Humor Is In the Mind of the Beholder

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Tim White, PhD, LPC, NCC offers advice on family planning and parenting, LGBT issues, disability issues, education and work issues, relationships, ethics and “unusual” social issues. Send questions to Tim for future columns through his website.

Hi Tim,

I’m a woman, 20s, and new mother. My daughter’s three months and healthy, so we are blessed. My husband has a best friend, “Chuck,” and they have been inseparable since childhood. We live close to Chuck, who is single and sort of a playboy/world traveler. He’s also a bit juvenile but nothing too unmanageable. My problem is his sense of humor. He’s given us a couple of children’s books with barely censored profanity in the titles, about going the f**k to sleep, or reminding that you have to f**king eat, tired parent humor I guess but I find it distasteful. The whole idea is tacky, but my daughter’s also newborn and these books look like they’re for parents of toddlers!

To make matters worse, now he slips in dirty jokes about kid’s cartoon characters, not around my baby yet but this behavior is getting to seem creepy. How do I tell him to lay off the humor at children’s expense? What made him this way?

– Mama Bear and Loving It

Hi Mama Bear,

I do not want to knock anyone’s literary efforts, and comforting a sleep-deprived, overstressed parent with a few adult chuckles is a noble effort indeed. That said, I do not really get it either. I can handle being offended just fine but when something is not actually funny, well that is where I draw the line. I cannot tell you why some folks like to “adultify” children’s precious childhood moments, such as posting entire galleries of the Christmas elf doll in compromising positions or writing dirty jokes into films clearly marketed to the pre-pubescent population; you know the titles already. Maybe no one is traumatized, but I feel like I have been because it is also not even funny! Then I laugh and remind myself, “To each his own,” and find something truly funny to amuse myself.

Chuck is also off the mark developmentally, as you noted. For all we know, he may not have a single clue about the rest of the world around him. I do not think overanalyzing anyone else’s weird sense of humor is going to yield much insight or make them change to suit your tastes. Laugh it off when you can, but if your kid is exposed in any way to humor you find inappropriate, you have license to be blunt, as in, “We do not use that kind of language around little Sosie, thanks for refraining,” or, “This gift is not really appropriate for Tallulah; it is probably hilarious but is not age appropriate, and/or not really our thing.” Chuck sounds tough; I think he can take it.

Revolted by Rape Culture

Hi Tim,

I am the mother of two teenage boys. Recently, a female teacher at their school was arrested for having sex with male students, and she awaits trial. My boys were not involved, but my husband finds this fodder for tiresome jokes about the boys “scoring,” and his sons are jealous because they didn’t “get some,” etc. I confronted him about it, but so many of their friends and their parents and relatives joke about it that I wonder if my protest even matters.

– Revolted by Rape Culture

Hi Revolted,

A recent well-publicized sentencing would suggest that you are not alone in your disgust. Minimizing the crime of adults having sexual relations with children, regardless of gender, makes for sick humor, especially when the perpetrators are educators and clergy and such; so-called professionals trusted to nurture and protect those children. There will always be a cheering squad of immature goons who apply that double standard to male victims of female predators, but introduce the tiniest tweak at all in that dynamic; a male offender or a female victim or a male victim so young they actually deserve sympathy from the aforementioned goons, and suddenly the offense is acknowledged as genuine. That is a pathetic and harmful defense.

Adults of either gender who look for sex from children are predators, engaging in directly motivated behaviors using their power differential to violate a child for their own selfish and warped needs. That is terrifying and all we need to know. Male children are hurt the same as female children. For anyone who cares to make exceptions here and there, for this and that, please do some serious soul-searching about your priorities. Some adults in their life may continue the winking and joking and inappropriate, disrespectful comments, even if you can encourage them to tone it down in public, but nothing will stop you from sitting your sons down to talk with them about how to recognize adults who are so damaged that they prey on children, and report them to authorities 100% of the time.

Mod As Hell

Hi Tim,

I am the founder of an online support group for survivors of abuse. When we started, I believed that members were actually being helped. Now, the group has morphed into some kind of humor and amusement message board where people are either talking completely off the topic or bickering about trivial things like what is and is not abuse, etc. After four years, I don’t even recognize this project anymore, I’ve come to hate it and I think I would be happier to just abandon it altogether. How do I get members to shape up or ship out?

– Mod As Hell

Hi Mod As Hell,

Nothing can erase the good work you have done or change how much you have helped victims. That is a pretty cool legacy. I call it that because you seem to have a direction already. The internet is a fluid thing; people come and go, participation ebbs and flows according to real life responsibilities, and sometimes projects have a good run but when it ends, sometimes there are new beginnings. You did not mention any copyright or trademark issues, so I will assume you are free to start another group or a different project or none at all. You sound ready to do just that, and I support you. Change is good, and suffering through interaction that no longer leaves you fulfilled is not worth whatever you would be trying to prove. The biggest advantage of working online may be that your skills are absolutely portable. You can pack them up and take them wherever you want to go.

Editor’s Note: The opinions offered in this blog are the author’s alone. Tim White, and any experts he may consult and/or quote in responses to letters, will never provide medical or psychological advice, diagnoses, treatment, or counseling of any kind. General advice, opinions, and suggestions may be offered with no obligation on the part of readers to accept or act upon the content published within this column. Anyone in immediate crisis and/or mental/physical distress should call 911 or related resources of assistance.

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