Opinion | Dark humor is not funny

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This illustration picture taken on May 27, 2020 in Paris shows the logo of the social network application Tik Tok on the screen of a phone. (Photo by MARTIN BUREAU/AFP via Getty Images/TNS)

Hannah Pinski, Opinions Columnist


In American culture, one type of comedy that has become dominant is dark humor. According to Urban Dictionary, an online source for slang terms, they define it as “a form of humor involving a twist or joke making it the joke seen as offensive, harsh or horrid. Yet the joke is still funny.”

However, the normalization of dark humor has promoted oppression and normalized injustice in American society. Just because it can be seen as a joke to some people, they forget it is still offensive to the group that it is targeting.

One notable joke that caught my eye was from a TikTok where it said “if a woman is so strong, why didn’t she fight back?” This was an attempt to ridicule the feminist movement, but it also endorses rape culture through victim blaming.

While it may be hard to believe that jokes can lead to legitimate, bigoted beliefs, that is nevertheless the case. In a 2011 publication of Ethnicities, a cross-disciplinary journal discussing the various aspects of race, it is argued that racist jokes can and do lead to racist prejudices.

That’s not all though — as jokes can also influence people who are a part of the disparaged group. In a 2016 study published by Group Processes & Intergroup Relations, it was found that people exposed to disparaging humor about themselves leads to a maintaining of hierarchical status between groups.

This is what it means to be in a “rape culture” — these ideas are normalized in conversations without being challenged, with anyone who speaks out against it being labeled as an overly concerned spoil sport.

These jokes don’t just influence society however. This also allows politicians to make ignorant remarks that treat sexual assault as a joke instead of holding rapists accountable for their actions.

For example, former Rep. Todd Akin, a Republican of Missouri, said that “if it’s legitimate rape, the female body has ways to shut that whole thing down.” Statements like these oppress sexual assault victims through victim blaming when they need empathy, comfort, and justice. It completely dismisses the idea of consent because it defends the idea that someone who says no doesn’t actually mean it unless their body “shuts it down.

How do we expect to promote consent and protect sexual assault victims when politicians are not leading by example? How can we stand with victims and provide justice if society treated rape as a joke?

Another type of joke that shouldn’t be seen as funny are ones dealing with suicide. One that really struck my attention was the Library Visit: ‘I went to a library and asked for a book on suicide. The librarian replied “F*ck off! You won’t bring it back!’ There are a host of other jokes in this vein, but it would be in too poor of taste to reprint them.

While mental health is an issue that is tackled across America, it is jokes like these that undermine the importance and seriousness that many Americans face. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 17.3 million adults had at least one major depressive episode in 2017. How is it morally right to deem a joke as “funny” if it is undermining 17.3 million people’s value of life?

These types of joke discourage the idea of asking for help when struggling as well as treating suicide as a joke instead of a tragedy. It makes it seem like mental health isn’t valued, that it’s weak and wrong to ask for help.

If we continue to treat suicide and depression as a joke, it only encourages the idea that people who struggle with their mental health have something wrong with them. It makes it seem like they aren’t important, and their life isn’t worth it to save or live.

Even though a part of society sees dark humor as “funny,” it is still offensive and should be phased out from American culture because it defends oppression and injustices committed against many Americans.


Columns reflect the opinions of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Editorial Board, The Daily Iowan, or other organizations in which the author may be involved.


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