Why Is That Funny?

| Jan 18, 2016
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Mummers group from 2016 parade.

Mummers group from 2016 parade.

I’ve been seeing a lot of Facebook posts and articles since New Year’s about the Philadelphia, Pa. Mummers Parade and the transphobic “humor” that focused on Caitlyn Jenner. There are more than a few things that I don’t understand about people, especially members of the LGBT community that dismiss this incident as simply humor and tell me I should “lighten up.” Little do they know who they are talking too as I’m someone known for my humor and sharp quips. I may be getting ahead of myself here because if you grew up out of the range of Philadelphia TV stations, you may not even know what the Mummers were.

When I was a kid we had only two New Year’s Day traditions. The first of course, was the New Year’s Day dinner which always featured a ham with pineapple and maraschino cherries baked on it that us kids would covet and, the second, was watching the Mummers Parade in the morning. Looking back on it now, I don’t understand why we, or anyone, watched any parade with maybe the exception of the Macy’s parade which had giant balloons of cartoon characters. Even then, for the most part, I found them pretty boring and none more so than the Mummers which didn’t even have a single giant balloon. Still, I was there every New Year’s Day morning glued to the TV set.

The Mummers, from what I remember were mostly men in costume’s more garish than anything even Liberace would have worn for any of his concerts. They would march, or strut as it was called, while playing instruments. You would see guys riding little carts or bikes, lots of clowns (which were creepy to me and still are) and some dancing or choreographed numbers. There were also groups that were called “comics” that would put on little skits that were intended to amuse, but I can’t recall them being very funny. This may be because they were often topical or political in nature which would have gone over my young head.

Until this year I’d not thought about or even watched part of a Mummers Parade in at least twenty five years. This year though it was once again brought to my attention because of the already mentioned skit a “comic” group did about Caitlyn Jenner.

Mummers-Parade-Bruce-Jenner-SignThe skit starts with the Olympic theme and a man dressed as Jenner as she was pre- transition at the 1976 Olympics. Behind him is a large sign of the famous Wheaties box that featured Jenner. After a little hamming it up I’m Coming Out by Diana Ross starts playing while several clowns that are dressed as doctors and nurses appear with a wheelchair to whisk the man dressed as Olympian Jenner into the crowd. Fifteen seconds later Dude Looks Like a Lady by Aerosmith starts blasting as he reappears now dressed as Caitlyn in a white outfit meant to look like the one she wore on the Vanity Fair cover. The entire time this is going on a couple of hundred men, along with a few kids, in clown dresses move around like they are drunk (I suspect more than a few actually are). It certainly was not choreographed in any way as they are constantly bumping into each other. A lot of the people in the crowd were holding up signs of the meme that shows the classic Jenner Wheaties box on one side and a Fruit Loops box on the other side featuring a badly photoshopped picture of Caitlyn.

By now, I’m sure you are in tears laughing at the really clever and hilarious skit these guys put on, no? Well it is sad to say that many people claim this sloppy reenactment of a stupid, old meme from 2014 is the height of humor and that may be my biggest complaint, it’s just not funny.

Anytime I’ve raised the issue that the skit was not appropriate or that it was transphobic or just plain offensive I’ve been greeted with comments such as “It’s just humor, lighten up” or “Stop being so PC, it’s a joke.” When someone responds with that line of defense, I always ask what exactly about it was funny and to date, I’ve not gotten an actual reason why. Sure, people try to weakly defend their position typically saying that it’s okay for comedians to make fun of Caitlyn Jenner, but this defense shows a lack of understanding of comedy. To be sure, there are funny situations that arise surrounding people that are trans, but the funny ones of these are not punching down or dehumanizing.

What does punching down mean? Humor can be found in almost anything, even the worst of things. It was George Carlin who pointed out that even rape jokes can be funny as long as they are making fun of the rapist and not the victim. That’s an important distinction. Making fun of politicians, organizations or others in power in general is punching up. Making fun of minorities, the disenfranchised, the powerless is punching down — and not funny, ever.

If you are a friend, ally or member of the LGBT community and found this horrible Mummers Parade skit humorous ask yourself why you found it funny and if you figure it out, please let me know.

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Category: Transgender Opinion


About the Author ()

Diane was born and raised in New Jersey. She has two fully grown sons and a husband of thirteen years. Diane runs a two small businesses and in her spare time enjoys strategy board gaming.

Comments (15)

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  1. KoolMcKool KoolMcKool says:

    I have no problem making fun of Jenner, he and his family voluntarily jumps in front of cameras with fake drama.

    It’s not as if the Mummers targeted trans folks in general.

    • diane1962 diane1962 says:

      What exactly about Jenner were they making fun of?

      • KoolMcKool KoolMcKool says:

        >What exactly about Jenner were they making fun of?

        His vanity, his self-aggrandizement, both before and after Caitlyn.

        It does not bother me, if it does you that’s fine.

    • Nadia Nadia says:

      I feel that TGForum should be The One Place where deliberate misgendering of trans* persons should NOT be tolerated. I am formally asking the site admins to take disciplinary action against KoolMcKool for their very deliberate misgendering of Caitlyn Jenner.

      It does not matter whether you like or dislike a given person; deliberate misgendering of ANYONE is an offense. TGForum is the one place where such transphobic conduct should not be tolerated: first-time offenders should be given a stern warning, repeat offenders should be banned.

      • KoolMcKool KoolMcKool says:

        > I am formally asking the site admins to take disciplinary action against KoolMcKool for their very deliberate misgendering of Caitlyn Jenner.

        Do it!
        Grow up while you’re at it.

  2. says:

    Just to conclude:

    The inevitable consequence of adding ‘no punching down’ as part of one’s value system is that a white person, for example, can be negative only towards another white person, and then only if that white person is of a higher economic status AND not concurrently a member of a secondary victim class, gay, trans, differently-abled and so on.

    It gets tricky: can a low/moderate income white person criticize Caitlin? On the one hand she’s quite wealthy – she’s clearly of the much maligned “1%” – so one would think, absolutely yes! On the other hand she’s trans so one would think, definitely no!

    Then there is the hierarchy of victimhood that I alluded to in my first post. Is it punching down if a rich black celebrity is negative towards a lower-income class Korean shop owner?

    This is where you end up when the world is viewed in terms of power and impotence: winners and losers, victims and oppressors AND that world view is actually acted upon in one’s daily life. Every encounter, real or virtual, with another human being requires a mental assessment – who is the alpha, who is the victim, or sometimes, who is the greater victim. A complicated calculation becomes necessary – perhaps becoming second nature when done over time: which of us must patronize the other, the wounded-by-society-soul, by fighting off our own negative thoughts so as not to give them expression and further wound the other’s tender sensibilities.

    To me perpetual self-censorship would be quite exhausting! The alternate value system is one that assumes equality – we’re all God’s children no matter our unique material circumstances. Consequently we have the freedom of expression – free speech – restrained only by our own sense of civility and goodwill towards others.

    • diane1962 diane1962 says:

      I didn’t advocate “no punching down” or that people should “self-censor” or “that a white person, for example, can be negative only towards another white person…”. I just said it wasn’t funny, which it isn’t. This entire response is a straw man.

      • says:

        Diane, I see the distinction you’re making: punching down in the form of insults and the like is acceptable, they’re just not funny, assuming they were meant to be in the first place, such as that Caitlin poster). Of course a lot of punching down isn’t humorous at all, eg deliberately misgendering a trans person. An action like that is meant to be mean-spirited, not light-hearted.

        Personally I’m all for punching down, punching up, punching laterally. We’re all pretty amusing creatures and we deserve whatever shots we take.

        I’m also for complete free speech for those who disagree. 🙂

  3. says:

    Is it ‘punching down’ if a member of the victim class – say a black or gay comedian – targets one of his/her own with an attempt at humor?

    I guess the new thought paradigm is to consider everything you might say based on the power dynamic between you and your intended subject.

    Self-censorship is the new wave, apparently. Freedom of speech is so old-school, so oppressive, so insensitive.

    • diane1962 diane1962 says:

      I’m all for free speech and in fact it is what is allowing me to criticize this group. It is a little unfair to equate criticizing what some says with opposing free speech. While free speech means you can say things that are stupid and wrong, it also allows me to point out how stupid and wrong I feel it is.

      • says:

        Diane, you are absolutely right and I’m certainly not advising you to limit your criticism. To my mind, the more speech the better. Someone (no doubt famous) said, to paraphrase, ‘we don’t need the 1st Amendment to protect innocuous speech, we need it to protect outrageous, offensive speech’.

        But here’s my (gentle) challenge: let’s say the group displaying the Caitlin poster had been made up of minority youth, say young black and Hispanic males and females.

        Would you – feeling as you do about punching down – criticize that group or would you self-censor your speech, if not your thoughts, so as to not dehumanize those less powerful individuals?

      • diane1962 diane1962 says:

        Oh course, just the same that I would criticize someone who was trans that was mocking another minority for who they were.

  4. Diane, I saw a CNN tape of the goings-on. I tried to see how it was funny. I failed! Suppose they had Klansmen in hoods and on the cereal boxes they had the products of lynch mobs? Funny, eh? Let’s go down to the theater and see the big Minstrel show. I hear that’s going to be a riot!
    Good article! Well done!