I’m going to kill you! Wait, I was only joking.

Apparently a county teacher’s union in New Jersey sent out an “internal memo” which included the following paragraph:

“Dear Lord, this year you have taken away my favorite actor, Patrick Swayze, my favorite actress, Farrah Fawcett, my favorite singer, Michael Jackson, and my favorite salesman, Billy Mays. I just wanted to let you know that Chris Christie is my favorite governor.”

Chris Christie is the Governor of New Jersey and the teacher’s union is currently in a contract negotiation with the state and strongly opposes Governor Christie’s proposed budget cuts to education (see the story on CNN). In response, the leader of the union stated that the memo was a joke, but then conceded that it was “in bad taste.” Years ago, Anne Coulter made a public statement about poisoning Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens (see the story on Fox News). Coulter told an audience that “We need somebody to put rat poisoning in Justice Stevens’ creme brulee. That’s just a joke, for you in the media.” More recently, Sarah Palin sent out a tweet telling followers “Don’t retreat, instead RELOAD!” This followed a Facebook posting where a graphic showed a shooting target over the names of members of Congress that she believes should be defeated in the November election (see a story on CBS). John McCain dismissed criticism of complaint’s about Palin’s language and many defenders have claimed the statements were jokes and harmless.

When did it become OK to joke about killing people? And when did it become OK to make extreme, and offensive statements and defend them with claims that you were only joking? I remember threatening once to kick my cousin. When my mom punished me, I told her I was only being funny, I didn’t mean anything. She responded that some things like violence, or pretty much anything else listed in the Ten Commandments–the Commandments being subject to additions by her, without notice–were not things to be joked about. I was always confused as to why some cartoons could joke about so much violence (when I could sneak a look at them; my mom’s control of my TV viewing habits is a whole other post) but my mom confirmed that if the cartoon writers were present she would spank them too.

I don’t think I am saying anything new on the nature of public discourse. We are a nation that becomes less and less civil by the day and I have been guilty of contributing. I hate it and I hate the fact that I have contributed to it all in the past and still fall into trap. Is there a line where a joke stops becoming a joke? How much weight should we give to words versus actions?



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