Tag Archives: Adria Richards

When Is a Joke not a Joke?

Laurie and Debbie say:

(Cross-posted on Feministe)

Our internet neighborhoods are buzzing over a particular piece of April fool nastiness, in which a movie reviewer, whose April Fool’s pseudonym is the rather descriptive L. Ron Creepweans, for Locus Magazine (the most prominent news magazine in the science fiction/fantasy world) thought he could be funny by posting a satirical little piece about WisCon (the world’s first and largest feminist science fiction convention, which both of us go to and love). We’ve written about WisCon before.

To tell the end of the story first, Locus staff immediately apologized and took down the article and has since pulled Mr. Creepweans’ posting privileges. As a reviewer, he had the ability to go onto the site and post material no one else had seen. He’s trying to riff off an incident a few years ago in which an invited guest of honor said some Islamophobic things on her blog (not, as our joker says, “in the mildest possible terms”), deleted the comments when people showed their anger, and was disinvited as a guest. His April Fools’ “story” relates how WisCon’s “ruling committee” was going to force all attendees to wear burqas “in sizes small to 5X” to keep from offending Muslims by the “by the amount of sinful and wanton flesh” on display at WisCon, and also to “eliminate ‘rampant looksism.”

To ice the cake, he used the name “Belle Gunness” for the WisCon chair. Unknown to most folks, the real Belle Gunness was a serial killer at the end of the 19th century.

Since the story was pulled, Mr. Creepweans is feeling very good about himself. Traffic to his own blog spiked, and we’re sure he’s getting a lot of adulatory fan mail, along with the angry letters and comments from WisCon members and supporters. And he gets to feel all censored and attacked since the piece was taken down so quickly, but lives on in Internet screen captures.

It’s almost impossible to read this story and not think about last week’s Internet storm around Adria Richards, who decided to take some pix of the guys at the tech conference telling “big dongle” and “fork” jokes while sitting behind her, and tweeted the pix to the world at large. She has since been fired for this incident. She has also joined the legion of women bloggers who have received volumes of nasty rape and and death threats when they speak out.

But, hey, it was April Fool’s Day! But, hey, those guys were just sitting in the audience talking to each other! But, hey, you’re just perpetuating the stereotype that feminists have no sense of humor!

(If you believe feminists have no sense of humor, come to WisCon sometime and check out Ellen Klages, Tiptree award auctioneer. But we digress.)

What makes a joke funny is a combination of the actual wit and humor used and the context. It’s really easy to get laughs about groups or stereotypes (or individuals) that you and your audience both hate or despise. The right audience will love whatever you say about “those people.”

When your audience is diverse, then you have to be genuinely funny. On an Internet news site, whether it’s a specialty news site like Locus or a general news site like CNN, it’s impossible to keep your jokes from finding the “wrong” audience, the one that doesn’t appreciate how you trash their culture.

Creepweans took everything he’s ever heard–and hates–about WisCon: Feminists go there! They were mean to a potential guest who was just telling the truth about Islam! Lots of them are fat! They get angry easily! They claim to be welcoming! He then tried to wrap his stereotypes up into one finger-pointing, body-shaming, misogynistic anecdote. It is extremely difficult to be mean-spirited and funny at the same time. Creepweans isn’t.