It’s Not Funny When It’s Not Your Problem

Percy Bartelt, staff writer

Comedy is a common reaction to traumatic events. We tend to joke about serious topics happening to us to make it seem less painful – I know for a fact I’ve done this before, and there’s no doubt that you have too. However, when it comes to the serious devastation of not only the Ukraine conflict, but other wars and disputes happening in other countries like Syria and Ethiopia, it seems extremely insensitive in the eyes of someone suffering from that tragedy. 

It’s easy for us Americans, or for non-Ukrainians in general, to joke about how we’ll react to getting drafted or what our military uniform will look like during “World War III,” but in my completely honest opinion, that’s the shittiest thing to do in this situation. There are times to joke about tragedies, especially if you have gone through it yourself, otherwise it’s completely offensive.

In the age of new media, it has been theorized that we are becoming desensitized to these issues if we are not actively going through them. I spoke with Raven Johnson, filmmaker in residence with the Communication, Film, and New Media department here at Augsburg, and asked about how mass media is affecting people’s perception of the war happening in Ukraine. She essentially explained that there are many resources regarding the Ukraine war, mostly in the forms of short and summarized info cards that you would see on Instagram and Twitter threads. “My social media is also filled with people talking about anti-Blackness, how it is possible to discuss multiple issues at one time, and how it’s important to be both critical and compassionate if our goal is to have a more peaceful and equitable world,” said Johnson. I also asked if she thought that people have become desensitized to tragedies like this because of the use and abuse of social media. She said, “I think social media and really the internet has been mostly responsible for audiences’ short attention spans and this need for things to be easily accessible, digestible, and entertaining.”

Much like how Johnson explained, we have become a new era of people that are impatient and don’t seem to be shocked that another war is happening in a different part of the world. The sources for such a phenomenon vary, but a leading cause is the amount of news shoved in our faces 24/7. While all the news we see deserves the awareness and desperately needs help, people will unfortunately ignore and move on to something that will entertain them, or even make jokes about such an issue because it doesn’t affect them. It is the grim nature of mass media that needs fixing. 

A comparison I have noticed that Americans will likely understand: how people in Europe view school shootings compared to how Americans view them. Because their weapon laws are far more strict than ours, they have very few issues with that subject and have no problem making American schools the butt of their jokes. This is exactly what is happening now where war isn’t affecting us – it’s easy to joke about something that isn’t happening to you!

Not only are people joking about the war itself – and the serious issue of the draft and military exploits, which is a separate issue – but people are also virtually flirting with and thirsting over Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in light of his decision to stay and fight with his country. Once again, this is extremely insensitive and ignorant to the fact of trauma that comes with war. There are times for comedy and there are times for serious discussions and serious awareness.

The next time you’re joking about a serious topic that you’ve never experienced before, first, think about how the people that are experiencing it would think about such a joke, then shut your mouth and stop being so ignorant.