Someone felt my light bulb jokes were unethical and mean-spirited:


"I stumbled on your site the other day and have truely enjoyed it!  Very uplifting.  I do have one question though. My sister believes that (she is not a Christian) it is NOT Christian to make fun of any person or group of people.  It is NOT ethical and is mean spirited (making fun of inanimate objects is OK).  Therefore, do you have some response in regards to your page containing the question 'How many_______does it take to change a light bulb?"



I replied (over a year later, of course…sigh):


the short answer:


1. The jokes do not make fun of PEOPLE, but caricature ASPECTS of POSITIONS. It's basically the same as political/editorial cartoons, in the editorial section of the newspaper and erudite magazines (e.g. The New Yorker, US News and World Report). Public figures have exaggerated features, and some aspect of their policy, public behavior, etc is singled out for attention. There is (generally) nothing malicious about this at all--it's simply a part of the give-and-take of public discussion. I personally find these cartoons educational, in that central aspects of the figure's thought or policy is brought into clearer focus for me. This is the main point--my jokes are basically a form of editorial cartoonage, in which the features/contours are 'described', rather than 'pictured', for education-during-enjoyment.


2. The jokes in the tank are certainly not abusive, unfair, or contemptuous: they include BOTH sides of a discussion (e.g. creationists/evolutionists), including many positions I PERSONALLY HOLD. There is even one or two in there about MYSELF! It is all in good, educational fun, and is not 'making fun' of anyone at all. I have had some people in the various positions compliment me on the jokes--without taking any offense at the least.


3. I have had two philosophy professors tell me that they pass the jokes out (the ones about philosophers) as ASSIGNMENTS to their students. The students are supposed to know by the end of the philosophy course WHY THE JOKES ARE FUNNY. [Other professors in other fields post the jokes on the academic bulletin boards]


4. Also, generally speaking, related genres such as spoofs and satire are not considered wrong in most cultures, and my lightbulb jokes contain elements in common with them.


Although I can certainly/honestly COMMEND your sister on her sensitivity to such issues--sadly lacking in many today--I think the general view of political/intellectual cartoonage, spoofs, and satire is that it is fine, as long as it is not (a) mean-spirited; (b) not directed at 'unchangeable' aspects of a person (e.g., ethnicity, physical or mental abilities); and (c) fair-minded in its treatment (e.g., applying the same 'technique' to one's OWN position). I am VERY VERY sensitive to these issues on the Tank, and feel comfortable with my work in this area.


(I told you I run very, very, very far behind in answering email...sigh...sorry)



glenn miller

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