de Ruiter: Society must recognize comedy as analysis of taboos, controversies

“Voetbal Inside” (set pictured above) and other comedy outlets often employ controversial humor in order to spark productive conversations. Rather than dismissing this humor for its crudeness, people should celebrate it (Mickisoke/Creative commons).

Comedy has walked a fine line between entertainment and commentary since its inception. Oftentimes, humor that is meant to shed light on difficult social subjects is deemed offensive and ends up being censored. 

Now more than ever, all comedy should be celebrated for what it is and should be used to address serious societal issues. 

For example, on Feb. 2, an episode of the well-liked Dutch television show, “Voetbal Inside,” aired on television. Normally, this show involves four or five ex-soccer players discussing the current state of the sport and giving some cheeky social commentary at the same time. 

This episode was different as one of the stars of the show, René van der Gijp, changed his appearance during the halftime break. He reappeared on the stage with a blonde wig, earrings and a dress. After the initial laughter, Van der Gijp claimed he changed his gender which made the crowd and the other stars of the show burst out in laughter.

 The episode provoked a split response in Dutch society. Some found Van der Gijp’s joke to be hilarious, while others found it offensive. It clearly reinvigorated discussions around gender. 

The Van der Gijp’s performance exposed an unresolved social issue that people avoid talking about. This situation exactly demonstrates the power that comedy can have over a society. That power should be celebrated in both the Netherlands and in the United States. Instead, comedy is often shunned in the U.S. for being too “offensive.”

 Yet, sometimes humor must offend. Humor takes the taboo subjects in society that people ignore and twists them so that the same people laugh when confronted with the issue’s absurdity. 

This reaction gives people a sense of relief, making subjects more debatable. A joke about race has comedic value in American society because it demonstrates the absurdity in categorizing people based on their skin color. The same goes for any other taboo. 

This form of comedy holds a mirror to people and displays the things they don’t want to but should discuss with each other. To shame this form of societal relief by labeling anything that causes the slightest hint of discomfort is a form of intellectual laziness.

 From a Geneseo study abroad student’s perspective, it is apparent that many American students in the U.S. in 2018 think the country is divided by partisan issues. Whether it’s the Kavanaugh confirmation or the upcoming midterm elections, politically split groups can’t see eye to eye. 

The absurdity of this situation and the tension it causes in society could be well alleviated by the proper use of comedy. 

Sadly, it is this kind of reflection that has been scrutinized for the past years. Jokes about race, gender, class and many other subjects have become offensive and off-limits to anyone trying to hold a comedic mirror in front of society. The irony of this trend should be seen as an insult to common sense. 

Humor is exactly what a society divided by partisan issues needs the most. Therefore, all forms of comedy should be fair game.