On Crossing Lines

Today I made a joke in the double-plane crash post. If I may toot my own horn, I thought it was pretty damn funny. It also rated pretty high in the "oh god, you didn't" column, so after about ten minutes of debating I decided to retract it. Several people who missed it have asked me what it said, so here goes:

Digger: Hey boss, we're havin' a real problem here. The ground is all swollen with rain, and these coffins just keep poppin' back up.

Boss: I don't want any excuses, boy, just batten 'em down already.

With the resurgence of the Roundups, there have been a lot of newer commenters asking questions about some of the "rules" of commenting. I'm not trying to claim I'm any kind of authority on what's funny, but I thought it might be helpful to explain why I deleted it.

There has been plenty of discussion in the past (in DUAN, at Mad Bastards All) about when a joke crosses the line. Of course, there is no hard and fast rule about what "the line" is. Some people (paging Steve_U) think that as long as a joke is funny, then it doesn't matter if it's offensive. Others disagree.

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For me, the line has more to do with how the joke is framed. That is, is it a joke about something tangential to the subject, or is it a joke about the actual subject itself? In my opinion, jokes that use the subject as a jumping off point for humor are successful; those that are at the expense of the subject just come across as cruel, and the humor fades.

For an example of a jumping off point, take this recent one by Doug Exeter. Despite what the idiots in the replies think, this is not a joke at the expense of people who suffer from AIDS/HIV; it's a joke about how stupid an NFL coach is.

As I was thinking about the punchline of my joke, about the actual connection that had to be made in the reader's mind to make it funny ("batten down the Hatches") I couldn't help but form a mental image of a series of coffins, containing this poor kid's dead family, being shoved into the ground. For me, that's what made the joke about these people, a reminder of their (awful) deaths, and pushed it over the line.

We make a lot of jokes at the expense of other people - hell, it might as well be the Deadspin motto. And if anyone else (well, not Finn, fuck that guy) had made this joke, I would have unreservedly +1'd it. But I just could't cross my own line.

ETA: I hope this doesn't come across as sanctimonious. We now return you to your regularly scheduled amirite??!? joke.