This is something that’s been bothering me for a while. At school, I see my classmates joking and laughing about mental health, and online and on TV, I see companies shove our flaws in our faces and then try and sell us products to fix these flaws. It’s never done meanly, just jokingly. And while I like to think of myself as someone who likes humor, the thing is that jokes about societal issues aren’t funny.
About a month ago, a couple of girls from my school who interned at the local Sexual Assault Centre brought in pamphlets about rape and handed them out to two of my classes. In my Philosophy class—full of semi-cultured grade 12s—they looked them over and filled out the attached survey with little to no commentary. But when the girls did the same thing in my French class—a grade 11 class dominated by immature boys—the jokes started coming. There was a question on the survey asking whether or not we thought there was such a thing as “accidental” rape, and I watched, horrified, as the boys laughed at it and one of them mimed thrusting his hips while saying “oops” over and over again. In short, they looked the pamphlet over, laughed at it and then promptly forgot all about it.
And yes, maybe I’m making too big of a deal out of this, but I feel like I have to. Because that isn’t the only thing that’s happened. I remember we were talking about Amanda Todd’s suicide one day in my Grade 9 health class and someone put up her hand and said, “yeah, but she kinda brought it on herself, didn’t she? Because she flashed?” And that’s just what I remember from my school. I’m sure everyone else has stories like this probably to an even larger degree, and that’s the problem. Stuff like this is so commonplace that no one ever really wants to talk about it.
Mental health is another popular joke category. I know my classmates don’t mean anything by it when they say stuff like, “oh, I have this essay due tomorrow that I haven’t even started, I’m going to kill myself,” or “big History project, time to get the razor out.” I know that to them, those words are nothing but offhand comments. It’s just funny, right? It’s the cool thing to do to joke about going over to someone’s house to cut together or to parody the ‘cut4bieber’ hashtag with your own name, right? But unfortunately those ‘jokes’ can be extraordinarily triggering to some people. Imagine someone dealing with self-harm sitting next to you when you say that. They’ve been struggling with self-harm for months they’re trying to stay clean, and you, someone who’s never experienced what they have, essentially dismiss what they’re going through with a dumb joke? Yeah, not funny. Not funny at all.
And I know that joking about mental health and sexual assault is ‘in’ right now, but we’re the ones who are keeping it in. There are so many other things to joke about that don’t belittle real problems that real people face, so many things that are funnier or cooler than an “oh my god, this movie is depressing me, I’m gonna go kill myself.” Yes, I know you probably don’t mean to hurt anyone, but the only thing you’re accomplishing is making fun of situations that are anything but funny. C’mon, guys. We’re better than that.