An open letter to my favourite humour website in the world

Dear Cracked,

I was going to start this with a bad joke about how your website’s name is well chosen because you are as addictive as a certain kind of drug that shares your name, but let’s be honest – I am no internet humourist, which is why my dreams of writing for you some day will probably never be realised. Seriously, though, I just got done with a several-hour-long binge-read of your articles. I had even read some of them before! I just couldn’t help myself. You are that great.

There are loads of things I love about you. Obviously, the dick jokes rank near the top, along with all the titties. But I also love that you manage to deploy humour the way it’s meant to be used: pointing upwards. You don’t take cheap shots at people of colour, you don’t mock the disabled, and you’re actually pretty damn feminist for a website run mostly by dudes. I have found better feminism in some of your timeless list-based humour than I have on websites run by actual self-proclaimed feminists. That’s pretty freaking impressive. You really get it, you know? You get that jokes are funnier, cleverer and about ten thousand times less douche-y when they challenge the status quo. If we could lock Daniel Tosh in a room with all of you and not let him come out for a month, I think he might actually emerge as a half-decent comedian.

(I’m joking. Nothing could make Daniel Tosh a decent comedian. But I digress.)

I only have a couple of really tiny nitpicks. You know how sometimes you love your best friend to death, but they have one or two habits that make you want to punch them in the face? Well, I’m not saying I want to punch you in the face (nor am I saying you’re my best friends – though, call me!), but there are just one or two things you could do to achieve the near-impossible and become even more awesome. Here’s what they are – in list format, because I get that that’s kind of your deal:

1. Please stop it with the “hooker” jokes.

Most of the time, your attitude towards sex work is actually pretty okay (again – surprisingly feminist for a dude-run humour site!), but there are a couple of things you could be doing better. Can you please stop calling the ladies “prostitutes”, “hookers” and “whores”? Pretty please? That’s a form of whorephobia, and it’s led to the kinds of gruesome murders you could probably feature in some of your Hallowe’en urban legend articles. Societal discrimination against a class of working women, often leading to violence and murder being perpetrated against them, just isn’t all that funny. It’s always a little jarring when I’m reading a great article and out of nowhere, a derogatory term for sex workers has been slipped in for no real reason.

Fixing this is really easy! Just refer to them as sex workers and to what they do as sex work. It’s not so much your attitude that needs to change – just the terminology you use. Words like the ones I listed above are hurtful and damaging slurs, and as you’ve proven time and time again, you can be hilarious without resorting to cheap shots like that.

2. Find another word for “unintelligent” that isn’t “retarded”.

This makes me wince every time I see it. I know a lot of the people you talk about are absolutely ludicrously dickbrained. What they aren’t is suffering from intellectual impairment, which is a real series of conditions for which “retarded” is a very nasty term. Ditto for “lame” – you’re inadvertently hurting a lot of disabled people by using this to describe stuff that sucks.

You’re great at coming up with creative new insults, and there are already plenty there for you to use that aren’t ableist slurs – fucksticks, dickwads, fucknuggets, shitlords, the list goes on. Maybe consider using some of those instead? As someone who knows and loves a lot of people with both physical disabilities and intellectual impairments, it always makes me a little sad to see you throwing around the r-word like it’s meaningless. It’s not that hard to erase it from your vocabulary with a little effort and a lot of creative cursing, and it would make your site a lot more inviting to people who are disabled or know and love folks who are.

That’s pretty much it, y’all. You run a great site that produces high-quality content, and I’ll probably still be reading you twenty years from now because as you wrote in an article one time, our tastes kinda get fixed when we’re young, and many of my formative years were spent reading hilarious dick jokes and staring at boobies on Cracked. (Related: it may have been Cracked that helped me realise I was also into ladies…but again, I digress.) There is roughly a 0% chance that anyone who writes for Cracked will ever read this, but hey – I can hope, right? And if you do, by some miracle, happen to stumble across this blog post, I know that being the decent, smart, startlingly attractive folks you are, you’ll at least think about what I’ve said here.

I look forward to many more years of sexy, sexy all-American humour delivered straight to my inbox/news feed/one-day-ubiquitous Google Glass device – hopefully with a little less of the nasty stuff thrown into the mix.

Thanks for the laughs (and, again, for possibly helping me come out to myself – you were right, titties are amazing!).

Sincerely,

Jay.

Advertisements

9 thoughts on “An open letter to my favourite humour website in the world

  1. I understand your perspective. I hope I’m not intruding too much by providing mine?

    1. References to violence against sex workers are a callback to a specific element of the American comic tradition. The idea is to express the craziness or wildness of an occasion. An example would be Tom McCaffrey’s standup bit, from his album “Lou Diamond Philips?,” about his disagreement with the sentiment that when you wake up the next morning after drinking or doing drugs, you still have the same problems as you did before. McCaffrey claims that he usually finds that he has a whole new set of problems, and illustrates this by taking the idea to various extremes. One of them is as follows: “My car’s in the ocean and I’m handcuffed to a dead hooker. This is not a problem I had last night.”

    As someone who is sincerely concerned with the politics of gender, race, class, and sexuality, but who is also a devoted student of comedy, I often feel that opinions on these matters tend to be polarized between two camps that don’t really understand each other. On the one side you have the aggrieved, who appear to be under the impression that a joke is–simply because of its subject matter–condoning something awful, such as violence against sex workers, or rape. On the other side, you have people who will defend any comedian of any sort from any accusation, believing that freedom of expression itself is under threat. Obviously the latter position is silly and I won’t spend time on it here.

    But I believe the former position is also incorrect. I don’t think the McCaffrey joke, for example, condones or accepts violence against sex workers, nor do I think it classifies violence against sex workers as funny in and of itself. It uses the idea of violence against sex workers as one of several moving parts in a complex joke that involves several other extreme situations, but anyone who hears that bit and comes away with the idea that Tom McCaffrey thinks killing hookers is funny is not approaching comedy with an open mind.

    I don’t think very many people would laugh if you just walked up to them and said, “dead hooker,” unless it was for the reason that it is a very strange thing to say out of the blue, as are most two-word combinations without context, like “dog bucket” or “fisting cotton.”

    One finds this disagreement more commonly taking place with regard to the subject of rape. A lot of people flatly state that no joke which references rape can possibly be funny. This, to me, is myopic and I almost can’t believe anyone could really make the claim. I’m not sure there’s a subject in the known universe that can’t be made funny. Louis CK, for example, has a bit in which he asserts that most animal sex is just rape. His illustration of this is the substance of the bit, and the humor is mostly derived from his anthropomorphizing of animal sex. He also has a joke in which he says he would understand homophobia if gay people were just “running around fucking people up the ass willy-nilly,” which is a reference to rape. Now maybe I’m wrong, maybe I’m fucked in the head for thinking this stuff is funny, but I don’t think that because these jokes make me laugh, or because I find them technically well-crafted and executed, that it means I think rape is funny. Of course I don’t think it’s funny. But that doesn’t mean that no one could ever say anything funny about it.

    As for the use of the word “hooker” vs. the use of the term “sex worker,” you must realize that you really are calling for Cracked writers to stop referring to sex workers at all. One does not use the term “sex worker” in comedy. It’s dry, devoid of any real cultural context. Word choice is essential in good comedy writing. The difference in a bit when even one word is changed can be catastrophic.

    In the Paul F. Tompkins special “You Should Have Told Me,” Tompkins has an extended segment about some bad times he had after smoking pot, which culminates in the exclamation, “You don’t even get it!” In the special, while most of the long-form bit does very well, that exclamation falls pretty flat when one considers that it is clearly meant to be one of the bit’s big release points after a long buildup of tension. The reason it does is that the exclamation was originally written and performed differently, which I only know because there’s a Youtube video of an earlier version of the bit. It plays out largely the same as it does on the special, but because the special was recorded for Comedy Central, almost all of the profanity was written out. In most places, it works and you wouldn’t notice its absence unless you’d heard the original version. But here, the bit just doesn’t function properly, for whatever reason, if Paul doesn’t yell “You don’t fuckin’ get it!”

    It’s one thing to derisively call someone–an actual living, breathing person–a hooker. And it’s one thing to refer to sex workers as hookers in one’s daily life. These things would not be acceptable to me. But for comedy to be effective, it is vitally important that its practitioners be allowed the space to use the language most suited to the art. I’m not saying that anything goes or that nothing should be off-limits. Michael Richards’ famous rant at the Laugh Factory leaps to mind as something which clearly went outside the boundaries of good taste. But I would also point out that his rant also WASN’T FUNNY. It wasn’t comedy.

    To me, there is a pretty clear and bright line between what is and is not acceptable in comedy, and it coincides completely with the line between what is and is not funny. If you’re shitting on a marginalized group for mean-spirited laughs, it’s neither acceptable nor funny. But if you’re not doing that, I can’t really find the fault in it. I believe that’s why Louis CK has not faced widespread accusations of racism, despite the fact that he has released a special in which he used the N-word more times than Richards did in the famous rant. Nor has he faced widespread accusations of homophobia, despite having used the F-word (the one with six letters, not four) on numerous occasions.

    2. This is one that I’ve never quite been able to get on board with, although it’s not for lack of trying. Would you say that someone who is “absolutely ludicrously dickbrained” is NOT, in fact, “suffering from intellectual impairment”? When you say “dickbrained,” you’re saying they’re stupid, right? Isn’t stupidity by definition an intellectual impairment? I don’t think anyone who calls something or someone “retarded” is saying they hate retarded people, or even suggesting it subconsciously. They’re saying the thing or person is stupid. It may not be polite or kind to characterize an entire group in that way, but it’s also not polite or kind to call anyone dickbrained. Comedy can rarely afford politeness or kindness, nor can it afford an excessive degree of concern over appropriate language. There are plenty of people, for example, who believe the word “fuck” is an implicitly violent and anti-woman way of referring to sex, and they have perfectly valid and thought-provoking arguments for why they believe this, but I don’t think I’ll stop using the word, because I’m just not convinced of its actual harm.

    Now on to “lame.” You are incorrect in your assessment of the meaning of the word. It does not mean–nor did it ever mean–solely someone who is physically disabled. It can be used in reference to a variety of physical ailments ranging from mere soreness to quadriplegia, although today it is rarely used in reference to humans with serious physical impairments. Additionally, it has acquired the secondary meaning of “lacking needful or desirable substance,” synonymous with “weak” and “ineffectual.” This may be problematic to you, but as before, I’ll just point to the reason the term began to be used in this way in the first place: if your leg doesn’t work, it is lacking needful or desirable substance. It is both weak and ineffectual. No insult is intended to anyone whose leg doesn’t work by using the word “lame” in a more metaphorical way, nor can I imagine that any would be perceived. I’ve known quite a few people, personally and professionally, with disabilities ranging across the entire spectrum, from mental to physical, from visual to ambulatory to hearing, and everything in between. I can’t say as I ever met one who objected to “lame.”

    An additional thought: Not every joke has to challenge the status quo. Not every joke even has to have an opinion on the status quo. It is generally frowned upon–and should be–to “punch down,” as is currently in vogue to say, but I would ask that you try to approach comedy in a way which engages it in the spirit in which it was created. Some comedy is more political; some is not. Both can be funny in different ways.

    Another additional thought: Daniel Tosh is very good at the art and craft of comedy. He’s slumming it with that dumb TV show, but I suppose the bills don’t pay themselves. And the way he has dealt with the issue of rape and rape culture is extremely problematic; I don’t excuse it at all. But to argue that he’s not a decent comedian is, from a technical standpoint, incorrect, and doing so damages the effectiveness of your message. I would never call Karl Rove an inept political operator; he is clearly very good at what he does. I just don’t like that he does it. I would never say that Ted Nugent is a crappy musician; he is quite talented not only as a performer but as a songwriter. I just don’t like his music. Similarly, you may not like Daniel Tosh and you may not like his comedy, but saying that is not the same thing as saying he is a bad comedian. The opening chunk of one of his sets, I believe “True Stories I Made Up,” is delightfully absurd.

    • You’re not a hooker you fucking douchebag, so you don’t get to call us whatever you like. If Cracked can’t write “sex worker” instead of “hooker” then yeah I expect them to stop talking about us altogether. I would prefer you not to speak about me and my coworkers at all if you cant speak about us in a civil manner. its not fucking hard. you’re just another apologist dickhead who doesn’t give a shit if a sex worker is raped as long as it doesn’t get in the way of your precious laughter.

    • You know what? You just wasted a lot of time not only missing the point, but refusing make yours succinctly: you think sex work and sex workers are joke-fodder, not people doing work. In future, please limit your time at the fucking podium if your entire philosophy can be summed up as “I think my jokes are more important than your humanity.”

      If you want to make “edgy” jokes to confront harsh realities, how about y’all start taking the piss out of white dudes who can’t take criticism of their bigoted jokes? That would be a good place to start, if you want to demonstrate your alleged evenhanded, clear-eyed commitment to pushing boundaries.

      Here’s a freebie: “Isn’t it weird how people who argue for the inevitability of bigotry are almost always cishet white dudes, who are subject to exactly zero forms of bigotry? Now, I’m not saying they’re illogical and emotionally unsuited for debate or anything, but they sure build better engines than arguments. Am I right?

      Tip your waiter. He probably needs it to buy all that Pennzoil for his abs or whatever they do with it when they all go out to the garage together.”

    • also

      [quote] It is generally frowned upon–and should be–to “punch down,” as is currently in vogue to say[/quote]

      well done, implying that a useful working description of oppression has become widespread out of a desire to be fashionable, rather than out of brutal utility. you really are an utter shit, aren’t you?

  2. Just as you would not want someone to come here and backseat-edit your blog, I’m sure the Cracked writers feel the same way. There is going to be offensive humor forever, as there has been since the Romans. And let’s face it– starting a joke with “So a hooker walked into a bar” sets it up far better than “So a sex worker walks into a bar…” Because what kind of sex work does this worker do? Exotic dance? PSO? Professional domination? Body rub?

    Also… sigh… can we PLEASE put the “retard” thing to rest??? NO ONE IS SPEAKING OF SOMEONE MENTALLY DISABLED WHEN THEY SAY “RETARD”. NO ONE. Is it a mean word? YES it’s a mean word– that’s why it’s FUNNY. And my God, who calls anyone disabled “lame” anymore??? Didn’t that go out with the Model T and Prohibition? So we shouldn’t use Moron, Cretin, Idiot, Nitwit? Those are all archaic words defining a mentally challenged person. “Retard” is going that direction. In half a century, it’ll no longer be offensive to anyone except to those being called a retard– and probably deservedly so.

    The English language is one of the few languages on Earth that is constantly evolving and bases much of its meaning on idioms and metaphors. Look how much the language (particularly American English) has changed in the last 50-100 years. We have added more new words to the vocabulary in the last 20 years than we have in the last 100.

    Oh, and I am a sex worker.

    • “Retard” is ableist. why? Cos it uses people with developmental disabilities as an insult. Yes, it does. The word has not changed meaning so that it means something else. if someone says “retards” to collectively refer to a group of people with disabilities, people aren’t going to look around aimlessly going “I DON’T.. WHO DO YOU MEAN??? COS THAT WORD NOW MEANS SOMETHING ELSE! WAIT, DO YOU MEAN THOSE PEOPLE WITH DEVELOPMENTAL DISABILITIES??”

      No.

      As someone with a kid with developmental disabilities known to her classmates who’s most persistent bully at school calls her “retard” on a regular basis, no. Fuck you, and no.

      Also, no: English is NOT “one of the few languages that is constantly evolving,” though it is one that appropriates more and more loan-words from other languages [that are also changing, cos that’s how it bloody works.]

  3. Cracked uses a lot of ableist words in its articles and once published an revolting article called “The 5 Most Hilariously Insane Rulers of All Time”. I’m really glad you’ve called them out on this, the more people who do the more effect it has.

talk to me

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s