Tuesdays with Moron: Chatological Humor Update

Mar 05, 2013

Every Tuesday, Gene publishes weekly updates to his chats.

- Gene's latest chat

On one Tuesday each month, Gene is online to take your questions and abuse. He will chat about anything. Although this chat is sometimes updated between live shows, it is not and never will be a "blog," even though many persons keep making that mistake. One reason for the confusion is the Underpants Paradox: Blogs, like underpants, contain "threads," whereas this chat contains no "threads" but, like underpants, does sometimes get funky and inexcusable.

When I asked the rib who she thinks about when she hears "Ezra," she said ... Cornell. Far above Cayuga's waters, huh? The rib go to Cornell? She ever walk between Cornell and White's statues at midnight?

Not the rib, Molly.   She went to Cornell vet school.  The single biggest takeaway from that place is how insanely cold it gets in the winter. 

During her introductory session, the speaker said that it was a myth that Cornell had only two seasons -- there are four:  Summer, Almost Winter, Winter, and Still Winter.  

I think a way to frame the "rape is about power or sex" thing might be to say that rape is about leveraging a power imbalance, using sex as the expression of that power. The perpetrator wouldn't use sex if there weren't some kind of sexual urge there, but they wouldn't rape if they didn't feel as though they had some kind of clear right to power over the victim.

i can embrace that.  In a non-sexual, non-threatening manner.   Sort of an avuncular hug. 

Joke ethics rule: If you are going to make a really "adult," public joke about somebody, it should not be about somebody who you know is not capable of "getting" it, whether by reason of age, disability, etc. How's that?

Ah.   An interesting if bankrupt argument.   If the person doesn't get it, there is no harm done.   I realize there is room to quibble here, but I am thinking in particular of The Aristocrats movie, where the comic Doug Stanhope told the shockingly disgusting joke to his 8 month old son, then shrugged dismissively and gave the "whoosh, right over hishead" sign.   For those of you NOT AT WORK OR NEAR A LITTLE OLD LADY, here it is

And still IS home! Thank you SO MUCH again for that, by the way! Your chat, and Dr. Rao's article, helped me to discover an unexpected connection between that particular ailment (poopfingering) and anxiety and OCD issues - which, as it turns out, do run in my family. Bathroom troubles are not 100% solved yet, but that chat gave me the kick in the pants necessary to treat the underlying conditions through therapy and medication, which have made a colossal improvement in the quality of my life over the past year. Bless you, Gene.

Madam, you made my day.  (You really did.) 

When I was in law school and we got to rape in criminal law, my professor started the class by telling everyone that, statistically, it was a near certainty that someone in the classroom had been sexually assaulted and that we should be very mindful of that when speaking. It wasn't to stifle conversation, but to make us aware. That's why this is so different for me than so many other jokes. Rape is something that is suffered in silence; something that costs people more than almost any other crime to report (because often their own character and private lives are violated, compounding the initial violation); it happens so often; and we as society have not yet achieved consensus on what actually qualifies as rape, and we therefore haven't even agreed on what is evil and what isn't. When I hear a rape joke in a comedy show, the first two things I think are 1) it is highly likely someone in this room was assaulted and 2) there's a good chance that a fair number of people in here thinks what happened to the victim in that joke isn't necessarily bad/they got what they were due. I can't think of any other subject where this is the case.

Regarding point number two, it does occur to me that there is a value to being PC:  That states of perceived "oversensitivity" tend to precede acceptance of, and then correction of, a social ill.   I remember, as a kid and young adult, hearing and telling "fag" jokes.   I remember that suddenly a whole bunch of people started reacting with prissy disapproval.  And there was a period of time where I remember thinking that these people were oversensitive and PC, and disrespecting them a little.  But I also stopped trafficking in those jokes myself because I knew they bothered others and didn't want to be labeled a bigot, which OF COURSE I KNEW I WAS NOT.  Then came an understanding that such jokes WERE hurtful.  So the grudging PC preceded the enlightenment.   

Interesting, no? 

Hi Gene - I was but a young'un during Reagan's presidency, but even as a kid I couldn't understand what people found so great about him. Yeah, I grew up here in the DC region, so of course the White House and national politics were ever-present. And yeah, we got WashPo everyday growing up. I wonder if maybe people perceived him to be - great - because he was an actor, and he delivered his lines warmly and well, giving an impression of competence that he in fact never had.

What I remember about Reagan -- his presidency shadowed my 30s -- was how he always seemed to be acting to me.   And not acting particularly well.   They called him The Great Communicator, and I never understood that.  He seemed to me like The Great Scenery Chewer. 

Here's some perspective from last year...

This is fascinating.  Here is the original photo, as posted. 



A sophomore at UNC is being brought before a university honor court for complaining to the US Dept of Educ that the school under-reports sexual assault. Penalties include possible expulsion even though she did not mention the name of her attacker.

This is interesting.  I need to know more about this before knowing how to feel; it's a one-sided allegation at this point.  Hard to believe that a college, today, would act this way knowing the eyes that would be on it.   But in the absence of another side to the story, it sounds awful. 

Maybe we need a third category, between prose and rhymed poetry, because the intensity of unrhymed poetry is certainly greater than most prose.

We don't need another category.  We simply need to stop using "prose" disparagingly. 

This is the top of David Von Drehle's story on the Nixon funeral:

When last the nation saw them all together, they were men of steel and bristling crew cuts, titans of their time -- which was a time of pragmatism and ice water in the veins.

How boldly they talked. How fearless they seemed. They spoke of fixing their enemies, of running over their own grandmothers if it would give them an edge. Their goals were the goals of giants: Control of a nation, victory in the nuclear age, strategic domination of the globe.

The titans of Nixon's age gathered again today, on an unseasonably cold and gray afternoon, and now they were white-haired or balding, their steel was rusting, their skin had begun to sag, their eyesight was failing. They were invited to contemplate where power leads.


And here is the last line:

But none of that kept him from the leveling end that awaits even the most vigorous and clever wielders of power. The cannon boomed; the rifles popped, the polished wooden coffin sank into the wet ground. Chilled, the mourners hastened across the green grass to a gathering where canapes were served by uniformed staff.

And though their smiles returned, the end of power lay before them, down the path, beneath the trees, under the ground.


We don't struggle to name that "poetry," though it is some of the best writing you will ever read.  We're content to call it prose, because it is delivered in a familiar prose venue, the pages of a newspaper.

Would it suddenly have become poetry if David had stacked it differently, with raggedy line endings?

Prose can be great, and powerful.   Just call it great prose.

The poster wrote: "I am so afraid at night, that I occasionally have to be medicated. I get myself through it with night lights that bathe the whole room in blue and a lot of talking to myself." I study sleep disorders. The blue-tinted night lights are surely making the problem worse. The blue spectrum of light signals the pineal gland, the brain's "clock," that it's daylight. That suppresses the release of the sleep hormone melatonin. Sleep deprivation is a great way to exacerbate anxiety. You're caught in a loop. Please, see a sleep disorder specialist. If you must use a night light, get a red-tinted one, which doesn't affect the pineal gland.


I was 16 in 1986 and, contrary to your previous poster, I figured the majority of your readers would be older than me. I'd be curious to see a poll of the ages of Chatological Humor groupies.

Couple of years ago, in a poll, it turned out the average age was 37. 

Where did you write about rape? Could we get a link to the article or update? I don't generally think it's a subject for guffaws. But I'd like to know what you said.

It was from a previous chat update.  This is what I said:

This was in reference to a complex cartoon about rape from the last chat.  I missed this observation but would like to address it.

I have never understood the near religious insistance that rape is not at all about sex, but is all about power.   It seems to be a mantra of the good people involved in the good cause of ending violence against women.  I gather it is as important to their position as "alcoholism is a disease, not a weakness" is to the AA movement, but I find both stances to be oddly absolutist.   I've always wanted to talk about this -- both of them -- but was always a little ... afraid.    It's not that I don't want to be criticized or called names, it's that I fear I am treading on hallowed ground, violating some taboos I don't entirely understand.   Still, truth matters.  So:

I absolutely believe that alcoholism is in large measure an illness -- for one thing, some people seem vastly more chemically susceptible to it than others -- but to deny ANY moral weakness seems wrong to me; and because it seems politically correct on its face, I'm not so sure it helps the movement.   I say this as someone who has had alcoholism in his family, and who always had an unhealthy appetite for altered states of consciousness himself; it's not impossible to resist, it requires will, priorities, etc., it entails lapses, feelings of guilt.  The very fact that AA works for so many people -- ie, that altering your state of mind helps release you from the scourge -- seems evidence to me that there is some element of will and strength involved.    Cancer is truly a disease -- it can't be willed away.    Alcoholism isn't quite the same.

Similarly, I have no doubt that rape is a violent crime that is basically the exercise of rage /power / anger / intimidation over someone, to compensate for a feeling of inadequacy or powerlessness.   But to deny the sexual element seems to me, perversely, to belittle rape; it's not the same as simple assault -- there's another facet of it that has to do with a primal urge that has become twisted.  It's gender specific.  Rapists may hate women and want to dominate them, but they also want them physically and this overpowering physical desire has to be part of the mix; part of the reason we are civilized is that humans have learned to mediate this overwhelming urge.   The rapist has to be, on some level, a sexual primitive.

The question remains why it is chic / necessary / strategically important  to deny the sex part of this equation.   I don't get it.   I get why alcoholism is less stigmatized if it is seen as a disease, but I don't get why rape is any less awful if it is seem as a perversion of sex.  It's still a violent, damaging, loathsome act.   I'm no more inclined, as a juror, to go easy on a rapist if I believe he was driven in part by an urge.  Hey, we all got urges, pal.  

My two cents.   
Anyway, I used the last chat to modify that:  I DO see that denying that rape is sexual takes a weapon away from the rapist-apologist:  It makes moot the bogus issue of what the woman was wearing, or whether she "led him on..."

Okay, we're done.   See you in the updates next week.

Submit your questions and opinions to the next full chat.

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Gene Weingarten
Gene Weingarten is the humor writer for The Washington Post. His column, Below the Beltway, has appeared weekly in the Post's Sunday magazine since July 2000 and has been distributed nationwide on The Los Angeles Times-Washington Post News Service. He was awarded the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing.
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