Humor in the media should or should not have limits?

Chris Rock was awarded as the fifth best stand-up comedian of all time by Comedy Central. Recently, in the framework of an interview where he was asked if the slap Smith gave him had hurt him, he replied: “Damn… the son of… hit me for a shitty joke, the kindest thing I’ve ever told” Credits: Hobby Consoles .

In March of this year, everyone talked about the slap of Will Smith a Chris Rock. Now, they once again offered the controversial humorist to lead the awards oscars 2023. However, his declination of the offer was known. In this context, Footnote He wondered about the limits of humor, freedom of expression and the responsibility of the big media.

The “victim driver”

A few days ago the news circulated that Chris Rock had rejected the offer to be the host of the awards again. Not only was the decision of the hollywood academy to summon him after the episode with Jada Pinkett. So was the response given by the media, who made an analogy between him and a victim of femicide.

Rock told the media that he turned down the offer because it would mean “going back to the scene of the crime.” He later specified that “it would be like asking nicole brown simpson to go back to the restaurant.

Although the physical violence that Rock received from Will Smith after “having messed with his wife” is undoubtedly sexist and reprehensible, is Chris Rock a victim of gender violence comparable to Brown; or is it a forced analogy and the product of an opportunistic cut of the scene? Are the “jokes” innocent and free of ideology? What is the limit between humor and violence?

The false controversy of the slap

We know that the mass media have focused on the slap in the face caused by Smith; and on the question of whether it was understandable or excessive because of the “untimely joke” that Rock had said. In this line, many have put Rock in the victim’s place. Others have empathized with the actor of “Looking for happiness”.

However, this false controversy runs from the center, as if it were not interesting, the offensive comment made by the driver towards Pinkett. The clipping of the episode is neither accidental nor new in most of the mass media. It is rather an expected and traditional reading of the hegemonic discourse.

What is left out? In the first place, the statements about Pinkett’s alopecia made by the driver are made invisible or underestimated, as they are described as “jokes”. In this way, the simplistic reading of Rock exclusively as a victim is encouraged.

Second, the physical violence exerted by Smith is not framed as a consequence of a paternalistic and possessive view of “his” wife. It does not inquire about the reasons that drive the action, but it is spoken as if it were an individual matter and the actor’s personality; similar to the logic of the “crazy loose”.

Jada Pinkett was associated with her short hair look for a long time until she finally decided to shave her head completely. In a post where she explained her decision on her networks, she had put: “Mom will have to cut it to the scalp so that no one thinks that she had brain surgery or something. This alopecia and I are going to be friends… period!” Credits: Esquire.

Chris Rock and aesthetic violence towards Pinkett

“As always, the attention and protagonism was reduced to men and the violence between them” published the writer and activist Esther Pineda in their networks at that time; and redirected attention to the aesthetic violence exerted by the driver.

But, what is aesthetic violence and what are the limits of “humor”? This episode “is a clear example of how beauty has been built and erected as a social value”; regardless of fame, economic resources or media visibility, Pineda pointed out.

Any woman, and even more so if she is black, explained the activist, is always being judged and exposed to being violated for her physical appearance if for some reason she does not respond to the constructed expectation of beauty. Aesthetic violence, then, has to do with the social pressure to comply with an aesthetic prototype at all costs; It doesn’t matter if that poses a risk to the person’s physical or mental health.

At this point, it is not a minor fact that on more than one occasion, Pinkett has made public his discomfort around his alopecia. On the other hand, Pineda recalled in that post that Chris Rock was the one who produced the documentary in 2009 “good hair” (Good hair). Therefore, the man knew very well “the importance of hair for black women; in the context of racism and the industry that has developed around it.”

Esther Pineda is a Sociologist, master’s in women’s studies, doctor, postdoctoral in Social Sciences and author of the book Bellas para muerte. Gender stereotypes and aesthetic violence against women. Credits: The Truth Juarez.

the power of humor

It is recurrent in more conservative and reactionary sectors to hear people say that “now you can’t make humor out of anything”; because “they complain about anything”. In any case, despite the discomfort that it may arouse in some, reflecting on daily practices, such as “jokes”, is necessary to be critical in the society we build.

A few years ago, as part of the journalist’s day, the UNWhose invited the director of the magazine Barcelona, ingrid beck, to reflect on humor, freedom of expression and politics, among other things. On that occasion, the journalist distanced herself from humor “more associated with jokes”; and she referred to the use of satire that they do from the magazine to carry out critical journalism.

Beck maintained that from Barcelona they do not make jokes and, on the contrary, he focused on the objectives of satire: “Offend, offend; outrage, annoy, put barb, fuck, swell; hit where it hurts”. From this reading, Rock’s allusion to Pinkett’s alopecia is closer to satire than mere humor or joke.

In the case of the magazine, Beck explained, they do not want anyone to be offended; rather, they point to the powerful, to the representative of the hegemonic discourse: “if we laugh at the weak, if we satirize the weak, we are not making parody or satire; we are doing pure cynicism.”

The responsibility of the Academy and of those who communicate

So, are the jokes innocent and free from any type of intentionality and responsibility? Does it have the same effect to qualify Rock’s statements as “jokes” instead of framing them as violence? What kind of society do we build if we reproduce the reading made by the big media and the Academy?

Ultimately all these questions can be linked to the questioning about the limits of humor; and, even more so, to freedom of expression. At this point, possibly the reflection of the director of Barcelona could give some answer: “Is there a limit to satire? no, there isn’t and there shouldn’t be”; however, “if you ask me if I have limits: of course; I have moral limits, ideological limits, a lot”, she concluded.

Humor in the media should or should not have limits? – Footnote