Have We Taken Mockery Too Far?
By Ian Ebright
December 7, 2012
Ian Ebright is a former film critic who writes about faith, life, culture, and human rights while working on film projects. You can read more from Ian by visiting his blog The Broken Telegraph, or connect with him on Facebook and Twitter.
“Somehow, directness has become unbearable to us.” These chilling words, written by Christy Wampole in her recent New York Times piece "How to Live Without Irony," bear witness to a generational descent into routine insincerity.
The creative efforts of John Stewart, Tina Fey and Sacha Baron Cohen, to name a few, remind us that satire has the potential to be not just hilarious but insightful. At the same time, we understand that mockery can become excessive. Ridicule is direct at times—a dagger shoved into one person by another—but at its core, it is not so different from insincerity. These tactics are often a piece of armor used for self-preservation, a way to flee human connection by focusing on the other as a caricature while exempting one’s self from the same level of scrutiny.
Yet ridicule as a routine leads us away from progress and into a cultural tailspin. It also does a number on our soul.
Ridicule as a routine leads us away from progress and into a cultural tailspin.
As individuals, it appears the cast of The Comedy are the casualties of too much privilege and too much free time. They have been stimulated and entertained to the point that they can no longer manufacture a rise. The film begs the question: When everything is subject to ridicule, what then is left to feel? If nothing is sacred, what can possibly matter, and what becomes of meaning itself?My own story may look something like yours. I spent my high school and the first half of my 20s hiding behind inside jokes and a veil of mockery. Maybe it’s just aging or maybe it is God’s steady work on my frequently resistant heart, but I’ve become burnt out on mockery as a lifestyle. I am by no means perfect today, and I still enjoy the jabs my closest friends and I exchange, but that is because I trust the people they are and know where the jokes are coming from.
The same cannot be said about the larger sphere of mockery in our culture, which often aims at people we know far less than we think we do, from a distance which creates a sense of comfort so that we can fire away with ease. National tragedies and personal failings are no longer given the chance to take a breath before fingers are pointed, jokes are made and points are scored. No person or event is safe.
These days, I’m enjoying life with my wife and raising two kids, and we’re busy just like everyone else. I can’t help but notice that time is flying by. You may agree that this creates a sense of urgency for a life of value, discovery, meaning and, hopefully, positive contribution. I increasingly fear a life of consuming, commenting and then one day dying.
When everything is subject to ridicule, what then is left to feel?
But there must be a boundary on ridicule, and it seems our culture has raced beyond it—including people of faith at times—as we engage in personal mud-slinging over theological and political differences. Once we convince ourselves that we’re on the correct side of an issue and there is nothing further to understand, it’s not difficult to use that certainty as justification to smear an opponent on behalf of the greater good. That’s ironic, too.
Mockery, like sincerity, is habit-forming. The curse of this kind of ridicule is that it implies freedom of expression but ensures an enslavement to competition, insecurity and paranoia; we often fear that others will eventually say what we first said about them. Mockery desensitizes, masking the finer things and tiny pleasures, dulling the vibrancy and colors of life itself. What creates refreshment and surprise in this life is encouragement, vulnerability and honest confrontation.
Mocking comes easily. But a compliment or an authentic conversation? That takes real courage.