“In comedy, you should punch up not down.”

Completely disagree. Mockery is an alternative way to shame people. Mockery, like shaming, is a way to lower someone’s status. We should shame people for things that actually deserve shame. Shaming a high-status person for something not bad—like having an obsession with pencil spinning tricks—is douchey. Failing to shame a low-status person for being unkind—also douchey. It’s not about up or down. It’s about making fun of things that are actually bad so that we can deter them.

And I hate how this ‘punching up’ rule ignores incredibly important distinctions. There should be different rules for mockery in private, mockery in public, mockery in comedy clubs, and mockery broadcast to millions of people. A joking conversation in private between two friends about some third person doesn’t actually hurt the third’s feelings. A snide joke about a person to their face in public does hurt their feelings. Mockery in a comedy club comes with the implied consent of “I agreed to walk into a place where jokes were being told.” A joke about a person told to millions of people can cause millions of people to have momentary pleasure—it could also ruin someone’s life.

So when mocking something basically two things matter:

1) Are you making fun of something that we want to deter?

2) What are going to be the effects of this joke in terms of happiness and sadness of everyone involved?

If you are interested in the second question, the up/down distinction actually is relevant—a boss making fun of a subordinate is a very different interaction than two equals ribbing each other. But you should also take into account these things: Which of the aforementioned contexts (private, public, comedy club, broadcast) are you in? How secure do they feel in their status? What are the local norms about teasing? How thick is their skin? Do they feel they deserve to be teased? How mean is the joke? How close are you as friends?

The up/down dimension is just one of several things to consider.

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One Response to Mockery

  1. Pingback: Mockery II | Saner Than Lasagna

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