Monday, October 18, 2010

Funny: At the Expense of Whom? Please vote

There's this funny thing about humor: it's not funny to everyone. I tend to like the unexpected, what's dry or witty or sarcastic. ClinkShrink, bless her Midwestern soul, likes puns. And Roy, well he still likes potty humor.

Jokes are often made at the expense of a group, and I don't understand a lot of ethnic, racial, put-down humor. That said, the other day I went to put up a post, and since I've recently written about how to find a psychiatrist, and what makes mental illness bad---both serious posts that took me a while---I thought I'd opt out and just went to youtube and searched for "psychiatry humor." Lazy, you say. Yup! But I listened to the audio of Psychiatry Hotline and I laughed out loud. Even though I hesitated for a moment, I posted it.

Two readers and Roy pointed out that this YouTube makes fun of people with mental illnesses. Does it? I had trouble seeing this as the same phenomena as your usual make-fun-of-a-group in a hurtful way type joke. For one thing, the "if you're a nymphomanic press...." was the part I laughed out loud at, and nymphomania is not a psychiatric diagnosis. Hypersexuality is a symptom of some disorders, but if I can't laugh at a nymphomania joke, maybe I should go home and learn to like bad puns. If you're co-dependent, have someone help you press 5. Ah, co-dependence is not a psychiatric diagnosis either, but a lay designation used to describe a constellation of behaviors in a way that some people find to be meaningful and helpful. The rest of the tape....okay, I admit, it pokes fun of people with illnesses. Somehow, I couldn't come to terms with this as being bad. I still own a Prozac mug and my friends comment when I serve them coffee in it---- is that bad? It certainly gets more of a reaction than a Lamisil mug would get.

Here is the thing though, something invaluable that I learned from Dr. Fox who taught us family therapy behind a one-way mirror : Insults and offenses are defined by those who are insulted or offended. If someone is injured, that's what counts and the offending party is left to recant. The reality isn't in "Oh, but you should find this funny" or "It's not offensive." The reality is that someone is offended and those feelings are valid. With that, I should take the post down. However-- and do forgive me, Dr. Fox--but it is hard to negotiate life (much less a blog with a duck mascot) if one tiptoes through afraid of insulting or offending any one of the 2,500 weekly unique visitors.

So I'm taking a vote. And I want to know if YOU are offended personally, not if this is potentially offensive to someone somewhere.

Here's the link if you want to listen again:

And here's the ballot:


Alison Cummins said...

This is an oldie. I've always thought it was funny. If I can't laugh at myself I really am in a bad way.

Anonymous said...

Hypersexual is one of my current symptoms, identified in therapy. It messed up my life big-time 15-16 years ago.

So the nympho part of the phone joke hit too close to home for me, right now.

Sunny CA said...

I am glad the vote is going the way it is. I found it very funny and listened several times. I did not hear any comments from people who said they were personally offended.

simetrias said...

I chose "other" and noted that I didn't find it particularly funny, but it wasn't offensive to me, either. Perhaps my addition (if you are from an insurance company...) isn't funny to others, but it sure felt good to keep THEM on hold for 30 mins!

Oracle at D said...

Sharing what you think is funny is always a risk. Especially if your audience is mixed, as the readership of this blog is. Shrinks read it, non-shrink doctors read it, patients read it, and doctors who are patients read it. Somebody in there will have a problem with your sense of humor. As Lincoln so wisely said, You can please some of the people some of the time, and all of the people some of the time but not all the people all of the time. I have encountered this particular gag many times over the years, but always in print. Which I've found much much funnier than this aural version. Why? Maybe it's easier for me to see absurdity than hear it....

moviedoc said...

Sorry Dinah, but if nymphomaniac and codependent are not psychiatric diagnoses, neither are wacko and lunatic. Just because it doesn't appear in the DSM doesn't mean it doesn't hurt if you believe the description fits -- or has been wrongly applied to -- you. The APA may be able to legislate nomenclature, but it can't dictate language.

Anonymous said...

Great posts btw, I really appreciated them.
(and I have an appointment with a shrink, who has many good reviews, in early Dec.)
I read/heard one of your past commentators who said something like "It makes psychiatrists sound like real people". - Real people who have a sense of humor.
Anyone reading your blog would know that the three of you are not judgemental of people who have mental illnesses at all.
And as Alison said, "if we cant laugh at ourselves...."

Anonymous said...

The problem is that, although the "diagnosis" offered on the phone call are obviously fake, many people who are unfamiliar with mental health care actually think that these are the conditions that mental health professionals treat.

The lay public knows little about psychiatric care, and a popular perception is that psychiatrists spend their days treating paranoia, "split personalities", "hearing voices", and similar conditions. I'm wondering if that joke is only reinforcing these perceptions, which can lead to a stigma for those receiving psychiatric care, even for more "pedestrian" issues such as depression and anxiety.

tracy said...

i found it quite funny and i am crazy. Maybe that's why....

Anonymous said...

I notice that I get very offended when people with no understanding for psychiatry make jokes and laugh at them, had I heard the same joke from my friends with a psychiatric illness I would laugh wholeheartedly.

There was a skit done on a television show in Australia featuring several people with heavy makeup looking like negro people and dancing to Michael Jackson. The skit was ultimately saying that too much plastic surgery can go too far. Harry Connick jr was on the judging panel and from the States where there obviously is a history of racism against negro people and that was offensive to him but not offensive in the Australian context.

I guess there are some rules for humour but most of the time, it's hard to say. I tend to think laughing at someone directly in your presence is totally unacceptable and Jokes alluding to race are unacceptable - otherwise in the psychiatric world, it's hard to say, but with more awareness and with greater attempts to erase the stigma, maybe in a few years it will be deemed as unacceptable to laugh at anything that has to do with psychiatry.

Another thing to think about is the fact that we don't laugh at people with asthma, diabetes or any physical illness - we don't laugh at people with physical disabilities either. Are psych patients really that funny?

Anonymous said...

As an aside, if you don't have a mental illness when you engage in what I call voice mail h--l, you'll have one when you're done.

All jokes aside, I initially thought it was funny and wasn't offended at all. I have a very dark sense of humor and I think that is the reason why I reacted the way I did.

But anonymous, when I read this point you made, it caused me to rethink the whole issue:

""Another thing to think about is the fact that we don't laugh at people with asthma, diabetes or any physical illness - we don't laugh at people with physical disabilities either. Are psych patients really that funny?""

I think when people have invisible disabilities/conditions that can manifest themselves behavior wise, it is easier to make fun of something you can't see and as a result, don't understand.

Anyway, I am voting this as personally offensive after initially, not feeling that it was.


Anonymous said...

It was kind of funny the way my grandfather,in his later years as he struggled with dementia, would ask a question and then 5 min leater ask it again. And then again. Or how he lost his inhibitions... It got less funy when he asked for the 80th time and it was even less funny when he ran on the street asking strangers for help because he no longer recognized his wife. I can't imagine the social workers or doctors we dealt with joking openly about alzheimers but perhaps the do when they are on their own minus patients and families. In the same vein, I cannot for a second imagine my shrink posting this on a blog if such a blog existed but I would not be upset if same shrink laughed upon hearing any of it. of course, you are not my shrink but you represent shrinks and I don't think you can argue that you are talking for more than yourself esp not when you are almost done a book about the shrinky biz and when you refer to the post as about your profession.
Should psych patients be able to laugh at themselves? Yes, in healthy ways. I fail to see the humor in too many psych jokes after the suffering I have see on psych wards. I think hell yeha laugh about the neurotic crap most of us deal with. What the he-- is funny about a debilitating condition? And no I don't hear too many asthma or cancer jokes and these would be in bad taste, anyone disagree about that? So I agree that we should not treat mental illness differently. If a cnacer patient who has lost her hair wants to make a joke to her friend about her "new look", okay, but can you imagine the doctor or a doctor blogger joking about saving money on hair care products and highlights?
Was your intent to be offensive? i am sure not. Was I offended? Yes. Do people hold you to a hihger standard when you are a doctor blogger than when you are Dinah out for a night of wine and fun with friends? I think they ought to.

S said...

I'm not sure if i can comment on whether the specific joke is offensive since i haven't experienced any of those conditions.

On the other hand, i had a coworker who used to find my social anxiety quite hilarious, and that made me really happy. I would feel so bad whenever i'd run out on a social gathering (I tend to forget to be scared until i actually arrive at the party, at which point i panic and run), but the fact that people were laughing about it (in a loving, not mean, way) turned it into a goofy quirk instead of this horrible, unspeakable offense i was making it out to be.

Not sure if this example is relevant since in this case the humor made me feel included. Whereas, i am wondering if some people who experience symptoms addressed in the joke feel like they are being excluded or put on display.

Alison Cummins said...

Oh, I’ve heard some cancer jokes I thought were pretty funny. I don’t know a lot of people with uncontrolled asthma or who are afraid of developing it, but if I did I’m sure I’d have a whole repertoire of funny asthma jokes. When I used to hang out with phyisically disabled people, crip jokes were common currency. One of my disabled employers just loved a local able-bodied comedian’s routines about a character with cerebral palsy. He thought they were hysterically funny and very realistic. There’s a very good stand-up comedian with cerebral palsy and a pronounced speech impediment. He certainly refers to his disability — and other people’s discomfort with it — in his routines. And I think there was a guy with MS who submitted a video for an online vote on who should host a cooking show, or something. A couple of years ago. Anyway, he was really funny too, and not just to people with MS.

If you hang out with depressives, you get to hear a lot of suicide jokes.

I don’t see the big deal. The psychiatric hotline joke definitely falls in the category of “jokes that make you feel included” — at least as far as I’m concerned — because everyone hates those menus.

Alison Cummins said...

And... what S says.

Humour can be a really good way of dedramatizing things. It’s bad enough that you feel depressed or obsessed or psychotic or whatever, without also feeling that it is Terrible And Serious. If you can laugh at something it helps you shrink it down enough that you can put it in a box.

Anonymous said...

i have neve felt psychotic despite having been psychotic. the times i was psychotic, i was certain of the fact that the whole rest of the world was but not me, so psychotic is not a feeling. moreover, psychosis was pretty terrible and serious considering what the outcome could have been and it is also not so great to look at the havoc that was wreaked in my life, the lives of my sig others and i am not sure any of us will ever laugh about psychosis. i am lucky not to live there in a permanent state and i do not think there is anything funny about having psychosis no matter how long it lasts. and cancer, yes, what a bloody riot. i see that in the chemo chairs, the roars of laughter coming as the IV starts to drip and i see it at the funerals too, which are a good place, by the way, if you want to shrink something and put it in a box--go for cremation.oh heck a coffin will do too. bury it six feet under and let the shrinkage begin.

Marie said...

I thought it was funny.

I grew up "crazy." My mother has severe mental illness, and was not treated until my brother and I were out of the house. (We were in a bizarre religious system that didn't allow for illness at all -- much less mental illness!)

So, I come at this from a unique angle. Is it mean to laugh? Maybe. But, geeze. My brother and I would both be in a bad way if we hadn't been able to laugh at it all now and then. We still laugh until we cry when we remember mom covering all the vents with tin foil to keep the green men out.

Do we love our mother? Of course. Her illness is no laughing matter. But the behavior the illness caused? HILARIOUS.

Lisa B. said...

I said - "Other - Just not funny." Just my opinion. So, there, that, and ya have it. Oh, and if you want… you can return the favor by voting for a contest I’m in here:


Anonymous said...

In Dr. Fox's honor, the post came down.

It may be a bit much for us to please all of the people all but since I asked.....


pat bee said...

It was no longer on your site but I looked it up on youtube, listened, chuckled here and there and voted to make it a keeper.