The main premise of this comic style is to transform something that might be generally accepted as taboo into some sort of screwed up punchline, allowing people to have a laugh despite its underlying negative connotations.
If you found that joke somewhat enjoyable, then chances are that – like most of us – you enjoy some form of dark humour as well.
Despite its controversy, many people actually do find dark humour amusing. Some even use it as a coping mechanism for their own personal trauma, just so they could lighten their burden. They use self deprecation as a way to reminincise what happened in a more playful manner. This would not come off as a surprise to many – especially for teenagers living in modern day society. Self deprecation and satire has virtually become the peak of Generation Z humour, which can be seen through the numerous social media posts online.
The problem however, does not stem from the type of humour itself. Most people would agree that humour is subjective – people share different perceptions of what ‘funny’ is. This would mean that dark comedy is neither more superior nor inferior than other comic styles. If you like the messed up contexts and the feeling of your stomach dropping to seriously contemplate whether to laugh or cry, then cool, good for you. Whatever floats your boat.
The problem only arises when these jokes are rooted in blatant bigotry.
“Dark humour is like food. Not everybody gets it.”
The same can also be said about a lot of things.
Laughter can be wielded as a weapon – a double edged sword. It has the ability to create joy and get people to feel happy, even if it’s just for the midst of the moment. However, it also has the ability to hurt other people as well. Often, those who dictate the laughing stock abuse their power and use it as a way to ostracise groups of marginalised people.
Dark humour has now been blown out of proportion and used by people with malicious intentions. In this polarised day and age – along with the inclusion of digitalised content such as memes and social media, you can’t trust pretty much anyone that says they like ‘dark humour.’ You won’t be able to distinguish whether they legitimately like the comedy form or just want to utilise it to be discriminative.
Most of the time, this type of crude comedy did originate from the Internet on websites such as Reddit and 4Chan. After all, these websites are structured as forums and allow their users to express their opinions as they please due to the anonymity. But recently, there has also been an upsurge of dark humour on bigger platforms such as TikTok as well, in which most of these accounts would often get suspended, taken down, and flagged for offensive and/or inappropriate material.
The term ‘dark humour’ now has another purpose other than to be hilarious and provoking – it’s now used as a protective blanket for the bigoted. They hide behind this fabricated facade of dry and crude humour to excuse themselves from being simply outwardly racist, sexist, homophobic, ableist etc.
However, because of the wide range of idiosyncratic tastes, many of these ‘dark humourists’ argue that dark humour ultimately has no limit. Anything – as long as it’s deemed as funny and offensive by one, can always be validated as dark comedy.
Even so, we don’t live in a society that is deemed as fair and equitable. Humour may be depending on the person, but poking fun at certain groups in our society for being disadvantaged because of their backgrounds crosses the line.
It’s simple, actually. It becomes nothing more than just bullying – except plainly concealed from broad daylight. The first thought that most people would ponder upon when they think of the word itself is being teased and made fun of. Sounds familiar?
This is why many comedians widely stick to the general rule of ‘punching up’ as opposed to ‘punching down.’ The idea is that jokes that revolved around people who are from a higher status in society, or those with more privilege can be used by others as a euphemism for coping with various consequences that these elite figures would not have to face. On the contrary, ‘punching down’ would be the exact opposite – making fun of marginalised groups of people instead.
Besides, it’s just simply not funny. Most of the time, bigots with this sense of ‘humour’ take the offense, stating that “people these days can’t take a joke” and/or “nobody gets my jokes.” Because of the spiteful and unkind origins of this type of humour, there usually is no punchline to begin with. Again, it is just used as a tool to mask their prejudice against a certain group of people.
The key to humour is intent. Dark humour can still be widely loved with just as much rudeness, vulgarity, and offense. And much to your surprise (wow!) – even without malicious intentions. What we found comedic in the past may not be relevant to today’s humour. As time progresses, things change. We can’t abide by the same ideas and social values.
Making fun of people from greatly disadvantaged backgrounds and communities as the so-called ‘dark humour’ doesn’t at all make a clever punchline – they become one’s personal crude punching bag.
And frankly, that’s just not funny.
Cover illustration courtesy of Lyka Peng, G11