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Comedy: The Line Between Humor And Hateful Speech

We all love to laugh. Laughter gives life to the stressful world we live in. It’s important, however, to be careful, because sometimes people tend to offend others by making jokes, although the purpose of comedy isn't to cause damage. 

"Laughing Is A Social Statement" [bf_image id="q7niqw-51e9i8-cmfs33"]

Some people think we can make everything into humor, while others think there are some subjects we need to avoid. Emanuele Pestana, also known as Manu Pestana, a comedian and actress, explains that relationship to us a little bit more and gives some advice to take into account when making jokes.

[HCCL] What is comedy?

It is the simple act of being able to laugh at ordinary things, for instance silly, exaggerated, and even surreal occasions. Laughing is a social statement. When we laugh with other people we share experiences that we identify with, so it's also a form of relating. It holds such an important role, social and emotional, helps to release serotonin and well-being hormones... Laughing is also a healthy commitment.

[HCCL] What is the impact that comedy holds up on people? Can it be considered a changing factor in the social sphere?

It has a close and strong connection with the social environment. Social relationships are built supplementary with humor. The purpose of bringing conscience to reality, using a more serious approach, does not have the same reflection as when you laugh regarding the same subject. The power of length, by its attractiveness, enhances the reflection. It can create bridges, impel communication, and trigger eagerness. It is a form of social relief, a way to escape society and be inserted in reality gentler.

[HCCL] Should comedy be made from all subjects?

Yes, it should. Why not? It's healthy to laugh, despite being when regarding an intense discussion. Different from what people think, when we laugh, we don't banalize, we understand something good within sensitive matters.

For example, I have a daughter with autism and I don't have any problem doing jokes as a mother or as a mother of a disabled child. People need to learn how to cover these subjects in a light and humorous way. Of course, we need to have sensibility so that it doesn't turn into a mockery: this kind of statement is harmful.

The Social & Political Expressions Behind Comedy

[bf_image id="q8s5ed-b3v8e8-8i6ebl"] We know how to make jokes and be careful not to step on others' limits, but we still need to understand what is a hate speech and why it is so dangerous, even when disguised by comedy. For this matter, we consulted  the sociologist Fernanda de Araújo Patrocínio, also a master in media communication. With her, we are going to learn how to interpret hate speech and what are the causes of its usage in the social entanglements. 

[HCCL] What characterizes hate speech?

It is a communication strategy based on violence and the constant attempt to make others inferior. Standardly, the victim belongs to a different social group than the aggressor. The people who formulate this kind of speech use it as an artifice stereotype, for instance, according to sexuality, gender, race/ethnicity, nationality/origin, religion, encompassed by others.

[HCCL] When does freedom of speech become hate speech?

It stems from the moment another person feels violated in any way. If an individual belongs to the group that's being stigmatized, express your discomfort towards a disrespectful gesture from the speaker - to this one is the role of reevaluating and apologizing. An exercise of communication and self-criticism, envisaging their living context, and determined verbal violence ballast left through the centuries. 

Notwithstanding: when the declaimer implements as a strategy of retraction sentences similar to "I want to apologize to whoever may have felt offended" or "I want to apologize if someone felted offended", the person practices flawed communication or yet, the incorporation of bad faith - after all, the self-critic exercise is not present in these sentences. It turns the guilt to whoever felt offended, not even an apology. That way, it's always necessary to be aware of how to approach some expression and its ramifications.

[bf_image id="q4sgz9-7yew4o-5tn7u3"] [HCCL] Is there any social impact caused by the camouflage of hate speech into comedy?

Yes, there is. The reinforcement of intermediate violence by language strengthens stereotypes, distortions, and to a greater degree the inferiorization  of a determined social group - with the view of the imposition of the dominant group narrative. The constant agressions out of the word reverberates in gestures, concerning micro and macro universes. Not in vain, we still have groups placed sidelined - this situation comes from the residual of determined secular hate speeches, related to numerous types of aggression: sexism, homophobia, racism, xenophobia, etc. 

[HCCL] Do you think "playing" with this type of topic normalizes offensive treatment?

In this case, "playing" is a reinforcement of aggression, or yet one based on the attempt to undermine the other. It's an entertaining game where the final goal is to "step" in a specified group. Freeing itself from this conduct isn't an easy task. Some ideas are deep-rooted in certain cultures and communities. It's a constant exercise of listening, criticizing, and learning.

[HCCL] Why are these limits so thin? Why in the social scenario do people tend to have difficulty knowing the difference?

The difference between humor and insult is also related to new possible social structures - in comparison to social times and their dynamics. For example, some jokes considered funny in the past century (even when having violent content), don’t make sense nowadays. 

There are spaces where marginalized groups can speak up about their hassles and embarrassments. Nobody likes being violated - especially by discourses based on prejudice and domination games. There still are challenges for a certain individual to make that demerger, as it demands, besides self-critic humility, giving their hierarchical place. And, to start considering the intersectionality in the oppression systems, anchored by language (which is a tool), demands more attention and reinterpretation before these situations.

Wow! That was a huge contemplation on how society and the individuals relate with one another. That is why it is so important to always be careful when making fun of a different or sensitive matter. Helping others is not just about actions, but also knowing when to think before speaking and understanding why - and how - some words can hurt. 


The article above was edited by Isabella Gemignani.

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Rafaela Vazquez

Casper Libero '24

Journalist Interests in culture, politics, feminism, art and tourism.
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