I, like many feminists, have been accused of being humorless. This is a relatively new thing, because now, if I hear a joke that punches down or makes me cringe, I don’t hide my discomfort. There was definitely a time in my teens and 20s when I would laugh along because I wanted to be the cool girl, the girl who wasn’t a buzzkill. I told more blonde jokes than anyone. But I grew and learned. Gradually I felt more comfortable asserting myself and I could explain, “Hey, that’s not funny, and here’s why.”
It’s natural for humor to evolve. When I watch old movies or TV shows, even from as little as 15 years ago, not all the jokes land the way they once did. Take Friends, for instance. In the 90s, this show was heralded as one of the smartest shows on television. The writing was sharp and the jokes were quick. It was so different from other kinds of live-audience sitcoms we were used to.
But it has not aged well. Put aside the constant gay jokes about Ross’s ex-wife Carol, Joey’s pickup artist tendencies, the awful transphobic cracks around Chandler’s drag queen father, or the overwhelming caucacity. Problematic storylines aside, the writing doesn’t seem as funny as it once did. It doesn’t mean the humor was poor quality, just that our tastes have changed. I’m not the only one who’s felt this way.
It should be allowed for humor to evolve, not just in the entertainment we consume, but our own takes on humor. I used to actively enjoy some extremely problematic things in the 80s and 90s. I especially loved the extra subversive shit: Beavis & Butthead, South Park, Spike & Mike’s Sick & Twisted animation festivals. If conservatives hated it, chances are I ate it up. (Interestingly enough, I still enjoy entertainment that conservatives hate, but for different reasons.) I can’t watch that stuff anymore; not only does it not seem funny to me, but it makes me feel ashamed that I once thought it *was* funny.
To a 10-year-old, there is nothing funnier than a fart joke. Will that 40-year-old still find farts as funny? Probably not, and that’s understandable to almost anyone. I won’t stop calling out problematic humor when I see or hear it, even it makes me that so-called “humorless feminist.” Life is too short to actively participate in my own dehumanization in the form of sexist or homophobic humor.