The Cancer Dust Up
I had a really uncomfortable moment on Facebook yesterday.
I saw a posting in my newsfeed comparing cancer survivors who use voicebox machines to those probe droids in the Star Wars movies. The post ended with a qualifying statement that announced that no disrespect was intended and was followed by a series of comments designed to be humourous. After reading them, I typed in the sentence “When anyone involved in this thread gets cancer, they will not find this thread funny.” Naturally, as happens every three seconds on Facebook, someone challenged me. I read the comments that followed mine and, within the thread, posited the question “how many women laugh at rape jokes? How many Jews laugh at holocaust jokes?” The person challenging me (clearly someone who loves a good fight) had much to say on the issue, declaring himself to be a Jew who roars at holocaust jokes and a person who has lost people to cancer. I decided, at this point, to bow out of the thread, claiming that my integrity was no match for his wit; his reply was to tell me that integrity is not telling others what is funny.
I think he’s wrong.
Integrity is EXACTLY telling someone what is NOT funny. It is NOT funny to joke about something that brings others pain. Anyone who has had cancer, anyone who has watched their loved one die of cancer will not think this humour is funny. Do you know who CAN make fun of cancer? Someone who beat it. ONLY someone who beat it. That’s their joke, not ours. Just like gay men can use the F–got word and black people do use the N word. That’s our joke and it’s their joke. It’s not yours. The originator of the thread even chimed in with the news that her father is fighting advanced cancer. I don’t know what the purpose of this was but it felt like a qualifying statement meant to defend her original comment. I am so sorry that this friend (a friend I love and have loved for a long time) has a parent in distress; so I found the website for the Burzynski clinic and posted it to the thread. Doctor Burzynski is working miracles and saving cancer patients. Perhaps his clinic can help her father, should he choose to contact them. However, I stand behind my original thought. Anytime you need to make a qualifying statement, it means you know what you are saying is best left unsaid.
“I mean no disrespect.”
“I say this with love.”
“It’s a joke.”
“I don’t mean to be rude.”
All comments like this do are tell the person that you are aware you have said something untoward and have chosen to say it anyway. The question in my mind, though, is this: is it more cruel to know you are saying something hurtful and say it anyway; or is it more cruel to be so oblivious to the sensitivity of others that you speak without thinking? Facebook (indeed the entire internet) is a dangerous place, regarding feelings. I know an actor who refuses to read reviews, lest someone write something hurtful – that is a professional choice. On Facebook, though, (a SOCIAL media) people just read what pops up into their newsfeed because it could be a birth announcement, a show promotion, a humourous meme, a call to arms .. it could be anything. We don’t know what the comment will be until we have read it. There is no warning announcing “don’t read this if you are still in pain over your last chemotherapy treatment” or “don’t read this if your mother died of a painful six year battle with cancer.” People simply read the comment and are left holding onto the pain that others have dropped into their laps. It’s bad enough that we have to put up with grown up bullying, now we have to put up with inappropriate humour in our leisure time. I know that Lenny Bruce preached the need to say whatever we want, in the name of humour. He was always inappropriate and it worked for him; and anyone who was offended by his off colour humour (or any stand up comic) had the choice of getting up and walking out of the show — a show they paid to see and which they had the option of demanding a refund for. However, here on the internet, we don’t pay to be on Facebook and deserve to not have the insensitivity of others put a blot on a day that was, previously, a happy one.
I often remark that “some people are so touchy” (my favourite line from the movie Grease) and I believe that, yes, people are too sensitive. I have come to understand that umbrage is the National Pastime. I try to not be overly sensitive about as many things as I can. I am not a Caucasian and I spent parts of my childhood being taunted for it; I do not get upset over racially based humour – it has always been out there and it always will. I am a gay male and that has threatened my very life at times; I do not get upset at gay jokes (often); indeed, sometimes they can be quite funny because, sometimes, they are absolutely accurate. I know how to laugh at myself. I am not ‘so touchy’. I just believe that there are certain things that we don’t laugh at. Rape. It’s not funny. Every single woman will agree with me (at least, I think they should). Many men will agree with me. Rape is not funny. Genocide is not funny. Nothing about genocide is funny. Anything that, when attempting to make funny, causes deliberate cruelty is not funny. Deliberate cruelty is not acceptable.
Cancer is not funny. At least not to me. You won’t catch me making a joke about cancer, ever. You won’t catch me laughing at a joke about cancer, ever. Whatever other people may think, it is my right to not only not laugh at jokes about cancer; and it is my right to tell people who make jokes about cancer that they are in the wrong. It is a right that I cherish and one which I will not shake off, ever.
THAT is my integrity. Disrespect intended.