A Gold Medal in the Humor Olympics
October 25, 2012 § 1 Comment
I wanted to share this lovely letter to Ann Coulter by John Franklin Stephens from the Special Olympics Blog mostly because it is one of the best internet happenings in a while. But assuming you’ve already read it, liked it, and shared it with all your friends, I also wanted to take a few words to commend Mr. Stephens for his use of humor; it is easy to come out of an exchange with a hate-merchant like Coulter with a moral victory, but Mr. Stephens just plain out-funnies her, too.
There has, thankfully and rightfully, been a backlash against Coulter after the tweet, but such exchanges—the offended defender against the self-righteous provocateur—are usually frustratingly counter-productive: when someone is hurt by a bad joke and writes a serious and heartfelt response describing the pain the joker’s carelessness caused, it often only gives the provocateur a second chance to offend, claiming the offended are being too sensitive or serious while getting more attention and support from their cronies (which was their only reason for being callous in the first place). In her initial response to the backlash, Coulter was happy to twist the knife, “The only people who will be offended are too retarded to understand it.”
There aren’t many ways to win a debate with a joker like that; they aren’t interested in winning the argument as much as making you feel like a loser. As a humorist, this fact often worries me; when I see bigots like Coulter using humor to tear people down, I wonder if the funny is really all I’ve made it out to be—a source of joy and insight in our lives—or just another way we’ve invented to bully someone while tricking ourselves into feeling powerful. That’s why it feels like such a joyous, affirming win to see someone best Coulter at her own game like this.
I love the way he plays it straight in the opening paragraphs so his first pithy point lands hard, and I love the way he introduces each new joke as if he really is just trying to reason out what she could have possibly hoped to communicate with such a blunt statement. But my favorite part is the way—once he smilingly reveals he’s known her cruel intent all along—that he turns the argument into something else entirely, re-establishing what she meant to belittle as a source of strength.
Then I wondered if you meant to describe him as someone who has to struggle to be thoughtful about everything he says, as everyone else races from one snarkey sound bite to the next.
With this, he raises the conflict above an unwinnable argument about who should be allowed to use the R-word in what context up to a thoughtful discussion about what is actually of value in our society; he doesn’t just see the mean spirit of her words, but the petty motivation behind them as well, and invites her and us to try to take the same time he does to craft his thoughts with care and consideration.
I’ve written in previous posts that humor’s purpose in our lives is to create bonds and illuminate our mistakes, tearing down those structures which don’t build us up but only bind us. Mr. Stephens does this perfectly here, illuminating the pain Coulter has caused not by calling her a name or telling her to stop talking, but by inviting her into the sort of dialogue she’d have to abandon her misconceptions to participate in.