Humor in the Age of Micro-agression....a sad tale

Jerry Seinfeld, hardly a controversial or edgy humorist, has recently complained about performing stand-up comedy routines on college campuses.  In an interview with ESPN, he says that while he continues to play college campuses, many of his fellow comedians won't touch them for fear of backlash over political correctness.  Imagine that.  Colleges, the same places that once were the mainstay of edgy stand-up, no longer friendly to anything that anyone finds mildly offensive.

It is the age of Don't Hurt My Feelings or Else.  The Age of Micro-agression.  You know, those little barbs that people used to brush off, or ignore, or laugh about, that are now considered so painful that sensitive souls must form college task forces to avoid them.  Female student get offended by statues, much less the sex-heavy stand-up routines of an Eddie Murphy.

What a mess. Humor, by its very nature, is bound to bump into someone else's idea of good taste. That is why Mark Twain's The Adventures Huckleberry Finn is banned more than any other non-erotic book by schools.  Twain -- who was an abolitionist, and never a snob-- mocked racism by creating his clueless young Huck, who never gets it right, and the patient slave, Jim, who always does but never tells.   Of course, it uses language that we'd never use today -- and the absence of those words is something that Twain would celebrate.

As a writer, I've learned that irony, as we used to learn it, is tough for today's readers to understand.  They take it literally.  They never read irony in school (since it might offend someone, somewhere,) so they find it hard to break down.  Kids know parodies from TV-- but irony, wit, sarcasm are ignored by teachers.  Kids read a steady diet of earnest novels-- which may explain the popularity of fantasy, a world in which race and class vanish into elves and magic.

Any word, at any time, can bother someone.  Which reminds of that great line from The Pickwick Papers, in which a furious Mrs. Raddle demands to know:  "But who do you call a woman, sir?"

Call me insensitive, but I laughed.
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