Some people hate Adam Sandler movies; some people love them. Some people find them offensive and some do not. The same with Kevin Smith, South Park, Joan Rivers and a lot of other humorists who tend to be controversial.
One incident in particular happened when a doctor wrote a "humor" piece in something called the Outpatient Surgery Magazine about doing surgery on large-sized patients.
Since this controversy is largely over, I will not link to the article or mention the author's name. He has apologized and the purpose of this post is not to stir up trouble and get his inbox flooded with angry emails again, but to give my own thoughts on humor and when it's okay to make fun of an entire group of people and when it's not.
First, it wasn't remotely funny and second it was offensive. Which leads to the twin questions of: what is funny and when is it okay to be offensive in the name of humor?
What is the difference between the humor of each of these comedians that some seem funny to me and some do not?
It's funny because it's true.
South Park probably falls flat for me because I never was a small boy, have no brothers, and basically can't related to a lot of what goes on during each show.
Kevin Smith, on the other hand, grew up Catholic on the East Coast (New Jersey) and is obese. I grew up Catholic on the East Coast (across the river from NJ in Pennsylvania) and was obese. I see the world in a lot of the same ways as he does and his humor speaks to me even though he's a man and I'm a woman.
When your patient has more chins than a Chinese phone book...
Another 'gem' from the article:
Your patient has a dog named Twinkie...Um, what? Why exactly was it supposed to be funny? Because we fatties love junk food so much, I guess. This is the easy stereotype of fat people that's not particularly true. Not to mention that a quick Google search shows that Twinkie is actually a pretty popular dog name even if a lot of people think it's lame. So the joke fails on every level.
There were a lot more like that, but the magazine's web site won't send me my "activation" link so I can go back and pluck some out for you. Trust me, I read the article when it was posted on someone else's site (before they were ordered to take it down) and they were 90% head scratchers like that one with a few that induced mild chuckles at best.
Now humor is sometimes offensive even as it's funny. So what if you tell a joke and someone finds it offensive? Does that mean it's not funny? If even one person finds it offensive, even if they are not a reasonable person, should the joke not be told?
If the target of the joke finds it offensive, then it's offensive.
This is actually pretty simple concept yet it's not one that everyone gets. The editor of Outpatient Surgery Magazine, Dan O'Conner sure didn't get it as is shown by his non-apology on the magazine's website.
Of course, the polite thing to do when you offend someone, even if you didn't mean to, is to apologize and learn from the experience. Not tell them to get a sense of humor or threaten to sue them for quoting a bit from your article (which is covered under fair use) or say "see, this other person (who is also not a member of the group being made fun of) thinks it's funny, so I didn't do anything wrong."
Which is pretty much what Dan O'Conner did even if he didn't use the phrase "lighten up" or told us fatties we have no sense of humor, but just implied it very, very strongly.
Sometimes people act like this because they don't want to think of themselves as someone who would laugh at something that would make the subject of said humor cry. So they get defensive. I suspect this is Mr. O'Conner's problem. At least I hope so.
Because often times people use humor as a weapon. I was made fun of constantly as a child and when I would protest, I was often told to "lighten up" and "can't you take a joke?" as if the problem was me and not them.
Not liking South Park aside, I can most certainly take a joke and I tell many jokes and find many things funny. I make fun of myself all the time, in fact.
But I knew the purpose of the "jokes" I was subjected to in Elementary School and Junior High was not to get people to laugh at something that was truly funny, but to hurt my feelings. The "lighten up" accusation was just a way to justify being mean to me.
Likewise I'm sure there is humor in operating on people who are large especially when the OR is not made to accommodate them. If the author of the "XXL Patients" article had stuck to his own personal truths, maybe he could have written a truly funny column, one that he could have been proud of that wouldn't have offended nearly as many people.
Because facile, easy humor at the expense of another person is rarely funny and we should not "lighten up" about it.