A joke is a very serious thing. — Winston Churchill

Humouropinion

Recently, I learned that a popular radio show in Toronto, the Dean Blundell Show was cancelled, allegedly because of jokes aired about the trial of a man accused of sexual assaults on three men he met in a gay bath house. Dean Blundell is a shock jock, which is defined as “a type of radio broadcaster or disc jockey who entertains listeners or attracts attention using humour and/or melodramatic exaggeration that a notable portion of the listening audience may find offensive.” (Wikipedia) The Dean Blundell Show was apparently very popular; it was on the air for the past thirteen years. Many listeners are dismayed at its cancellation. Ultimately, the decision to cancel the show rested with the owners of the radio station. In announcing their decision, this was the reason given: “The station will return to a more music-based format showcasing the best in modern rock. As a result, The Dean Blundell Show has been cancelled, effective January 6, 2014,” said Dave Farough, the General Manager of Corus Radio Toronto, which oversees the Blundell program. (as cited in CBC News Toronto)

Humour in a culture of political correctness is a delicate issue. Just what is and is not funny? How is this determined and when does a joke go from being not funny to being deemed offensive. What is the appropriate response to a joke that is either not funny or deemed offensive? To address these questions it is worth recalling that humour is, of course, part of the human condition. You will find examples of humour going a very long way back in human history. I remember learning about theatre in ancient Athens and Rome in my high school drama classes and when I took courses in drama at Queen’s University while studying for my bachelor’s degree in sociology. What I learned in these classes is that in the cultures of ancient Athens and ancient Rome, people laughed at the same things we do in the present.

In ancient Athens the Old Comedy of playwrights like Aristophanes ranged from sophisticated satire of the gods and public figures to abundant sexual innuendo. One notable feature of Old Comedy was the parabasis in which the playwright addressed the audience directly. It was an opportunity for the playwright to speak his mind, often criticizing politicians and their decisions. In his play, The Clouds, Aristophanes lampoons the philosopher Socrates and in the parabasis taking the opportunity to criticize the tyrant Cleon for what he viewed as his strong oligarchical inclinations. One wonders what those, such as Cleon and Socrates, who were lampooned in these comedies thought at the time. Were they offended? Would they have liked to have these comedies suppressed? It seems unlikely as these plays have survived these many centuries and are still read and produced in the present.

The Roman playwright, Titus Maccius Plautus, commonly known as Plautus, grew very rich writing and producing plays based on Athenian Old Comedy. His plays typically lampoon Roman society, notably Patrician high society. The plots of his comedies typically revolve around a Patrician Roman family with a doddering old patriarch, his nagging wife, rebellious son and the clever slave who continually gets the better of him. Supporting characters include the braggart soldier and his seemingly obsequious sidekick who openly flatters him, but reveals his true, disdainful feelings to the audience in asides. Stephen Sondheim’s musical A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, is based on Plautine comedy. However offended Patrician Romans may or may not have been at Plautine comedy, it too survives. The testament to Plautus and his brand of satire is summed up nicely in his epitaph which reads:

Since Plautus is dead, Comedy mourns,
Deserted is the stage; then Laughter, Jest and Wit,
And Melody’s countless numbers all together wept. (Wikipedia)

Back to the present and the discussion of the cancellation of the Dean Blundell Show, the jokes aired drew a rebuke from the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) which read “the CBSC received two complaints about the broadcast alleging that the hosts had given the impression that young people should be ashamed if they engage in a ‘gay’ sport or other homosexual activities and had perpetuated negative stereotypes about homosexuality.” (as cited in Huffpost Music Canada) You can find a recording and transcription of the jokes on this link to the Toronto Star. Having taken the time to listen, the material is graphic and crude to say the least and most assuredly offensive to some people. Is it funny? That depends entirely on the tastes of the listener. I have no doubt many listeners found it funny. Personally, I find no humour in these jokes and if the show had not been cancelled would choose not to tune in.

What then is an appropriate response for those listeners who were offended by the jokes? Criticism, as in the response from the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council, is appropriate. If you think rape jokes and jokes about homosexuals are not funny, you have every right to say so. It looks as though Mr. Blundell heeded this criticism. He offered a statement on his website in which he takes pains to clarify his views on homosexuality. Whether or not his show was cancelled because of these jokes is a contentious matter likely to be discussed for time to come. I expect he will continue his career as a broadcaster. He still has a great many fans and supporters and enough experience in the business to tailor his brand of entertainment to current trends in comedy. His brand of comedy does nothing for me, but I wish him all the best in his future endeavours.

Posted by Geoffrey

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3 thoughts on “A joke is a very serious thing. — Winston Churchill

  1. Janene

    Well, I guess he was free to say what he wanted but the company he worked for was also free to fire him. Free speech is one thing, but if an employee’s speech affects the bottom line, the company that person has to work for isn’t obligated to be pay the costs for it. With that being said, this whole political correctness thing is way out of hand in my eyes. We’re all turning into ninnies.

    Reply

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