Monday, November 13, 2006

It must be true, because I say it is

Sometimes the most trivial things wind me up. I think it's to do with my age.

Take today, for example. Among other subjects, I often photograph models. They are always female, and they are occasionally underdressed.

Now, I harbour a secret desire to one day make decent money from my photographic hobby, and so always ensure that I've got the necessary forms completed that would allow me to legally sell the images at some unspecified point in the future.

So this guy gets onto one of the web forums and tells everyone that the laws are changing in the US, requiring photographers to keep much more detailed records of their models - and that we could e-mail him for the form we need.

His basis for this statement was that an unnamed friend of his, who deals with the US market on a daily basis, had told him. Given that complying with the change in the law would make for a lot of extra paperwork, I felt justified in asking for corroboration.

The individual concerned obviously felt aggrieved at having his expertise on the matter questioned, because the post in reply was a little, shall we say, off-hand. Of course, I'm bound to give my side of the story, as it is my blog, but I felt the response was inappropriate & said so.

Perhaps I should have let sleeping dogs lie, but as I said at the beginning, the ease with which I get wound up is directly proportional to my advancing age, so I responded. Unfortunately, it's now developed into something of a flame war, with him accusing me of a public attack on him. I actually remarked, responding to the tone of his post, that he'd got out of bed on the wrong side this morning. I wouldn't personally see that as the most wounding insult one could deliver, but go figure.

Anyway, I decided to investigate further and the only sources of information I can find, that I would regard as definitive, point to the legislative change being less draconian than the original post I read had led me to believe.

Consequently, I've learned two important lessons today:
1. Don't bother to ask people for help or clarification when they post things, you'll only start an argument.
2. Instead, seek independent corroboration of the facts from a reputable source.

Unless, of course, I'm the person with the information in point 1 above, in which case: it must be true because I say it is.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Racist jokes

Pretty much every joke, with the exception of the ones you can tell your seven-year-old, could upset someone, and racist jokes appear to have the greatest potential.

Most 'racist' jokes rely on stereotypes for their humour; so the Irish lack intelligence, the Jews and the Scots are tight-fisted, the Italians and French cowardly. Blacks are criminals (with an extra portion in the trouser department), the Australians are sexist sheep molesters, while the US is full of dense gung-ho rednecks who have no idea that a world exists outside their own borders.

Other jokes of the genre mock the appearance of whichever race is the butt of the joke; so the broad noses & full lips of black people are singled out, as is the east Asian eye shape, the veils of Muslim women and so on.

One may cringe at such jokes, but throughout the world there remains a large number of people - in every country - prepared to laugh at this type of humour. Obviously, the targets change depending on the location of the joke teller, and local prejudices, but the jokes are essentially the same. And all of them rely on one thing: the fact that the audience understands the prejudice upon which the joke is based.

But are they offensive, or so ridiculous as to be laughable?

I tried a joke on a friend of mine, who happens to be black. It went like this:

A black woman goes to the doctor & asks for his help.
"It's my husband," she says. "Whenever we're out for a stroll, or going around the shops, he insists on running everywhere. He just refuses to slow down."
"That's easy to fix," replies the doctor, "simply wash his clothes in Ariel. That's guaranteed to stop coloureds running."

My friend's reaction was to laugh heartily at the joke; she wasn't in the least bit offended. My friend is a very confident person and proud of her West Indian heritage, and she found the joke amusing.

OK, I'll admit it wasn't that strong a joke, merely being a pun on the use of what is now deemed an unacceptable term for describing black people, but my point is, who decides what is & isn't offensive?

Is there a mass movement of blonde women against blonde jokes? Are lawyers suing comedians over being described as unprincipled money-grabbers? Are the rednecks reaching into the backs of their pick-ups, moving the beer cooler out of the way & grabbing their shotguns?

Or are we too sensitive about one type of joke? While it tends to perpetuate a stereotype, is there real harm in a racist joke? Are there acceptable targets (such as the French - who, after all, are a nationality, not a race)?

The vast majority of jokes have a butt, a target to be disparaged, but should we bother to take that belittling seriously? Are we giving more credence to the impact of such comments than they deserve, or are we merely preventing the escalation of the feelings expressed in joke form into true racial hatred?

I'm sure that in Hitler's Germany there were plenty of jokes told about the Jews before and during the war (notwithstanding the sterotype that the Germans are a humourless race), but were these one of many catalysts for the atrocities that followed, or merely reflective of the social situation of the time?

I don't profess to know the answers to any of this, except to say I believe it to be a matter for each individual's conscience. Comedians tread a fine line when they hold up a mirror to society, showing us our true selves through what we laugh at. If we laugh at 'offensive' jokes, we have to accept that that is who we are, and political correctness will do nothing except make us suppress that side of ourselves. Should we suppress it, or address it?

I can only say that, whatever the subject of a joke, if it's funny I can't promise I won't laugh at it.

Where do they find the time?

You know what really annoys me? People who seem to be able to fit so much into their lives. Especially parents.

When I finish work, the only thing I want to do is eat, then crash in front of the telly. But there are those 'other' people who rush their progeny off to dance class, or football practice, or Scouts. And at the weekend, when I'm looking after the kids & trying to relax (usually mutually exclusive activities) the 'busies' are enjoying their own hobbies, or doing DIY, or discovering a lost hill tribe in Borneo, or some such.

And then they compound their offence by telling you about their weekend when you drop the kids off at school on a Monday morning. "Oh yes, we took Tarquin to his Latvian folk-dancing class on Saturday morning, then after lunch I took my black-belt examination in Macrame. And on Sunday, I dug a swimming pool, rewired the house and then did a couple of hours in the gym to work off extra calories from the barbeque we hosted for Melissa's Tantric Yoga knitting circle the night before."

And of course, they then ask what you did: "Had a lie in & took the kids to McDonalds!"