When it comes to creative joke-making, Egyptians go far beyond the highest rank. Everyone here loves sharing a good joke, so everyone competes in coming up with new ones. There’s nothing wrong with cracking jokes – that should not be alarming. The problem emerges when the line between good jokes and offensive ones is crossed.
We’re often exposed to over-the-edge memes and shockingly vocal statements about someone’s big nose or round belly…etc. Underneath that thin film of sarcasm and dark humour lurks the potential for cyberbullying that got me wondering whether someone’s nose or round belly is really supposed to be a source of laughter or just another form of meanness?
Once a joke engages enough people who think it’s just funny, it evolves into a series of similar variations of the offensive kind. I was disgusted and infuriated when I watched Etisalat’s latest ad. It shows how such mean remarks can somehow be regarded as simply funny jokes. I expected the ad to end on a gentle advisory note; but, on the contrary, it shows the bullied placidly acceptant of cold, cruel comments made about their physiques or styles. Their sunk faces appear pitiful, rather than humorous.
Problematically enough, their scowls turn into smiles, just as soon as they read bullying notes made about others. So, even after tasting the bitterness of being bullied, the victim laughs at another one who is also bullied. The ad makes them all unrealistically appear passive and unhurt, though the jokes should clearly stab them deeply and hurt their pride – which would have, if it weren’t for the hefty sum of money these figures must have received.
You and I may have or may have not experienced being publicly shamed and laughed at, but we can at least begin to imagine what the unfortunate experience could feel like: the hot shame, the boiling anger, the helplessness, the impulse to hide the source of shame, and the sense of self-despise. The first wave of shame could subside in time, but the bullied could probably never forget what was said about them.
Some or all of these feelings affect victims and last for long, even if the original joke wasn’t intended to hurt them. In other words, the intent (what the joker meant) and impact (what the recipient felt) can be distinct, yet that doesn’t stop us from asking whether all jokes’ negative impact can be dusted off under the pretext of ‘just kidding’.
Think about it: it’s not just celebrities whose flaws some are pleased to meanly joke about, but some also enjoy teasing their colleagues at school, college, or work. For example, some bullies nudge their subjects in moralizing Facebook comments such as, “Have you gained more weight? Dude, go easy with burgers and fries!”
Others prefer writing anonymously messages via Sarahah, sending things like, “You’re such an arrogant attention-seeker. I’m not surprised your colleagues hate you.”. The end results? Many traumatized recipients of similar and far worse curses and ill wishes feel burdened with hauntingly depressing thoughts. Some may even inflict harm upon themselves.
“But,” you protest, “online or cyberbullying can’t even compare to Egypt’s more serious problems.” True, Egypt has far graver problems on its plate already. Yet, before making light of this form of cyberbullying as a First World problem undeserving of serious attention, let us consider the consequences of ignoring it. Take, for instance, the increasing rate of physical abuse like street fights or domestic violence.
Those irritable individuals must have once been told off or thrown at with mean words followed by snorts of silly laughter. Mean exchanges used to occur face-to-face, but nowadays they’re widely imposed virtually and with the potential of going viral. In contrast to real bullying, the problem with online bullying jokes lies not only in their hurtful content but also in their fast changes and escalation.
We could turn a blind eye and assume that such jokes are only normal and not much of a big deal. After all, we all agree that all jokes are meant to elicit laughter by making exaggerations. However, we could also agree that slander is mean and that it’s a lot meaner when it’s superficially sold as a funny joke.
To report and condemn such mean jokes, use the hashtags: #StopIt #StopCyberbullying, and make sure you share this article with those who will be interested.
Do you think Egypt should criminalize cyberbullying? Should schools and universities have cyberbullying and harassment reporting offices? How can the line between benign and cruel jokes be drawn?