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Are you ever really 'just joking'?

English professor turned appellate lawyer Jason P. Steed (@5thCircAppeals) explains why "it's just a joke" is not a good enough defence for making jokes about socially unacceptable things.
Jason P. Steed 9 Aug 16
1. I wrote my PhD dissertation on the social function of humor (in literature & film) and here's the thing about "just joking."
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Jason P. Steed 9 Aug 16
Replying to @5thCircAppeals
2. You're never "just joking." Nobody is ever "just joking." Humor is a social act that performs a social function (always).
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Jason P. Steed 9 Aug 16
Replying to @5thCircAppeals
3. To say humor is social act is to say it is always in social context; we don't joke alone. Humor is a way we relate/interact with others.
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Jason P. Steed 9 Aug 16
Replying to @5thCircAppeals
4. Which is to say, humor is a way we construct identity - who we are in relation to others. We use humor to form groups...
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Jason P. Steed 9 Aug 16
Replying to @5thCircAppeals
5. ...and to find our individual place in or out of those groups. In short, joking/humor is one tool by which we assimilate or alienate.
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Jason P. Steed 9 Aug 16
Replying to @5thCircAppeals
6. IOW, we use humor to bring people into - or keep them out of - our social groups. This is what humor *does.* What it's for.
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Jason P. Steed 9 Aug 16
Replying to @5thCircAppeals
7. Consequently, how we use humor is tied up with ethics - who do we embrace, who do we shun, and how/why?
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Jason P. Steed 9 Aug 16
Replying to @5thCircAppeals
8. And the assimilating/alienating function of humor works not only only people but also on *ideas.* This is important.
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Jason P. Steed 9 Aug 16
Replying to @5thCircAppeals
9. This is why, e.g., racist "jokes" are bad. Not just because they serve to alienate certain people, but also because...
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Jason P. Steed 9 Aug 16
Replying to @5thCircAppeals
10. ...they serve to assimilate the idea of racism (the idea of alienating people based on their race). And so we come to Trump.
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Jason P. Steed 9 Aug 16
Replying to @5thCircAppeals
11. A racist joke sends a message to the in-group that racism is acceptable. (If you don't find it acceptable, you're in the out-group.)
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Jason P. Steed 9 Aug 16
Replying to @5thCircAppeals
12. The racist joke teller might say "just joking" - but this is a *defense* to the out-group. He doesn't have to say this to the in-group.
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Jason P. Steed 9 Aug 16
Replying to @5thCircAppeals
13. This is why we're never "just joking." To the in-group, no defense of the joke is needed; the idea conveyed is accepted/acceptable.
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Jason P. Steed 9 Aug 16
Replying to @5thCircAppeals
14. So, when Trump jokes about assassination or armed revolt, he's asking the in-group to assimilate/accept that idea. That's what jokes do.
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Jason P. Steed 9 Aug 16
Replying to @5thCircAppeals
15. And when he says "just joking," that's a defense offered to the out-group who was never meant to assimilate the idea in the first place.
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Jason P. Steed 9 Aug 16
Replying to @5thCircAppeals
16. Indeed, circling back to the start, the joke *itself* is a way to define in-group and out-group, through assimilation & alienation.
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Jason P. Steed 9 Aug 16
Replying to @5thCircAppeals
17. If you're willing to accept "just joking" as defense, you're willing to enter in-group where idea conveyed by the joke is acceptable.
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Jason P. Steed 9 Aug 16
Replying to @5thCircAppeals
18. IOW, if "just joking" excuses racist jokes, then in-group has accepted idea of racism as part of being in-group.
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Jason P. Steed 9 Aug 16
Replying to @5thCircAppeals
19. Same goes for "jokes" about armed revolt or assassinating Hillary Clinton. They cannot be accepted as "just joking."
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Jason P. Steed 9 Aug 16
Replying to @5thCircAppeals
20. Now, a big caveat: humor (like all language) is complicated and always a matter of interpretation. For example, we might have...
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Jason P. Steed 9 Aug 16
Replying to @5thCircAppeals
21. ...racist humor that is, in fact, designed to alienate (rather than assimilate) the idea of racism. (Think satire or parody.)
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Jason P. Steed 9 Aug 16
Replying to @5thCircAppeals
22. But I think it's pretty clear Trump was not engaging in some complex satirical form of humor. He was "just joking." In the worst sense.
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Jason P. Steed 9 Aug 16
Replying to @5thCircAppeals
23. Bottom line: don't accept "just joking" as excuse for what Trump said today. The in-group for that joke should be tiny. Like his hands.
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John ESA 9 Aug 16
so are you asking us to be "In" and accept that Trumps hands really are small?
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Jason P. Steed 9 Aug 16
I think the hands joke (like most mockery) is about rejecting/alienating the butt of the joke (Trump).
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Jason P. Steed 9 Aug 16
Gallows humor (Holocaust jokes, etc.) serves as coping mechanism for (i.e., way to assimilate) pain/suffering/horror
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Phil Ceta 9 Aug 16
Did you just re-write your dissertation using tweets?
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Jason P. Steed 9 Aug 16
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